Hybrids & Electrics

Fuel-Saver Flashback: First-Generation Honda Insight

Some may call the first-generation Honda Insight “the first hybrid,” while others still think it’s the Prius. Truth be told, the original Honda Insight debuted before the first Prius and achieved some pretty good success during its production cycle, it just wasn’t as well-known. Let’s take a look back at the first-generation Honda Insight and learn about the little car that could (have been better).  

History

Do you remember the late 1990s, when global warming was big news and Al Gore invented the Internet? That was 1999, the same year that Honda debuted the first Insight, which was a two-door, two-seat hybrid car that achieved 61 mpg in the city and 70 mpg on the highway (per the old EPA standards). It came at a time when Ford Expeditions and other large SUVs roamed the streets, but gas prices were getting higher so Americans gravitated toward smaller cars. But was the new Honda Insight too small?

Design

The 2000 Honda Insight had a lightweight, aluminum body with front fenders and rear wheel covers that were made of recycled plastic. Luckily, this over-sized toy car not only passed the federal safety specifications, but it also weighed just 1,887 pounds, which is mostly what contributed to its stellar fuel economy.

Another contributing fuel-efficient factor was aerodynamics; the Insight’s wedge shape lead to a pointy front end that yielded a 0.25 coefficient of drag. And under the fenders were small, rolling-resistance tires that covered 14-inch lightweight wheels that were intended for fuel-efficiency. It was clear that this car was made for one thing, and one thing only: Get the best fuel economy.

Powertrain

The heart of this efficiency machine was a small 1.0-liter, three-cylinder VTEC-E engine that put out 67 horsepower and was mated 2.5-inch wide electric motor, which was connected to a 144-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack. The electric motor-assisted the gasoline engine under hard acceleration and recharged the battery during deceleration, but never powered the car independently. Honda called this “Integrated Motor Assist,” and they paired up with powertrain with a five-speed manual transmission.

For those wondering, this tiny powerhouse, combined with the featherweight chassis, was able to scoot the Honda Insight up 60 mph in 10.5 seconds. It was enough to get through traffic and up hills, and surprisingly, it was actually quicker than the 2020 Toyota C-HR.

Fuel Economy

At the time of its inception, the 2000 Honda Insight achieved 61 city/70 highway mpg, however, the EPA has since changed its testing guidelines and procedures, so the Honda Insight is now rated at 49 city/61 highway mpg.

Gone, but still loved

The first-generation Honda insight arrived in 2000 and lasted until the 2006 model year. Not much was changed during its production cycle; it was mostly just offered in different colors and gained an automatic transmission. They are still available on the used market for anywhere between $2,000 to $5,000 depending on the age, mileage, and location. In case you’re thinking about picking one up and owning a piece of hybrid-car history, we think it’s a good idea. Most of the current first-generation Honda Insight owners seem to love them.