The Honda Insight

An innovative car designed to be a real world test vehicle for hybrid technology and a gauge to new consumer driving habits.

Howard Watts
By Howard Watts

The Honda Insight is a hybrid electric vehicle that was manufactured and marketed by Honda in its first generation as a three-door, two passenger 'liftback'. Based on the Honda J-VX concept car unveiled at the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show, the Insight was introduced in Japan in November 1999 as the first production vehicle to feature Honda's Integrated Motor Assist system. It pre-dated the Toyota Prius by some 8 months.

The Insight featured optimized aerodynamics and a lightweight aluminum structure to maximize fuel efficiency and minimize emissions. As of 2014, the first generation Insight still ranks as the most fuel-efficient USA certified gasoline-fueled vehicle, with a highway rating of 73 mpg and combined urban rating of 64 mpg. In the EU fuel economy tests, the Insight achieved a combined efficiency figure 69.2 mpg with an Extra-Urban figure of 78.4 mpg and Urban figure of 57.4 mpg. This remains unbeaten in the UK market for a petrol car. 

The Insight is small, light and streamlined — with a drag coefficient of 0.25. At the time of production, it was the most aerodynamic production car, ever.

The petrol engine is a 67 hp, 1.0 litre, 3-cylinder unit unit providing lean burn operation with an air-to-fuel ratio that can reach 25.8 to 1. The engine utilises lightweight aluminium, magnesium and plastic to minimise weight. the electric motor assist adds another 13 hp when called on with the resultant boost in performance to the level of a 1.5 litre petrol engine. It also acts as a generator during deceleration and braking to re-charge the batteries and as the starter motor - which improves fuel efficiency and extends the lifetime of the brakes without adding unsprung weight. When the car is not moving the engine shuts off.


The Insight uses the first generation of Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid technology. The Insight’s electric assist is an ultrathin 10-kW electric motor located on the crankshaft. Located behind the seat are a series of commercial grade batteries wired to provide a nominal 144 V DC. During heavy acceleration, the NiMH batteries drive the electric motor, providing additional power; during deceleration, the motor acts as a generator and recharges the batteries using a process called regenerative braking. A computer control module regulates how much power comes from the petrol engine, and how much from the electric motor.

The digital displays on the dashboard display fuel consumption instantaneously. On the manual transmission up and down arrows suggest when to shift gears. Dashboard gauges monitor the current battery status, instantaneous fuel consumption, and mode of the electric motor — standby, engine assist or charging the batteries. High pressure, low rolling resistance tyres and the use of low viscosity 0W-20 synthetic oil enhance fuel economy.

And, yes, you have guessed the reason for this article! Straight off the trailer this morning is my latest acquisition, an original first generation Honda Insight.

Further news to come as we find out how it works!