- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2000

MODEL: Honda Insight
VEHICLE TYPE: Two-passenger commuter car
MILEAGE: 61 city, 70 highway

The 2000 Honda Insight provides some insight as to what is happening in the automobile industry. Fuel-efficient engines seem to be a future trend.
The Insight is the first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle to be sold in the United States, but others will follow. Toyota will soon introduce the Prius, and DaimlerChrysler just announced it will be coming out with a Dodge ESX3 that seats five persons and uses a diesel and electric engine.
The Insight gets about 70 miles to the gallon and runs so cleanly that it meets California's stringent ultra-low emission vehicle standard. It also uses electricity, which is stored in a 144-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack and controlled by an advanced electronic power-control unit. This method doesn't require an outside source for electrical power. Primarily regenerative braking generates the system. At least, that's what I'm told, but I don't understand how it works.
The heart of the Integrated Motor Assist system is a very small 1-liter, three-cylinder gasoline automobile engine. This engine is made of lightweight materials such as aluminum, magnesium and special plastics. Somewhere in the process when the engine is running, it will switch from gasoline to electric power using an ultra-thin, permanent magnet electric motor. The transition is so smooth, I was never able to detect when the switching occurred.
The Insight is a two-seater. Sort of a commuter car with a large cargo area but limited to carrying objects that are low in height. The car is made of lightweight aluminum with an exceptional aerodynamic design. Honda boasts it has one of the lowest coefficients of drag (0.25) of any mass-produced automobiles sold worldwide.
The Insight's eye-catching body style includes rear fender skirts, which help the air glide smoothly past the rear wheel wells. This car also uses low-friction tires, all in the interest of better fuel economy. Another means to achieve low air friction is the height of the car. It sits low to the ground, standing a mere 53 inches high. And thereby lies its only fault.
Getting in and out of the Insight is a struggle compared with cars of normal proportion. But once seated inside, I found it well worth the struggle. The seats are comfortable, visibility is good, surroundings are functional and the overall appearance is very sporty.
One unusual feature is the size of the numerals on the digital speedometer while other instruments are in analog. The contrast is very easy to read and understand. A couple instruments reveal when and how much the batteries are being charged, but they were of no help for me to determine the type of power that was being used.
The engine's performance is deceptive. Knowing that it has a very small, lightweight engine, I expected "lightweight performance." What I found is a reasonably strong engine in which I did not have to take a back seat to other cars on the road. The Insight handles well, keeps up with the best of them and gets two to three times as many miles for each gallon of gasoline.
The Insight has the usual conveniences such as power windows, steering, mirrors and door locks. Air conditioning, however, is optional. Nevertheless, this $18,800 vehicle comes well equipped, including an AM/FM stereo cassette player.
Research into electric propulsion now results in a car that is very practical for today's market. With the insight gained from the Insight, maybe the gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles will someday improve their image.



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