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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Matchbox Toyota Prius and Honda Insight



Hmmm, seems like an odd time to bring a few hybrids into the line, right?  Well these two are by no means a fan favorite on the road, and it's the same as a diecast replica.  I mean would you much rather have a muscle car or a Ferrari over these two?  But on the other hand these two only lived for two years and the ones you see here are, in my opinion, the best recolors of the select few variations.



Toyota Prius: Changing the future of transportation

When introduced in 1997 in Japan, 2001 in the U.S., the Prius joined a new group of alternative-powered cars essentially replacing the failed pursuit of electric cars in the 1990's because the batteries were heavy and range anxiety was a big issue.  Both Honda and Toyota combined the electric motor and battery, both smaller, with a small four-cylinder engine to assist the electric motor and take over if the battery fails, reducing the range anxiety of pure electric cars.  Still these early hybrids were not able to run purely on electric for short distances.  Toyota resolved this issue in 2004 on the second-generation Prius.

The electric motor is now parallel to the engine, connecting the two by a planetary gearset (the transmission) to the front differential and out to the front wheels.  The advantage of this design is different modes of driving:  Pure electric mode, electric with the engine charging the battery, or electric assisting the engine for more power delivery.  The advantage here is higher fuel economy numbers and reduced emissions in stop-and-go traffic.  The new 5-door hatchback profile not only added more versatility (to almost SUV-like capabilities), but also aided in easier removal of the battery pack under the rear seat, if needed during service.  The shape was unique and futuristic, and would become the basis for future hybrids to come.  The interior was smooth, plain, futuristic, and confusing with Toyota's first push-button start, silent start mode (only a READY light appears on the center gauge panel when it is running), and a game-style shifter stick.  Funny how today these features, now on most new vehicles sold lately, are like second nature to most of us!

Driving the real Prius I must say it's a unique and neat experience at first, but after a while you're car instincts will come back and say "This is boring!  I need something fun to drive!"  Then there's the political involvement that gives the Prius a bigger love-or-hate relationship.

After a delay in 2005, the Prius arrived to Matchbox in 2009 in some plain colors, but the 2010 black is the best and looks great on this casting.  The tan interior shows the right-hand drive setup and some luggage in the rear cargo area (it appears to be a bag and tennis racquet).  The details are accurate, and the wheels look almost close to the real ones on the actual car.  The only quibble is the lighting details which round out a bit too early in a few area's.



Second-Generation Honda Insight: Not so great

If you want to see a bad example in Honda's current product line, look at the second-generation Insight: Cheap, unrefined, and looks like a Prius at some angles!  The first Insight in 1999 was a three-door funky space capsule with rear skirts and small tires to aid in aerodynamics.  Not only was it the first hybrid on sale, it was also the first to offer a 5-speed manual transmission with a hybrid.  Why Matchbox replicated the lousy second-generation Insight instead of the funky first-generation two-door is beyond me!

The Insight in 2010 was built to answer the Prius on an affordable price point.  However, when you have two other (and one more in 2014) to choose from with the Civic, CR-Z, 2014 Accord, and later the 2015 Fit, the Insight seems like a less-attractive choice.  The engine is the same four-cylinder/electric motor as the Civic, and it doesn't run parallel like the Prius meaning no pure EV mode, so again what's new?  The only difference is a more capable interior and exterior styling that resembles the FCX Clarity Hydrogen Fuel Cell car (now that one is interesting).

Well as I try to figure out the demographic market for the second-generation Insight, let's take a look at the Matchbox casting.  In red and white the Insight was no so popular with collectors or kids on either end, but this blue one released in 2011 is the best one, it's gorgeous, and is much more popular than the first few colors.  Features include headlight and taillight decals, interior with correct shapes and surfaces, and wheels that have a smaller six-spoke wheel diameter compared to the larger units found on the red variation.



It's interesting to note that these two colors shown were the last variations before Matchbox pulled these two from the line in 2011 (probably a good thing).  Either you like them or hate them, both of these hybrids are a nice, if not so exciting, addition to my collection and will be appreciated for years to come.

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