Honda Insight: Good But Not Perfect

Nimble and fun to drive around town, thanks to its slick-shifting five-speed, compact dimensions, and minimalist curb weight of 1887 pounds, the Honda Insight is that rarest bird, a fuel-sipper with (kind of) sporty car essence.

Published: 15-Jun-2005

Palisades, New York - Twelve months after it landed on our doorstep, we have a confession to make. The Honda Insight is not the perfect car for all of the people all of the time. It's not the optimal answer for all seasons and all reasons. In the final analysis, it is not even remotely close to being that elusive automotive ideal, the perfect all-rounder.

Maybe none of this qualifies as news-flash material. We are talking, after all, about a two-seat, hatchbacked, gasoline-electric hybrid that depends for most of its punch on a three-cylinder gasoline engine of truly micro--which is to say, positively un-American--dimension. As you know, one-liter three-pots are about as popular around these fifty states of ours as warm slivovitz on the Fourth of July. But you'll have to forgive us. Because here's our confession: We're more than a little smitten anyway.
 
In fact, we liked the Insight so much at first that if you'd have asked us the summer before last, we might have found ourselves blushing and saying we loved it unconditionally. That is, the New York- based editorial staff (which would be me) loved it. And I still do. Honda's pint-sized pugilist motored straight into my personal hall of fame after quickly distinguishing itself during three months of stop-and-go hustling through the greater New York metropolitan area, a key trial in Automobile Magazine's rigorous Four Seasons test. But, as it turned out, that was not all of the story.

I wasn't expecting much. But the Insight surprised. Nimble and fun to drive around town, thanks to its slick-shifting five-speed, compact dimensions, and minimalist curb weight of 1887 pounds, it is that rarest bird, a fuel-sipper with (kind of) sporty car essence. Low weight makes it easier to build cars that go, steer, and stop well, even when all she wrote on the subject of going turns out to be 73 horsepower (67 without the electric motor's assist). While it is shy on ponies, the Insight's brushless DC electric motor contributes an important 25 pound-feet of torque toward the modest overall total of 91 pound-feet. So it steps off smartly enough, in my view, although former motor gopher Reilly Brennan wrote later in the logbook, "David E. Davis, Jr., says that I'm complaining about a car that isn't supposed to be quick. I don't care--this thing is too slow!" No one would dispute that it handles nicely, with hyperalert steering. It also rides and brakes well, with a feel so natural that hybrid novices can just get in and drive.

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