- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2001

ATLANTA Every now and then, something happens that convinces us our society is not on a fast track to the nether world. One of them was the time I spent with Honda's Insight hybrid car.

There I sat in traffic, surrounded by a sea of gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles, in a diminutive three-cylinder, gasoline/electric two-passenger Honda.

At times, it was intimidating. There is something unnerving about looking out your side window and realizing you are eyeball-to-axle with the vehicle next to you.

Nonetheless, the days spent with the Insight were like a breath of fresh air literally.

Driving the Insight not only cut the emissions; the car used a lot less gas, in line with its rating of nearly 70 miles per gallon. In addition, it made me aware the public is aware of this and other vehicles of its type.

I took that as a good sign, despite reports from California that consumers are not interested and won't buy an alternative-fuel vehicle as long as gasoline costs less than bottled water.

I did what I call real-world research while actually driving the vehicle. When I went through a fast-food drive-through, the youth at the window questioned, "Hey, is that the Honda that's supposed to get 70 mpg?"

I assured him it was, but I didn't want to burst his bubble: My best mpg had been a meager 52. My driving style was more performance-oriented than fuel-economy-minded, so he might want to factor that in.

What really impressed me was that this boy knew there was a Honda car that claimed 70 mpg.

My niece, who just turned 15 and is eager to get her driver's license, said, "Hey, this is a pretty cool sports car."

Obviously not cut from the same piece of motor oil-filled cloth as her aunt, I responded, "What makes you think this is a sports car?"

After all, most enthusiasts don't consider a three-cylinder car a sports car. Perhaps it was because the vehicle was red.

"Because it only has two doors," she said.

That's good, because perception often is reality. And if Lindsay perceives this three-cylinder, 73-horsepower vehicle, which was much gutsier than I expected, as a sports car, I am all for it.

Then there was the guy standing beside his full-sized Acura MDX in the parking lot. You could tell from the smug look on his face that he held his Acura's diminutive corporate cousin in a bit of contempt.

"It's cute, but much too small for me."

I pointed out there was a lot of room in the car's two front seats. He replied, "But I've got a lot of stuff to haul."

After watching me load a 50-pound bag of dog food and a boxed 7*-foot artificial tree into the Insight's rear hatch, he asked, "What kind of mileage did you say that thing gets?"

I replied, "It varies a bit, but in the last 10 days I put on about 1,200 miles and spent just under $11 for fuel."

The look on his face told me that light at the end of the tunnel just got brighter.

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