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Honda Insight (2001)

SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide

by Brendan Hagin and Mikele Schappell-Hagin

    Suggested retail.............$ 18,320
    Price as tested..............$ 19,320
    Engine type.............SOHC 12 valve 1.0 liter inline 3 cylinder w/
    MPFI /Permanent Magnet Electric Assist Motor
    Transmission: Five speed manual/ CVT available Spring 2001
    Brakes...........(front/rear) Disc (ABS)/ drum (ABS)
    Drive Train.......Front-engine/front-wheel drive
    Vehicle type.........Two passenger/three door hatchback
    Mileage..............City/highway 61/70

(Brendan Hagin is the youngest member of the Hagin brood and with his wife Mikele will be doing a weekly road test of various vehicles. Their perspective will be through the eyes of a young married couple who are buying their first house, have no children yet and have settled into a pleasant two-income lifestyle. Although Brendan has done considerable writing for music periodicals, this is his first venture into a weekly column on new automobiles. Coming from a family whose automotive roots stretch back to the turn of the century, he expects to have no trouble with the subject content. Mikele fits into the Hagin family mold very well since her father and mother are family friends and can always be depended on to be driving something "special." They just recently gave up their turbocharged Buick Grand National in favor of a new Chevrolet Corvette. - Bob Hagin)

BRENDAN: The new millennium brought with it "hybrid" autos. Much more practical than electric-only vehicles, the hybrid is a car that charges its batteries while you drive. There are no worries finding a charging station - just fill up and go. It's easy to spot one of these revolutionary in stop-and-go traffic. The Honda Insight Mikele and I drove this week served us well in our daily routine. From Mikele's incredibly long commute to San Francisco to a trip to the dog park, this little machine handled the task at hand with a style all its own.

MIKELE: Being a designer, I was fascinated by its sleek, euro-look as well as the great gas mileage: 61 city/70 highway. And for a car with a tiny 1.0 liter engine, the Insight cruised along just fine on my commute to work. Its powerplant is all-aluminum - the lightest in its class. An ultra-thin electric motor gives extra "juice" when needed and really helps lower tailpipe emissions. I felt confident merging into traffic on the Bay Bridge, even getting a thumbs-up from a somber, normally-lethargic tollbooth worker. San Francisco is hard to get around in with a manual transmission, but our car's five-speed handled the long journeys up and around the steep hills like a champ. The aerodynamic rear fender skirts resemble an early '60's Citroen, and they earned me style points among the cool San Francisco hipsters. Style is an important part of a designer's life, so remember that when your wearing your ripped-up T-shirt and sweats.

BRENDAN: I'm glad the Insight was such a success on your long commute, and the money saved on gas is a godsend, but I was impressed just driving around town. The engine is very, very quiet, so the AM/FM cassette player came in handy to fill the monotony. Ella and Roxie, the the family dogs, were a little cramped in back, but for a two-seater car that looks more at home in a futuristic movie, it fit the two pups nicely. The cup holders fit a large latte just fine, even though Ella felt compelled to try to sneak a sip. It gave a smooth, solid ride, even at a light 1887 lbs which included the optional air conditioning.

MIKELE: I enjoyed the feel of the high-back bucket seats, which gave plenty of leg and headroom. A digital clock on the cassette player kept me on time, and an easily reachable 12-volt accessory outlet let me use my cell phone. Cargo hooks in the rear hold down a net for groceries, and the driver's vanity mirror made it easy to put on my lipstick while I concentrated on the road, a skill women are born with. Time is money, and during my two-hour commute, I'm short on both.

BRENDAN: I understand, but the Insight made my short ride to work fun and nostalgic. There's a CRX appearance in the Insight, dating back to the venerable two-seater that Honda produced from 1984 through 1991. Many enthusiasts were unhappy when the CRX was axed in favor of the similar Del Sol, which wasn't as successful. Though not as zippy as its predecessors, the Insight moves pretty well when you put the pedal down. I even had an encounter while cruising alongside one of those hot-rod Civics that flood the streets. He whupped me easily, but the Insight outshined him in traffic. An idle stop-mode shuts off the gasoline engine when the the transmission is in neutral with the clutch out, which saves fuel and lowers overall emissions. Once I put it back in gear, the gas unit restarted automatically to get me on my way. It gets kind of confusing, sometimes, because you think that the engine has died and you get a mild panic attack if there are cars behind you.

MIKELE: The lower emissions and great gas mileage really hit home with me. As an environmentally-conscious parent-to-be, I realize that the hole in the ozone layer isn't getting any smaller, and gas isn't getting any cheaper. The 105,000-mile service interval keeps an Insight buyer out of the shop and on the road and saves dollars in the long run. And now that we're planning that family, we'll need able to save a bit more than usual - besides, how else an I going to pay for some "trendy" clothes to replace those rag you wear on the weekends.