I have had an insight into new cars and found the perfect one for physicists

20th July 2012 at 01:00
I just could not resist all those gadgets and gizmos and the economy of a wee engine

Physicists hate putting on the brakes. We know that hard-won kinetic energy is going to be dissipated as useless heat, that to get us moving again will require leg-work or the burning of expensive, climate-altering fuel.

Unfortunately, braking is unavoidable, especially on the long commute from Carluke to SSERC's secret base at 2 Pitreavie Court, Dunfermline. Fuel prices have almost doubled in the five years since I took up my post there, so when the time came to change my car, I looked at getting something more economical. Unfortunately, for family compatibility, I have to have an automatic and, unless you get an expensive automatic, these are even worse when it comes to mpg. I looked at downsizing.

Petrolhead son baulked at the idea of me getting a Honda Jazz: "You're not a pensioner yet," or words to that effect, but it seemed to fit the bill. I went into the as-enjoyable-as-actually-having-a-new-car research phase and began looking at road tests, owner reviews and used car ads in Auto Trader. It was when I accidentally searched for an automatic Honda, rather than an automatic Honda Jazz that an interesting and hitherto unconsidered alternative hove into view.

Much more enjoyable research, some annual cost calculations and a test drive later and I found myself at the wheel of a Honda Insight hybrid. Honestly, I could almost weep happy tears at the sheer physicsiyness of the beast. An electric motor stuffed between the engine and the infinitely variable autobox, a battery pack under the bahookies of rear-seat passengers and some fancy electronics let you have the economy of a wee engine and the power of a larger one when you need it. Best of all, the motor acts as a generator when you brake, so the hard-won Ek (kinetic energy) gets turned back into useful energy to be stored in the battery.

This is where you rightfully expect the Thought for the Day denouement: "You see, the Honda Insight is like CfE because." Embarrassed cough. There isn't one. What an Insight oversight. It would have been much better if I had been after a six-seater MPV. I could then have compared the Honda FRV with the old model Kia Carens. One has a 3+3 approach, the other a 2+2+2. See where I could go on that one? Of course you do.

I trust that anyone choosing a Kia over a Honda or vice versa would do so after careful research and that the final choice would not be made solely for reasons of either economy, loyalty to a particular model or pressure from a salesperson in a suit. In the end, the ideal choice might still be a hybrid with a continuously variable transmission.

Gregor Steele loves his new car's geeky dashboard displays

Scottish Schools Education Research Centre.

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