Introducing Tommy’s latest geek-out obsession: a 2000 Honda Insight hybrid. When introduced in 1999, Honda took the title as the first hybrid for sale in America. The Toyota Prius came out roughly seven months later. For that brief period of time, the Insight showed the world its first glimpse of the hybrid revolution that snowballed throughout the next 15 years.
Unfortunately, Honda’s take on the hybrid failed to gain traction from the start. One look at it and you can understand why. It’s a bizarre and weird looking sportster, or is it an econo-box, a giant computer mouse? It uses aluminum everywhere, which is NOT cheap to work with or fix after an accident. No doubt Honda and insurance companies lost thousands of dollars on every Insight sold throughout its six year run.
But for Tommy, the Insight comes with the golden ticket to unicorn-level awesomeness: a 5-speed manual transmission.
Engine and Specs
Under the hood the a tiny 1-liter, 3-cylinder engine supplied the bulk of the power with help from a minuscule electric motor connected to a 1 Kwh battery. Combined the VTEC-E power plant totaled roughly 73 hp and 91 ft-lb. torque. Here the “E” in “VTEC-E” stands for efficiency, not excitement.
When new, the EPA rated the car at 70 MPG, but times change and so do EPA specifications. The EPA currently rates the Insight at 53 MPG, which is still incredible, but not the head-turning 70 of old. That fuel economy comes from the vehicle’s purpose-built aerodynamics, tall gearing meant for efficiency not power or speed, and the all-aluminum monocoque construction. With the optional A/C in our Insight, curb weight clocks in at less than 1,900 pounds. By comparison, an even smaller current-gen Lotus Elise sportster weighs a hundred pounds more.
More quick Insights on the Insight
- Revolutionary construction and design checked all the right boxes to launch the hybrid revolution: Two-seater because most commuters travel solo, low-slung for improved economy, tiny engine tuned for efficiency, etc. All that form-following-function lost to the supremely better real-world functionality and flexibility of the Toyota Prius, which sold 10 times more 1st gen units than Honda did.
- the 5-speed manual transmission, like all Honda manual transmissions, still shifts crisply and brings joy to any drive that doesn’t involve stop-and-go traffic. The semi-analogue/digital dash even used and “UP” and “DOWN” guide to teach drivers how to drive the Insight for maximum fuel efficiency. How thoughtful.
- The steering wheel comes from the Honda S2000 roadster (Cool!), but Honda placed it roughly three inches to the right of center to the driver (Huh?) for a cockpit that takes some getting used to. About that steering, the Insight’s electric power steering delivers a vague and rather slow connection to what the front tires are doing. That said, Tommy finds the Honda to be a decent handler on the road.
- By our calculations, Honda only sold around 17,000 Insights worldwide. Most of them, like ours, were driven to death. However, ours had its powerplant and battery replaced four years and 25,000 miles ago after an oil-change disaster. So this Honda should be good for years and years–and hopefully increase in value from the $3,900 we overpaid for it.
To see more of TFL’s newest fleet addition and learn about how to keep these rare gems from the recent past rolling on, check out Tommy’s video below on TFLclassics: