Auto Review: 2001 Honda Insight
First glance at the 2001 Honda Insight brings back nostalgic memories of the CRX. The design of the hatch, the two-seater with a big rear cargo area layout, everything seems to say that this is the successor to Honda's popular pocket-rocket. It is comparably light, and especially nimble. The car shows a surprising amount of pep for the numbers Honda claims in their brochure. While definitely a diverting from the course the CRX took, the Insight still gives credit where credit is due to its elder sibling.
The car is aggressively styled as well. The headlights and taillights are very similar to those on the new Civic, and have a similar effect on the person looking at the car: either you love it or you hate it. I personally think it looks pretty good. Similar to the CRX, the hatch features a tinted glass back panel, which makes rear viewing much clearer and adds a little sportier touch as well. The wheels were not to my taste, perhaps because I've been looking at too many show cars recently, but they seemed very plain and didn't seem to do the car justice. Equally unattractive are the covers over the rear wheel wells, which give the car a kind of space-mobile appearance. I thought the car could do without those.
Under the hood was a layout the likes of which I had never seen. The 3-cylinder engine sits in the center of the engine bay, and is surrounded by lots and lots of gadgets (for lack of a better term). This was definitely something I would not like to have to dissect should something short out. I don't think I can adequately describe it, so I took some pictures.
Open the door and you might think you were about to get into a sports car. The seats are aggressively styled and very supportive. They keep you firmly planted, even in tight corners. I never once felt my body move from where it should be. The gauges are all digital. They were very well placed and easy to read, especially the speedometer, which seemed to be more accurate than any digital speedo I've ever seen. I did not like the digital tachometer though. I found this very difficult to get used to. It also seemed a little chincey and out of place in the otherwise very sporty interior. Stereo and climate controls were laid out with normal Honda efficiency. They were easy to reach and adjust while driving and seemed to be visible with the lights on.
Driving the car was a surprisingly enjoyable experience. The first thing I noticed was that the little engine actually had a little pep to it. I must admit, I was expecting to get beat out by Mac trucks at the stoplights, but the little car surprised me. Acceleration was comparable to my '99 Civic DX in stock form, not too shabby for a mere 62 horses. But while the engine was surprising, the suspension was what really won me over. The car was very nimble and handled curves and turns with utter confidence, exhibiting little or no body-roll. Bumps that would have been very noticeable in my Civic were easily absorbed. I could definitely feel the road, but it was about as far from uncomfortable as possible. The clutch was relatively long and slightly soft as well. The throw of the shifter was superb however, not requiring any thought or effort at all.
The real purpose behind the hybrid though is fuel economy. When stopped at a traffic light or when in on the clutch and coasting, the computer cuts out the engine and switches over to the car's alternate source of energy: its NiMH battery. One might think that this is an opportunity for the car to falter, leaving the driver in a bad situation. I tried several times to confuse it, to get the car to falter, testing its responsiveness. It never missed a beat. Every time I wanted or needed the engine, it was right there, ready to go. The whole setup is very impressive to experience. I imagine that Honda's claims of 65+ miles per gallon are true (if not a little underrated), as the car doesn't burn any fuel during the times when most cars are doing the most wasting.
Overall, I was extremely impressed and consequently pretty surprised. I went to the dealership expecting to drive an underpowered econo-car. While hardly a drag machine, the car excels at its main purpose, to get the driver from point A to point B and conserve as much gas as possible, while not sacrificing performance. In the process though, if the driver feels the yearning for twisty back roads, the suspension is more than willing. This combination of pep and vigor in the turns makes the Insight a worthy successor to the CRX, even if it doesn't share the former's pocket-rocket status. If any of you reading this are doubters, I strongly encourage you to go take it out for a test drive. I think you'll be very surprised.