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Defeating Ignorance with Insight (Honda Insight Review)
Contributed by: ericbecky
Posted by: Jason
Published on: 01-01-2004  

Article Content

The Insight is Honda’s two seat hybrid vehicle and has been the leader in gas mileage for its class since it was first introduced in 2000. From the moment one first sees the car, until long after it is driven, it’s clear that the Insight is unlike anything else on the road today.

The aerodynamic shape, the ample use of aluminum construction, and the compact design, all contribute to its fuel efficiency. With the average US vehicle having an EPA mileage estimate of only 20.9 miles per gallon, the Insight’s estimates of 57 city/56 highway for the automatic transmission and 60/65 for the manual are impressive. And as amazing as those numbers are, real life data shows that it is possible to beat the EPA estimates (www.greenhybrid.com/compare/mileage/). Forget about getting only 300 miles on a tank of gas. Depending on the type of commute and driving habits, 500, 600, 700 miles or more can be obtained.

The Insight is powered by a 1.0 liter, 3 cylinder aluminum engine with an electric motor mated to it for additional assist when needed. Together the two produce just over 70 horsepower but this is certainly peppy enough given the low curb weight of just under 2000 lbs. Two transmission choices are available; Honda’s Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), or the 5 speed manual transmission.

Contrary to popular perception, the electric motor never needs to be plugged in. Most charging occurs while braking or coasting, although it can also occur while driving if car senses the battery charge is too low. The car’s computer chooses between providing electric assist and charging as needed. The transition between the two is seamless and would go unnoticed except for the set of digital meters in the dash display.

The electric motor also acts as a high spinning starter making for quieter and less damaging startups. It can spin the engine faster than a conventional starter which means the oil is better distributed before the first cylinder of the engine fires.

This star up especially helpful when the engine restarts after the Insight’s “Auto Stop” feature has shut off the engine at a stoplight. The Insight only enters auto stop mode if certain variables are met, such as not needing power when stopped. This reduces unnecessary idling and makes for silence while sitting at stoplights. As soon as the car senses the driver is ready to begin driving again (pressing the accelerator, for example), the engine quickly starts up and is ready to go.

Based on several variables, if there is no need for engine power when the car comes to a stop, the engine shuts off.

Auto stop is just one component of the emissions system to make the Insight better for the air we breathe. The special catalytic converters and placement of emission controls are integral to this goal as well. Combined together, the technologies make the overall tailpipe emissions of manual transmission Insight 50% cleaner than the average new car and the CVT’s 90% cleaner. (Based on the 2003 model year.)

Keeping with the Insight’s aerodynamics shape, the car itself is low to the ground. Inside, there is plenty of seating room for the driver and passenger and the rear hatch opens for 16.3 cu. ft. of storage. It is sporty and nimble when going down winding roads and easy to dart around traffic in town when necessary. Even with this agility, the ride on the Low Rolling Resistance (LRR) tires can seem harsh due to their harder composition, and some owners have reported the tires “tracking” the grooves on certain highways. When looking out the windows, there seems to be larger than usual blind spots, but this can be remedied with proper mirror adjustment.

When driving, the digital dash display has plenty of information available. All the usual gauges are there in electronic form; speedometer, tachometer, and odometer. But there are other items as well. A set of gauges displays whether the electric motor is providing assist or charging the battery and there is a gauge that displays the battery’s current charge level. Pushing a few buttons cycles through several trip meters; three of meters are used to track trip segments, and one tracks the lifetime miles per gallon (lmpg) of the vehicle.

But one of the best features of the display is the instantaneous gas mileage readout. This is the where the driver can see, in real time, how driving habits affect gas mileage. When accelerating hard, the gas mileage drop to near zero, but when not much throttle is needed, the gas mileage gauge goes much higher. By using this visual feedback the driver can easily adjust driving habits to get the best fuel economy. Owners report that this feature can have personal impact, too. No longer is the question how long does it take to get from point A to Point B, but rather, how efficiently can it be done?

Standard amenities in the Insight currently include; power steering, powers locks power windows, AM/FM/CD player and a theft deterrent system. Automatic climate control comes standard with the CVT, but is optional with manual transmission. Safety features include ABS and front airbags. The radio is adequate for everyday listening, but for music buffs may choose to upgrade. Noticeably absent are tilt steering, side curtain airbags and cruise control. (Cruise can be added by aftermarket installers and some dealers.) Current colors are Navy Blue Pearl, New Formula Red, and Silverstone Metallic.

The last thing to point out is that the purchase of an Insight may make you eligible to receive a one-time clean-fuel vehicle federal tax deduction of up to $1,500. Some states allow additional incentives as well. See your tax advisor or the IRS for details.

Overall, the Insight’s excellent gas mileage, low emissions, and nimble ride make it a great choice if a two-seater car fits into your lifestyle. The possibility of a deduction from the government is nice, too. Although there have been unsubstantiated rumors that Insight production is ending soon, the Insight will continue to remain as a lasting example of what is possible in vehicle design.