Honda's Insight into

future motoring

Honda Insight, 1999

THERE are few joys in negotiating busy morning town traffic, but just now and again there is a ray of sunshine when you spot a real rarity.

This happened to me when I found myself waiting next to one of the most amazing cars that arrived on British shores at the dawn of the 2000s.

It was a first generation Honda Insight, the initial production vehicle to feature Honda's Integtrated Motor Assist hybrid drive.

With its futuristic looks incorporating spatted-in rear wheels, this car was more reminiscent of Thunderbirds than the average British driveway and was regarded at first as an automotive oddity.

But the Insight was a main driver into the field of hybrid driving and has become a significant milestone in UK motoring history.

It featured optimized aerodynamics and a lightweight aluminum structure to maximize fuel efficiency and minimize emissions.

Even as late as 2014 the first generation Insight still ranked as the most fuel-efficient United States Environmental Protection Agency certified petrol-fuelled vehicle, with a highway rating of 74 mpg and combined city/highway rating of 64mpg.

The first-generation Insight was only produced as a two-seater with initially a single trim level, manual transmission and optional air conditioning.

The only major change during its life span was the introduction of a trunk mounted, front controlled, multiple-disc CD changer.

In addition to the hybrid drive system, the Insight was small, built of light materials and streamlined with a drag coefficient of 0.25.

The petrol engine was a three-cylinder unit of 67bhp and utilised lightweight aluminum, magnesium, and plastic to minimize weight.

The electric motor assist gave another 13bhp and a maximum of 49 Nm of torque when called on, with the aim to boost performance to the level of a typical 1.5-litre petrol engine.

It also acted as a generator during deceleration and braking to recharge the vehicle's batteries, and as the Insight's starter motor.

The Insight was assembled at the Honda factory in Suzuka, Japan.

With its aluminum body and frame, the Insight was an expensive car to produce and was never designed for high-volume sales.

Instead, it was designed to be a real world test car for hybrid technology and a gauge to new consumer driving habits.

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