What's New for 2001
A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is available for 2001, and Monte Carlo Blue Pearl replaces Citrus Yellow on the color chart.
With its ultra-low-drag styling, aluminum body structure and innovative Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) powertrain, the two-passenger Insight can travel as far as 70 miles on a gallon of gas (theoretically, with a 10.6-gallon fuel tank, you can drive from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City and still have a gallon of gas in reserve).
The heart of the system is a 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine coupled with an electric motor that assists the gasoline engine under acceleration. The package features an idle-stop feature, which shuts off the engine when the driver places the shift lever in neutral and releases the clutch pedal.
Unlike GM's all-electric EV1, the Insight requires no external power supply to recharge the 144-volt nickel metal hydride batteries. Regenerative braking via the ABS-assisted disc/drum brakes provides juice to the system. With a full charge and the electric motor providing full assist, the Insight accelerates swiftly, but passing power is lacking.
The five-speed manual transmission has relatively short first, second and third gears for good city driving performance, with tall overdrive gearing in fourth and fifth to maximize fuel economy.
Like the Acura NSX's, the Insight's unitized body is made of aluminum (except for the front fenders, which are made from plastic) and boasts a drag coefficient of only 0.25. Thanks to its aerodynamic bodywork, flat underbody, low rolling resistance tires and extensive use of lightweight materials, the Insight requires 30 percent less power to operate at highway speeds than the previous-generation Honda Civic.
But the effort to save weight pays a price in the handling department. The Insight is highly susceptible to crosswinds, and the narrow tires easily track any groove in the pavement, causing the driver to adjust the steering continually to compensate.
The Insight's interior is just as futuristic as the exterior, with a sweeping dash and a high-tech LCD analog/digital instrument display. Divided into three sections, the cluster displays engine rpm, coolant temperature and the engine's idiot lights on the left bank; a large digital speedometer, odometer, lifetime fuel economy bar graph and instant fuel economy in the middle; and fuel level, battery level indicator and the electric motor charge and assist indicator on the right bank.
Dual high-back bucket seats feature good lateral and lumbar support. Controls for power windows, mirrors, AM/FM cassette stereo, ventilation and available climate controls are all within easy reach, but two large adults might find themselves knocking elbows in the tight cockpit. Built fully equipped (the only option is an automatic air conditioning system) with power windows, door locks, exterior mirrors, an AM/FM cassette stereo, dual airbags, rear window defroster and a whole lot more, the Insight is an incredible value -- for a hybrid vehicle.
Despite the handling shortcomings and quick-to-drain batteries, Honda has brought forth a realistic ultra-low-emission daily driver with electric assist that can be taken anywhere without the worry of having to find an electrical outlet for battery-charging. Despite the arrival of the four-passenger Toyota Prius on the market, we bet Honda will sell every Insight it can produce.