Honda Insight

The Honda Insight is a two-seater hybrid automobile manufactured by the Japanese automaker Honda.

The Insight was the first mass-produced hybrid automobile sold in the United States, introduced in 1999. At its height, it achieved nearly 70 miles per gallon (3.4 L per 100 km). (In Japan, the first generation of the Toyota Prius was launched in 1997.) According to the EPA, the 5-speed manual transmission variant of the Insight was the most fuel-efficient mass-produced automobile sold in the United States. The Insight also features low emissions: the California Air Resources Board gave the 5-speed model a ULEV rating, and the CVT model earned a SULEV rating. (The 5-speed's lean-burn ability is a trade-off which increases efficiency at the expense of slightly higher NOx emissions.)


Manufacturer Honda
Production 1999–2006
Assembly Suzuka, Mie, Japan
Class Subcompact
Body style(s) 2-door hatchback
Layout Front-engine, front-wheel drive
Engine(s) Gasoline: 0.995 L lean-burn I3 12-valve SOHC
Electric: 144 volt 10 kW
Transmission(s) 5-speed manual
Continuously variable transmission
Wheelbase 2400 mm (94.5 in)
Length 3945 mm (155.3 in)
Width 1695 mm (66.7 in)
Height 1355 mm (53.3 in)
Curb weight Manual w/o AC 838 kg (1847 lb)
Manual w/ AC 852 kg (1878 lb)
CVT w/ AC 891 kg (1964 lb)


Upon its introduction to the United States in December 1999 (as a year "2000" model car), the Honda Insight was the first mass-produced hybrid automobile sold in the country. The first generation of the Toyota Prius, however, had gone on sale in Japan in 1997. Hybrid technology, which combined two different power sources -- in the Insight's case, a regular internal combustion engine and an electric motor powered by Nickel-Metal Hydride cells -- was unproven on the American market, and at the time of release was not considered viable. Previous efforts to make environmentally-friendly cars had focused on electric cars. The primary argument against hybrids was that the cost and weight of having two different motors would make the vehicles impractical.


The Honda Insight was a subcompact hatchback 3945 mm (155.1 in) in length with a wheelbase of 2400 mm (94.5 in) a height of 1355 mm (53.3 in) and a width of 1695 mm (66.7 in). The Insight was only available as a two-seater. Only three different trims were available: a manual transmission without air-conditioning, a manual transmission with air-conditioning, and a continuously variable transmission with air-conditioning. Although produced until 2006, the only major change was the introduction of a trunk mounted, front controlled, multiple CD changer.

One key in increasing the vehicle's fuel efficiency was reducing the mass via the extensive use of aluminium and plastic. Honda built the insight with aluminum front brake calipers and rear brake drums; the fuel tank was plastic; the engine mounts are aluminum; and the exhaust was a small, thin wall pipe. The entire weight of the Insight was only 1847 lb (838 kg) for a manual transmission or 1964 lb (891 kg) for the CVT with air conditioning.

The flat back of the Insight was similar to the CRX, while the broad, rounded hood resembled the design of the Honda Civic. The shape of the Insight was considered too unusual by some drivers, much like GM's EV1. The New York Times wrote that the Honda Insight and the EV1 "suggested Popeye's pal, Olive Oyl, in her ankle-length dress. The rear fender skirts seemed frumpy.
The Insight, however, was introduced at a price of just under US $20,000. Other hybrids soon followed, with the Toyota Prius arriving in June of 2000. Honda rolled out a hybrid version of the Honda Civic in 2002, followed by Toyota's relaunch of the Prius in 2003. In the fall of 2004 Ford became the first American automotive manufacturer to bring a hybrid to market with the Ford Escape hybrid.

The car remained the highest mileage machine while it was produced and is still the leader of any current car. The Insight earned an EPA mileage estimate of 70 miles per gallon in highway driving, 61 mpg city. With air conditioning it was 66/60. With a CVT it was 57/56. Some drivers wind up with worse mileage; others routinely report real world mileage close to, and often exceeding, the EPA numbers. Insight aficionados, the more extreme of whom are called "hypermilers", compete to eke out as many miles as possible from a tank.

Upon the Insight's release, Honda challenged several automotive magazines to a competition to see who could obtain the best mileage on the 195-mile (314 km) drive from Columbus, Ohio to Detroit. The contest was won by Car and Driver magazine, which rigged a box behind an SUV, and had the Insight drive within the confines of the box. Without any wind resistance, the Insight made the trip with mileage of 121.7 miles per gallon, while averaging 58 miles per hour. A two-year test of an Insight with air conditioning, driven 40,000 miles (64,000 km), averaged 48 miles per gallon. Total global sales for the Insight amounted to only around 18,000. When the Insight debuted, gas cost only $1.39 a gallon.

Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 in the United States, the Honda Insight was eligible for a $1,450 tax credit.

The gasoline engine is a nominal 70 hp, 1-liter, 3-cylinder unit. The electrical motor assist adds in another 10 kW (approx 12 hp) when called on, and similarly provides significant deceleration when used in regenerative mode for braking. (This both improves mileage and also dramatically extends the lifetime for the brake shoes).

The Insight addressed many problems of electric vehicles, such as their extremely limited range. When the car is not driving the engine shuts off. The digital displays on the dashboard display mileage instantaneously. On the manual transmission up and down arrows suggest when to shift gears. In California, the state with the most-stringent fuel economy standards, the manual-transmission Insight was rated as an ultra-low-emission vehicle and the CVT transmission was rated Super-ultra-low-emission vehicle.

Until 2003 Honda and Toyota sold roughly similar numbers of hybrids, but in 2004 the Prius sales doubled. Sales of hybrids in Europe were even lower than in America because of the popularity and infrastructure to support diesel cars in Europe. The Economist wrote: "The beauty of hybrids is that they do not require changes in driver behaviour or fuel infrastructure."

In 2006, Honda decided to cancel production on the Insight because of dwindling sales and rising sales of the Honda Civic Hybrid. Hybrid insiders also noted the fact that the Insight was only a 2-seater made the Toyota Prius the preferred choice for those desiring to drive green.


Honda Insight IMA

The Insight uses the first generation of Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid technology. (The next generation, used in the Honda Civic Hybrid, is much more space-efficient.) The Insight has a 3-cylinder 1.0 Liter engine and a brushless 10-kWelectric motor located on the crankshaft. Buried behind the driver's and the passenger's seats are a set of commercial grade "D" sized NiMH batteries wired up to provide a nominal 144 V DC.During heavy acceleration, the electric motor provides additional power; during deceleration, the motor acts as a generator and recharges the batteries using a process called regenerative braking. A computer control module regulates how much power comes from the internal combustion engine, and how much from the electric motor; in the CVT variant, it also finds the optimal gear ratio. The current battery charge is shown on the dashboard, as is the instantaneous fuel efficiency and current state of the electric motor — whether it is (so to speak) resting, assisting the engine or charging the batteries.

Additional mileage enhancements are courtesy of high pressure, low rolling resistance tires and the use of extremely slippery "0w-20" synthetic oil.

Unlike the Toyota Prius, which has a planetary gearset, the original Insight had a conventional manual transmission. Starting with the 2001 model, a CVT variant of the Insight was available; the CVT is similar to that used in the Honda Civic Hybrid and the Honda Logo. The Insight is not considered a "full" hybrid vehicle because it cannot run on the electric motor alone, whereas its competitor, the Prius, can be operated solely on the electric motor. A feature shared by the two hybrids (and now appearing in others) is the ability to automatically turn off the engine when the vehicle is at a stop (and restart it upon movement). Since it is more powerful (10 kW) than most starters of conventional cars, the Insight's electric motor can start the engine nearly instantaneously.

The Integrated Motor Assist is run by an "Intelligent Power Unit (IPU)", a desktop computer-sized box. The Intelligent Power Unit, the Power control Unit, the Electronic Control Unit, the vehicle's batteries, converter and a high-voltage inverter are all located under the cargo floor of the vehicle, behind the seats. Also to maximize mileage, the Insight was very aerodynamic. The Insight had one of the lowest coefficients of drag of any car on the market, although its 0.25 coefficient was not as low as the EV1's 0.19.

The Insight was available with a manual transmission or a continuously variable transmission (CVT). A traditional transmission shifts between a fixed set of engine-to-wheel ratios; however, a CVT allows for an infinite set of ratios between its lowest gear and its highest. The CVT transmission was classified as a super-low emissions vehicle


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