SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS MODEL: Honda Insight ENGINE: 1.0-liter three-cylinder plus 10 kw permanent magnet electric motor HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 73 hp @ 5,700 rpm/ 91 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm TRANSMISSION: Five-speed manual WHEELBASE: 94.5 in. LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 155.1 x 66.7 x 53.3 in. STICKER PRICE: $20,577
I'm not a fan of electric cars. The impracticality of a vehicle that can only travel 100 miles at the best and the lack of an infrastructure to "refuel" the vehicles make them, to me, totally impractical. I was personally involved with new battery development more than 35 years ago, and the fact that battery development hasn't progressed much beyond that stage leaves little hope for magical breakthroughs in the future.
Hybrid vehicles are another story. I have just finished a week behind the wheel of the new Honda Insight, a two-seat hybrid gasoline-electric vehicle that shows great promise for the future. This was a vehicle that performed as well as any small car I have driven, yet gave us 60 miles per gallon performance over 300-plus miles. What more could you ask for?
I was impressed with the design of the Insight right from the start. It is small and aerodynamic with skirts over the rear wheel openings. These skirts help the aerodynamics and contribute to the extraordinarily low coefficient of drag of 0.25,which may be the lowest for any production car today.
You need good aerodynamics when you have vehicle with a small engine. The main propelling force in the Insight is a three-cylinder, 12-valve gasoline engine that develops 73 horsepower. A three-banger with low power is not my idea of a great car. Supplementing the gasoline engine, though, is a 10 kw pancake-shaped electric motor that assists the gasoline engine when you want to accelerate or when you need extra power. With the dual motor arrangement, the Insight runs like a car with a 1.5-liter engine of approximately 90-10 horsepower, and this is something everyone can learn to live with.
Driving the Insight is like driving any other car. You turn the key, start it up and move out. It is only limited by the range of its 10.6-gallon fuel tank, which in our test would have gotten us more than 600 miles. I can't go that far between "pit stops" anyway.
What is different about the Insight is the instrument panel. Dominating the i.p. is a huge digital speedometer that climbed into the 70s quickly. Since the Insight is constructed primarily of aluminum, it only weighs 1,887 pounds, which is another contributor to great economy and the ability to use a smaller engine.
Wrapped around the speedometer are instruments that reflect the dual nature of the car. On the left is a tachometer for the gasoline side. On the right is a dual-purpose gauge that gives fuel level and state of battery charge. Above that is a meter that tells you whether you're charging the batteries or using them to assist the gas engine.
The most important gauge is under the speedometer. It gives a mileage readout. At one time we exceeded 65 mpg on our trip. Granted, we put a lot of Interstate miles on the Insight during our test, but still the mileage is impressive.
My wife was not initially impressed with the Insight. She likes larger cars and we had a long trip planned. But by the end of the trip, she was yelling out the window to people who asked all the information about the Insight -- what it was, what the fuel economy was, how much it cost, and other pertinent information. I think Honda found a convert.
Since we were traveling to our daughter's house, we normally carry a lot of stuff. However, with the rather small luggage compartment of the Insight, we were limited to one hard-sided suitcase, one duffle bag and some hanging clothes that lay flat. We still had room for at least one other hard-sided and one soft-sided bag. One advantage was being able to stuff one duffle bag in a small covered compartment behind the main battery compartment.
One note about that compartment. When you lift the carpeting off the floor in the back of the Insight you see a sign. It begins "You will be killed . . ." and I was almost afraid to read the rest. It warned anyone who was interested that removing the cover to the battery compartment could be fatal with all the batteries under there at full charge. We just found it amusing. I have driven the future and its name is Insight. Toyota also has the Prius, a hybrid vehicle it plans to introduce later this year. Technology has a better chance of improving on these vehicles that making electric cars that will travel 100-125 miles before plugging in. When I saw the kind of performance the Insight had, I was impressed and convinced that this is the more practical way to go.