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.