Honda Insight

The world’s second hybrid power production car is Honda Insight. Starting from December 1999, this 2-seater "Sports car" will be sold in United States for just $20,000.  

The exterior shape reminds me the late CRX, however, although being also a 2-seater the Insight is not sporty at all. It can’t match GM EV1 electric car’s 0-60mph time of 7.9 sec, let alone the late little Honda rocket. It weighs 835 kg, with a maximum 76 horsepower generated from the hybrid power unit, a record breaking drag coefficient of 0.25, thus I estimated 11.5 sec for 0-60 and a top speed of 112 mph. 

The IMA hybrid power unit consists of a 1.0-litre 3 cylinder engine and a DC brushless motor. The former uses VTEC for lean burn effect. The latter is so compact that it actually acts as the flywheel of the engine. However, the electric motor alone is not powerful enough to pull the whole car (unlike Toyota’s Prius) even though Insight is already a very light car. Here Honda sacrifice the name of ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle) and pursuit a lighter motor and smaller battery pack. In other words, the engine always takes the responsibility of pulling the car while the electric motor just adds more punch in need. During braking, it recharges the battery.  
Weight saving mostly come from the smaller Ni-MH battery (just 20kg, versus GM EV1’s 500kg !), the impractical 2-seat layout and small dimensions and the use of light weight material. When you know the Insight has an aluminium space frame chassis, aluminium body panels, plastic front and rear fenders and even magnesium oil pan, you may doubt that the car will be profitable as claimed earlier. Insiders from Honda admitted that every Insight is selling with a loss up to $10,000. 

The recent test by US’s EPA recorded 61mpg in city and 70mpg on highway, easily being the most frugal petrol car in the world, or the second most frugal car in the world (behind Volkswagen Lupo TDi). 

Given a green mind, you’ll find the Insight fun to drive. Thanks to its light weight, it is not as slow as imagine. If 76hp is not enough, a short burst of 82hp could be available (call it "electric overboost" ?), helping overtaking. Ride and handling are also up to the standards of Honda. But remind you once again, it is not a sports car as it looks to be. Nor it is a practical people carrier. Can we describe it as a "Japanese Smart" ? The Honda is smarter than that. Not only it can attract the environmental protectionists, but it has no ambition for big sales. Make it clear, the Insight is Honda’s experiment into the future, an insight to the future. 

The above report was last updated on 29 Nov 99. All Rights Reserved.


Front-engined, Fwd
L / W / H / WB : 3945 / 1695 / 1355 / 2400 mm
Inline-3, sohc, 4v/cyl, VVT
995 c.c.
Engine : 68 hp
Engine + motor : 76 hp
Engine : 67 lbft
Engine + motor : 83 lbft
F: strut / R: torsion beam
165 / 65 R14
835 kg
Top speed
107 mph* (full battery)
0-60 mph
10.6 sec* (full battery)
12.3 sec* (half battery)
13.3 sec* (empty battery)
* Tested by Car and Driver

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