This car is different from any other on the road. The two-seat Honda Insight looks slippery and futuristic. And it is. According to Honda, it is the most aerodynamic production car on the road. And it is the first gasoline-electric hybrid car sold in the U.S.
The Insight offers the environmental benefits of an electric car without the hassles. It drives like a normal small car, yet it is the most fuel-efficient and cleanest gasoline-powered car in the world. Its tail-pipe emissions are bettered only by a zero-emissions pure electric car. It's just the sort of car environmentalists should love.
Just one model of Insight is available, which retails for $18,880. Adding the factory-installed automatic climate control brings the price to $20,080.
The Insight is about 9 inches shorter than the Honda Civic hatchback. It offers similar performance to the fuel-sipping Civic HX, but that's where the similarities end.
This car is a technological tour de force in many ways. Its body structure is made out of aluminum, instead of steel, with some plastic body panels.
A small 1-liter three-cylinder gasoline engine primarily powers it with an ultra-thin electric motor integrated into the transmission housing to boost performance when needed. Honda calls this system an Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) and it is the heart of the car. The electricity for the electric motor comes from a relatively small battery pack, which is kept continuously charged by the gasoline engine. The car is totally self-contained, so there is no need to charge the battery with an external cable. The driving range is only limited by the 10.6-gallon fuel tank, which does not need filling up very often!
Simply put, the battery supplies juice when the electric motor is being used. Whenever the gasoline engine's power is not required to move the car, it acts like a generator and recharges the battery. To maximize fuel economy, the engine stops running when the car stops at traffic lights and the gearshift is put in neutral. The engine then magically comes back to life when the gearshift is engaged.
The Insight is a small two-seater that has a reasonable amount of storage space behind the seats. It is a commuter car and should not be compared to a two-seat sports car. The unusual shape of the car is the result of wind tunnel testing to make it as slippery as possible.
Despite being so miserly on fuel the Insight offers creature comforts such as climate control (optional), power windows and a remote key fob.
If the exterior looks strange wait until you get inside. The instrument panel displays numerous digital readouts to indicate what's going on. On the left there is an analog tachometer. Most of the time it seems to be running at about 2000 rpm. When the car is stationary, a green light indicates that the engine is in idle-stop mode. In the center there is a large digital speedometer with a readout below showing the fuel consumption and the distance on the trip odometer. A button can be pushed to give average fuel consumption for a short segment, as well as for the whole trip. What's more, when toggled to the overall distance traveled by the car it indicates the fuel consumption since the car first went into service.
To the right of the instrument panel are three displays. One is a regular fuel gauge, and then there is battery charge gauge, which shows how much the battery is charged. Above these two "fuel" gauges is a bar that shows if the batteries are being charged or if they are being used to run the electric motor (IMA).
Honda describes these displays as being like a video game. It's certainly true that there is a direct incentive to see if one can better one's fuel consumption from one trip to another by checking the fuel economy readouts. Computer geeks and gamers will enjoy all the readouts.
Storage space is a bit limited. There are a few cubbyholes and two cupholders. A flat area behind the rear seats provides room for luggage and there is a hidden compartment under the floor. Access to the rear through the large glass hatch is good. The floor of this storage area is high as it covers the battery pack and electronic control unit underneath.
Overall, the driving experience is not that different from a regular small car. If you drive it normally it is a relatively spirited small two-seater coupe. It is not a sports car, but it is perfectly capable of keeping up with traffic. The big difference is that you end up getting between 50 and 60 miles per gallon without trying to drive in an economical fashion.
On the other hand, if you start to learn new habits and follow the small arrow on the dash that tells you when to upshift or downshift you'll end up getting 70 or more miles per gallon. At first driving the car in the most economical mode is disconcerting. The engine stops running when ever you come to a stop, as long as you put the gearshift into neutral and don't leave it in gear with the clutch in. As soon as you select a gear the engine restarts instantly and the car moves off again.
On the highway one has to get used to the perception that the engine is lugging. It seems as if it needs to be downshifted into a lower gear most of the time. In fact it can be left in the higher gear as suggested by the upshift light without any problems as the electric motor adds torque as needed.
The car handles quite nicely with a good ride for a small car. It has really skinny low-rolling resistance tires that make it look under-tired. Handling and the car's looks would be improved with fatter tires but economy would be adversely affected. The steering feels solid with some road feel and is not over assisted. The manual gearshift (no automatic yet) is smooth. The bucket seats are quite comfortable, although a large person might find them a bit small as they hug one's body quite nicely. All but the tallest people will find plenty of room in the cockpit.
At a price below $20,000, the Insight costs about $3,000 to $4,000 more than a regular Civic with similar specs. In return, the Insight delivers a unique high-tech experience and fuel economy that leads to some decent monetary savings over time. Also for those who hate going to the gas station this means quite a lot as it will get you up to 700 miles between fill-ups. Over one year (12,000 miles) the average person will only use 200 gallons of fuel or about $300 worth. A large SUV getting 12 mpg will go through 1,000 gallons in the same time and the owner will spend $1500 on fuel.
Bottom line: the Insight is an ideal car for anyone who cares about the environment. Although it costs a few thousand dollars more to buy than a regular car of this size, it is actually a bargain. Honda may be losing money on each Insight sold considering the cost of the high-tech parts and the all-aluminum body structure, let alone the research and development for such a low-volume car.
Honda's Insight is much more practical than an electric car as the driving range is unlimited. Performance and ride are more than adequate for around town and occasional long trips. Because of this, it makes an ideal commuter car and also a good car for someone on a budget. Lastly, if you are an early adopter of leading-edge technology this is just the ticket!
|Model Line Overview|
|Base Price (MSRP)|| $18,880|
|As Tested (MSRP)|| $20,495|
|Model lineup:||Insight ($18,880)|
|Engines:||1.0-liter 3-cylinder gasoline with integrated electric motor (IMA)|
|Safety equipment (Standard):||dual airbags, ABS standard|
|Safety equipment (Optional):||N/A|
|Basic warranty:||3 years/36,000 miles|
|Specifications As Tested|
|Model tested (MSRP):||Insight ($18,880)|
|Standard equipment:||hybrid engine, remote entry system, ABS, power windows, AM/FM stereo cassette|
|Options as tested:||automatic air conditioning|
|Gas Guzzler Tax:||N/A|
|Price as tested (MSRP):|| $20,495|
|Engine:||1.0-liter 3-cylinder gasoline with integrated electric motor (IMA)|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm):||67 @ 5700 (73 @ 5700 with IMA)|
|Torque(lb.-ft. @ rpm):||66 @ 4800 (91 @ 2000 with IMA)|
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:||61/70 mpg|
|Track, f/r:||56.5/52.2 in.|
|Head/hip/leg room, f:||38.8/48.7/42.9 in.|
|Head/hip/leg room, m:||N/A|
|Head/hip/leg room, r:||N/A|
|Cargo volume:||16.3 cu. ft.|
|Curb weight:||1887 Lbs.|
|Brakes, f/r:||disc/drum with ABS|
|Fuel capacity:||10.6 gal.|
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.|
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of 15/Dec/1999.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges.
N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: