My wife and I purchased this car to commute back and forth from work and for the occasional short road trips where the lack of sport and cargo capacity wouldn't be a problem. Its purpose is to consume very little fuel and produce very few emissions. The EPA rates it at 61/68 mpg city/highway which makes it the highest performance mass-produced vehicle in this category bar none. The 10 gallon fuel tank gives it a greater than 600 mile cruising range. CARB certifies this model as an ultra low emissions vehicle (ULEV). The Insight CVT and the Prius are certified SULEV.
In two unusual moves I bought it from dealer stock and it's red. Normally I order new cars because I am rather picky about options and I don't want a demonstrator that's been thrashed by a dozen would-be Andrettis. I've really never cared for red on cars. Just my personal preference. Considering the deal we got on this car I think I'll get over it.
It surprises us how much attention this car attracts. During the first day of ownership we've already been stopped by passers by asking about it. We've noticed quite a few stares from other drivers as well. Although it's hard to differentiate between admiration, gawking and disgust on the road. It's certainly a function over form design but I've never considered it ugly. I think the strange little bugger is starting to grow on me.
It has a 60 hp 995 cc (that's less than one liter) 3 cylinder internal combustion engine (ICE) with 13 hp electic booster motor in the transaxle housing. Honda calls it their Integrated Motor Assist (IMA). When necessary the IMA kicks in a variable amount of power to help out the tiny ICE. The 144 volt NiMH battery pack for the IMA is recharged by the ICE while coasting. Increased recharging occurs when the brakes are applied, a process known as regenerative braking. Unlike purely electric vehicles the Insight is never plugged into the electric power grid. Just pour in gasoline like any other road car.
Despite the Insight's economical 1856 lb. curb weight and slippery bodywork this tiny powerplant requires planning to pass on two lane roads. Acceleration is not exciting and handling on the 165/65/14 hard, high-pressure (38/35 psi f/r), all season radials is far from confidence-inspiring. It drifts through corners at what I would consider rather modest speeds for our other cars. You have to face the fact that extreme performance in one area costs performance in another. Given the lightweight, stiff chassis and tight suspension it can be surprisingly fun to drive up to its modest limits as long as you don't try drag racing.
Speaking of compromises, the Insight is also far from a practical primary car. It only has two seats for passengers and the cargo areas total about 18 cubic feet in the hatchback. Cargo capacity — including passengers — totals a paltry 400 lbs. The view through the hatch is rather like driving a tank and the car has large blind spots. The ride can be harsh, the zero-toe alignment and light weight make it twitchy on the highway and the engine noise is louder within the car than without. For my wife and I it is a third car. We also have a highly practical Passat wagon and a 928 filling out the sport and track duties. Honda's new Civic Hybrid sedan incorporates the IMA system in a significantly more practical package. Eh...I already have a people mover. I think I would rather have a much nicer Jetta TDI (sedan or wagon) which gets 49 mpg on the highway than a Civic Hybrid or a Prius.
As another fuel and emission saving measure the ICE is turned off when the car comes to a stop. Honda calls this the Idle-Stop feature. When you shift into first gear the IMA quickly, quietly and very smoothly restarts the ICE and you pull away. This isn't quite as slick as the Prius system which can run completely under electrical power where the ICE is used as the booster. Unfortunately due to different compromises the Prius gets significantly worse gas mileage despite Toyota's clever engineering.