Full 2006 Honda Insight Review
What's New for 2006
There are no significant changes for the 2006 Honda Insight.
Due to increased pressure from the government, automakers have been looking for ways to meet increasingly stringent demands for cleaner tailpipe emissions and higher fuel economy. In the 1990s, electric cars (such as GM's EV1) were thought to be the answer, but their shortcomings of poor range and high cost have thus far proven too difficult to overcome. For today and the near future, many automakers feel that the best hope for improved fuel mileage is hybrid-electric technology. Hybrid cars typically combine a gasoline engine and an electric motor. Since they are still fueled by gasoline, these cars don't have to be plugged in or recharged, yet the additional assistance of an electric motor allows the gasoline engine to be smaller -- and thereby more efficient -- than it would otherwise have to be on its own given the size of the vehicle.
Introduced in 2000, the Insight was the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle to be offered to U.S. consumers. It features many advanced construction techniques. The 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, Honda says the Insight requires 30-percent less power to operate at highway speeds than the 1996-2000 Honda Civic. The Insight also happens to be America's most fuel-efficient car. Given the car's 66-mpg EPA highway mileage estimate and 10.6-gallon fuel tank, one could, in theory, drive from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City and still have a bit of fuel left in reserve. In practice, however, the car's range is about 500 miles.
Six years on, the Insight still attracts plenty of attention. But its singularly focused mission of fuel economy limits its usefulness. In years past, one had to accept its shortcomings -- only two seats, not much point-and-shoot power, a paltry 365-pound payload capacity -- because there wasn't much of an alternative. Now there's the Honda's own Civic and Accord Hybrids, the acclaimed Toyota Prius and Highlander, the Lexus RX 400h and Ford's Escape Hybrid, with several more models on deck for 2007. For those who desire the most efficient vehicle available, the Insight rewards with miserly fuel consumption. Exotic aluminum construction, unique packaging, daring style and low production numbers will assure the Insight's place in history -- not only as the first hybrid (in the U.S.), but also as an exceptionally unique automobile.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The two-door, two-passenger Insight comes fully equipped with power windows, mirrors and locks; keyless entry; a CD player; and a rear window defroster and wiper. Automatic climate control air conditioning is optional (a manual heater-only system is standard).
Powertrains and Performance
The most revolutionary thing about the Insight is its gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain or, in Honda's terms, the Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system. IMA combines the efforts of a 1.0-liter, 12-valve, inline three-cylinder VTEC-E gasoline engine and a lightweight permanent-magnet electric motor capable of recharging its own power supply -- a bank of 120 D-size nickel-metal hydride batteries (with a total output of 144 volts) housed under the cargo floor. The gas engine does the bulk of the work; mounted between the gas engine and the transmission, the electric motor provides only supplemental power. Yet, the motor's contributions at low rpm are what make the Insight feel livable, as it improves the total torque output to 79 lb-ft at 1,500 rpm with the standard five-speed manual transmission, and 89 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm with the optional continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), while adding 6 extra horsepower for a total of 73 with the manual, 71 with the CVT. The manual transmission is standard, while the CVT is optional. With the five-speed, the Insight is rated at 60 mpg in the city and 66 on the highway and is ULEV-certified. The CVT offers 57 city/56 highway, and has the even more squeaky clean SULEV rating.
In government crash testing, the Insight earned four stars (out of a possible five) for frontal- and side-impact safety. Antilock front disc/rear drum brakes are standard, but side airbags are not available.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Insight's cabin combines quasi-futuristic aesthetics with forthright functionality. The digital instrument cluster includes one meter to show you when the electric motor is assisting and when it's charging the battery pack, another meter to show instantaneous fuel economy, and a third display to show you the average mpg. If you're the driver of the Insight, you can't keep your eyes off this stuff. Whether you feel excited by the challenge or merely guilty, you're motivated to improve the numbers before you. This challenge makes driving the Insight like piloting a high-tech video game.
The Insight's power is adequate for most driving. However, the battery charge will drain quickly in the manual-shift version if you hold a high gear too long under heavy IMA assist. IMA assist and regenerative braking work much better with the CVT, as the balance of gas and electric power is managed automatically (which also makes draining the battery virtually impossible). The Insight is highly susceptible to crosswinds, and the narrow tires easily track any groove in the pavement. On the plus side, the car's small dimensions and light, accurate steering make it a breeze to maneuver in crowded areas.