Behind the Wheel
2000 Honda Insight:
To A Cleaner Future
My interest in the new Honda Insight, the gasoline/electric hybrid now sold in the United States, started some 1-1/2 years ago when I read an article that a new car, code named VV, was in the works. I have been a Honda tech since 1968 and have watched the automaker design and build some amazing cars. Last September, I put a deposit on an Insight at my local Honda dealership.
A month later, I received a call from Stan Stephenson, Motor Age?s contributing editor. Stan knows I have a strong interest in environmental technology. He happened to have a Toyota Prius -- that carmaker?s hybrid -- for a few days, and he invited me to drive it. For me, it was a ?no-brainer.? I made the trip to Philadelphia, and away we went.
My first drive was exciting because of the electric part of the drivetrain and the right-hand steering. We drove to Tools for Education, a training and software development company located in Ambler, PA. We went to visit its founder, Don Schnell, and Ron Turner, owner of Ridge Automotive, located nearby. Ron took off in the Prius for so long we thought we had lost him and the car! It was the fascination with the Prius and the fact that we were driving the ?future of automobiles? that kept Ron in the car longer than we anticipated. It had been a long time for most of us veterans since we had a technology this revolutionary to experience.
To a cleaner future
Thinking about the implications of this technology was exciting and awe-inspiring. This could mean that cars of the future wouldn?t have to be so cruel to the air. It also could mean that our kids--and their kids--might have a better future. After two days in and out of the Prius, I was sold on the idea of hybrids.
The Insight was coming to Stan next and I returned to my shop to wait for another call. The phone rang a month later. This was it--my opportunity was here. The Insight was not for sale yet, so this was special. We made it a family affair with my wife Deb, our eight-year-old son Michael, and myself. Stan pulled up to the hotel in a shiny, red five-speed Insight. We were off, with me in the driver?s seat. This was almost too much to behold! The only other hybrid around and here I was in this truly revolutionary vehicle.
But then came the surprise. I was disappointed at first! The Insight just seemed like a really cool Honda, sort of a CRX on steroids. I only had a short time to drive it because I was teaching a class near home and had to get back. Deb drove it and Mike got a ride, too. On the way back it hit me. I realized why I was disappointed with this car.
When the Acura NSX first came out in 1991, I had one on loan for a day. It was great; everything worked well. The press couldn?t find much wrong with it. It did everything the way it was supposed to. That was it! That was why I was disappointed with the Insight. It has the same Honda problem that the NSX had. They did it right the first time!
The Prius was fine, but you could hear the whine of the electric motor. You could feel the drag when you stepped on the brakes and the electric motor started to recharge the batteries. The car was odd in many ways. It was clearly a very different vehicle.
The Insight, on the other hand, was not. It does have a few things you have to get used to. After I realized it was my expectations and not the car, I recovered. I started to look forward to the delivery of the new Insight!
The new arrival
On Feb. 16, 2000, my new Honda was ready to be picked up. Deborah and I took delivery at lunch and we took the long way back. I even let Deb drive the last few miles! Serial number 157; we were the first in Massachusetts to register a new Insight. The car drove fine with just a slightly ?notchy? shifter. It was only 38