2000 Honda Insight
This 2000 review is representative of model years 2000 to 2006.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Honda is the first to sell a gasoline-electric hybrid car to consumers in the United States. The 2000 Insight isn't just a high-tech marvel, though. It's a 2-seat hatchback that feels like a normal car even while it's getting record gas mileage.
Don't think Honda's new, gasoline-electric car is just for engineers and scientists who like new technology or for drivers who don't mind changing their driving habits or putting up with sluggish performance.
You'd be way wrong.
In fact, the 2000 Honda Insight—the first production hybrid for real consumers—feels like a normal car and you can drive just like you normally do.
Easy on the wallet, too
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price plus destination charge on this unique, 3-door car is just over $19,000 for a model without air conditioning. It tops $20,000 for an air-conditioned model. This is lower than today's average new vehicle price of $21,420.
Then, there's the savings that the Insight provides at the gas pump.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which checks and ranks the fuel economy of all vehicles sold here, estimates the Insight's annual gas bill might be as low as $277. Yes, that's for a full year, with 15,000 miles driven and with gas at an estimated $1.20 a gallon.
Novel engine technology
The Insight's little 1.0-liter 3-cylinder gasoline engine is paired with a 10-kilowatt, electric motor to efficiently power the lightweight, 2-seater along. The EPA puts combined city/highway fuel economy at an amazing 65 miles per gallon.
Even if you don't get the EPA's projected fuel economy—it's bound to vary, based on your driving style, weather, road conditions, etc.—you'll still get something way above what you get in any other vehicle. And you'll find yourself making far fewer visits to the gas station.
During my test drive, for example, I pushed the test Insight hard on a rainy, 200-mile roundtrip on mostly highway in Northern California's hilly terrain. The car's computer said I still got 50.6 mpg, and yes, after all that driving, the 10.6-gallon fuel tank was still more than half full. In fact, I had only used about four gallons.
Drive like normal
In fact, from the consumer's standpoint, the Insight works just like any other vehicle with a 5-speed manual transmission. You turn the key in the ignition, push in the clutch pedal, shift into gear and drive.
New thinking in the engine compartment
I expected a hop or some sort of vibration to give away that this was going on each time, but the joining of the electric motor and gas engine power sources is quite seamless.
The only hint comes when you watch the complex gauges on the Insight dashboard that show, via a green indicator, that Honda's Integrated Motor System (IMA) is at work and you're not just running on an internal combustion engine.
The motor is positioned between the 67-horsepower engine and the manual transmission and gets its power mainly from a constantly recharging, nickel-metal hydride battery that stores energy recouped from the car's forward motion and regenerative braking.
That doesn't sound like much. But the Insight is surprisingly spunky, and I never hesitated to merge into traffic. I did have to go through the gears, however.
Savvy engine management
It does provide the primary driving power. But generally, you don't need the engine idling at stoplights and in other similar circumstances.
So, Honda has the engine turn itself off at those times, provided the engine isn't cold, the air conditioning isn't cranked way down and provided the computer hasn't sensed you're in stop-and-go traffic.
You must also shift the Insight into neutral and take your foot off the clutch before the gas engine will shut off. But when it does shut off, there at the intersection, don't be surprised if you're a bit unnerved at first. For those of us who have had a timing belt fail, the sudden silence can bring panic.
Thank goodness Honda has a flashing light on the dashboard during these times to alert you that the Insight is in "auto stop" and something hasn't gone wrong with the car.
The Insight qualifies as a California Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV), in part because of how the gas engine is carefully controlled and its use of lean burn technology.
Very lightweight car
I felt wind gusts and buffeting from passing big rigs in my test drive. And watch that you don't rip off the lightweight doors as you throw them open to get into or out of the Insight.
Honda used its experience in building the aluminum-bodied Acura NSX to help produce the aluminum frame and body of the Insight. Body weight is reduced by nearly 50 percent from a Honda Civic hatchback, while torsional and bending rigidity is comparable.
The attention to weight in the Insight was so detailed, in fact, that Honda engineers opted not to install map pockets on the doors, I was told. The thinly cushioned seats were selected for weight savings, too.
I'd rather have better seats, though. I found my back was aching after just a couple-hour drive in the Insight.
By the way, Honda insists the Insight meets the company's internal measures for crashworthiness, including tests in full frontal crashes of 35 miles an hour, which is 5 mph more than the federal standard.
Wheel skirts here
The compactly shaped Insight maneuvers nimbly in the city. Variable assist, electric, rack-and-pinion steering is nicely responsive, though road feel is a bit dull.
The front-wheel-drive Insight sits low to the ground, but the 14-inch, low-rolling resistance tires don't provide a lot of grab. I struggled at times to keep the Insight on track in heavy downpours of rain. The tires just don't funnel away the water well.
But the standard AM/FM stereo with cassette player has just two speakers and was less than impressive. There's no turn-off switch for the passenger-seat frontal airbag and no map pockets on the doors. In addition, the dashboard gauges are complex and take some getting used to.
Storage space behind the seats totals 16.3 cubic feet, which is impressive for a car that's nine inches shorter in overall length than a Civic hatchback.
But note that the Insight's rear cargo floor sits up quite high to help accommodate the nickel-metal hydride battery and other important components. So there's not a lot of depth to the cargo hold. The exception is a deep rectangular hole in the floor, close to the hatchback opening, that has a nifty lid that helps hide things below.
The Insight is also sold in Japan, where it's built.