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[Christopher Jensen sent me this nice letter and his review of the Insight--InsightMan.]

I cover the auto industry for The Plain Dealer, odd name, but Ohio's largest daily newspaper.
The attached story ran a few weeks ago. We also had a small box mentioning your website.
I thought you might be interested in this.
Chris Jensen

Copyright (c) 2000, The Plain Dealer 

TAG: 0006270444 
LENGTH: 225 lines 

DATE: Sunday, June 25, 2000 
ILLUSTRATION: Photos by: Christopher Jensen
Photo 1 & 2:
The Insight covered the first 624.3 miles at 65 miles per gallon, a declaration of independence from the oil companies. Around town, 50 miles per gallon in easy to achieve.
BOX: Insight on the Web
If you are curious about the experience of Honda Insight owners, there is a Web site devoted to high-mileage shenanigans. It can be found at: http://insightman.com and claims to have no affiliation with the American Honda Motor Co.
BOX: Honda Insight
Base price: $20,800
Standard equipment:
Anti-lock brakes; keyless entry; anti-theft system; an automatic climate
control/air conditioning system; AM/FM/cassette stereo; power windows and door
locks; variable-speed wipers; rear window defroster and wiper, aluminum alloy
wheels and power outside mirrors.
Options on test model:
Floormats, $82.
Units planned: 6,500, up from previous plan of 4,500.
Factoid: Honda officials admit that they are losing money on every Insight they
sell, but they won't say how much.
Chart: The fuel economy fast lane
Graphic by: Plain Dealer


By Christopher Jensen
Plain Dealer Auto Editor
ON THE NEW YORK STATE THRUWAY - The good news is that I'm getting more than 60 miles per gallon. The bad news is I'm thinking it might be nice to sit on a brownie.

Both the good and bad have to do with attempting the ultimate one-tank trip: Just over 707 miles from Bethlehem, NH, to Cleveland in a new Honda Insight with a 10.6-gallon gas tank.

Going that far on one tank of fuel sounds impossible, but the Insight is Honda's new, $20,000 hybrid. That means it uses a tiny gasoline engine combined with a battery-driven electric motor to make it the most fuel efficient car in the United States.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rating for the Insight is 61 mpg city and 70 mpg highway. Seventy miles per gallon times 10 means my wife, Cheryl, and I just might be able to make the 707 miles without refueling. But even if that doesn't work, arriving back in Cleveland will conclude two weeks and roughly 1,500 miles of exploring whether the Insight is a viable everyday car or just a geeky toy for early-adopter technology fans. By mid-afternoon, we are crossing New York state and feeling quite superior to the cars and sport-utilities around us. Regardless of how depraved the rest of one's life might be, the Insight makes one feel environmentally superior. Unlike those around us, we are not oil company dupes and ravishers of the Earth's resources. So there.

At the risk of seeming unsympathetic to sport-utility owners, those mysteriously increasing gas prices have become a source of amusement to us. Visiting gas stations is no longer a regular thing; it has become a quaint, old-fashioned activity. It is something bad that mostly only happens to other people.

So far, our fuel economy is looking pretty good. After 498.3 miles, we have averaged 63.4 miles per gallon. But we need to do better to make Cleveland without refueling.

In fact, it is easy to get 60 mpg on the highway. Driving up to New Hampshire we shamelessly disregarded fuel economy in favor of an economical use of time. We cruised at 70 to 80 mph (please don't tell anybody) and averaged 60.8 mpg for the first 560 miles, including a rambunctious, 40-mile run over the Green Mountains of Vermont. Even around town it is easy to get 50 mpg.

But to improve our fuel economy drastically what we need is a nice big, slow-moving truck to block the wind.

The Insight's odd shape, including the rear wheel covers, is already wildly aerodynamic. Its coefficient of aerodynamic drag is rated at a very low 0.25, according to Honda. That compares to about 0.34 for a Honda Accord sedan. But wind resistance can still hurt the Insight's fuel economy. So, by using a motorhome or large truck as a wind blocker, we can get better fuel economy than the government calculations, which do not allow such cheating.

To eat a brownie

The Insight is a two-seater hatchback with plenty of head- and legroom for two adults. However, after a couple of hours one discovers that the seats are appallingly uncomfortable. Normally, I tend not to complain too much in print about seat comfort because body types vary, and what may be uncomfortable for my
bizarre anatomy may work fine for others.

But the amazing thing about the Insight is that Honda has managed a kind of equal-opportunity discomfort. Cheryl and I both find the seats too hard, leading me to wonder whether my brownie would provide enough extra padding to make it worth sitting on, rather than eating. On the other hand, I am hungry.

The Insight is a hatchback, and its cargo area is deceptive. It looks small because the batteries are located beneath it. But it will easily handle two or three midsize suitcases and other bits and pieces, such as laptop computers, making it viable for long journeys.

But Insight owners must also be weight watchers. The owner's manual notes that the weight of the two passengers and their belongings should not exceed 365 pounds. A Honda spokesman said the limit was established to make sure that the Insight gets the appropriate fuel economy and that the vehicle can carry larger loads without harm.

With an aerodynamic shape and a lack of any sharp edges, there is virtually no wind noise. But on many road surfaces, we can hear lots of tire and road noise, which can reach annoying levels.

The ride is comfortable on a smooth surface, with an occasional bounciness. But we quickly learn to dread any rough stuff, including tar strips. The Insight hits those with a violence that ranges from surprising to alarming.

A major reason for that impact harshness is that the Insight has tires with low rolling resistance. These are hard tires that are aimed at helping fuel economy, not offering a cushy ride. Those tires are pumped to a taut 38 pounds of air per square inch (PSI) in front and 35 psi in the rear. 

And miles to go

The front-wheel-drive Insight uses what Honda calls its Integrated Motor Assist (IMA). That means it is normally powered by a tiny, 1.0-liter, three-cylinder aluminum engine. It is a sophisticated package with four valves per cylinder, a single overhead camshaft and variable-valve timing.

It runs all of the time and is the primary source of power, working with a somewhat notchy, un-Hondalike five-speed manual gearbox. But when the computer senses that the car needs some additional acceleration, it orders the electric motor and its 120 nickel-metal hydride electric batteries to help out.

When it does, the driver can feel a slight additional boost and see it register on a gauge on the instrument panel that shows how much the electric motor is helping.

That battery assist increases available horsepower from 67 to 73 at 5,700 rpm, with a more meaningful increase in torque from 66 foot-pounds at 4,800 rpm to 91 foot-pounds at 2,000 rpm.

The instrument panel also has a gauge that shows the level of charge on the batteries. Unlike the batteries of traditional electric vehicles, the Insight's do not need to be plugged in to recharge. Instead, when the Insight is coasting or the driver applies the brakes, the electric motor becomes a generator and automatically recharges the batteries.

Honda says cold weather should have no significant impact on the batteries and electric motor, which are covered by a warranty for eight years or 80,000 miles. However, they should easily last 10 years at 100 percent capacity and could be used for years after that at diminished capacity, a Honda spokesman said. A new battery pack costs about $2,000.

To compensate for the limited horsepower, the Insight has an aluminum body with a curb weight of only 1,887 pounds, including air conditioning. That compares with a bit over 3,200 pounds for a V-6 Honda Accord.

Honda says that about two-thirds of the improvement in fuel economy comes from the small engine and electric-motor combination. The low weight and aerodynamic shape are responsible for the rest.

The charge of Honda's lightest brigade occurs at a modest, but not slow, pace. Insight owners should be able to merge onto an interstate without a major problem, assuming that they use some common sense.

But the Insight is not about acceleration. It is all about fabulous fuel economy. Getting the maximum fuel economy, however, requires a dramatic change in the way most of us drive, according to the owner's manual.

Normally with a manual transmission one would probably go to 3,000 or 4,000 rpm before shifting to a higher gear. But that is not the Insight way. On the Insight, one pays strict attention to little "upshift" and "downshift" lights on the instrument panel.

They are demanding, tyrannical little lights. Almost as soon as the Insight is moving, it is time to shift into a higher gear. Then another and another. On a flat road, it is not unusual to be in fourth gear at only 30 mph, and fifth gear is just a few seconds away. The idea, apparently, is to rely more on the electric motor for a boost while keeping the engine speed down.

Since we are trying for maximum fuel economy, we do as the lights say, although it's like having some kind of fuel-economy drill sergeant in the car. Getting the most out of the Insight also means a gentle foot on the gas. We try to keep the engine speed around 2,000 rpm, and going over 3,000 rpm indicates self-indulgent, speed-crazed behavior. Hitting 4,000 rpm is grounds for being thrown out of the car.

One also becomes greedy about hoarding momentum. In New Hampshire and Vermont, we do not brake on the downhills so that we can get a better shot on the uphill parts.

Nevertheless, those long, long uphills take a heavy toll on our batteries, which don't get much of a recharge while coasting down the other side. But we never run completely out of a charge, and it takes only some steady braking to recharge them fully.

We figure that our worst fuel economy will probably be on a two-lane, mountainous section between Brattleboro and Bennington, Vermont. But aided by a long, downhill, gravity-fed run in fifth gear, the Insight manages 58.9 mpg for the 40 miles.

That section is also the best place to play with the Insight's handling. To some, the Insight looks sporty, but that is not quite the way it drives. The Insight is somewhat nose-heavy; the steering feels odd and artificial; and the tires were not designed for maximum grip.

So in the end, the Honda comes across as competent, not playful.

Running on nearly empty

Finally, on the Thruway east of Buffalo, I find a nice, slow-moving motorhome and follow it (at a safe distance, thank you) for 103.4 miles at about 55 to 60 mph. We average 76.6 mpg. Maybe we will make Cleveland on one tank. Just after 5 p.m. we are 115 miles from Cleveland, having just crossed into Pennsylvania. We have yet to stop for fuel, although we have stopped three other times for reasons related to our personal miles per cup of coffee. The fuel gauge is slightly above the "empty" mark.

We press on.

At 5:30, 11 hours after we left Bethlehem, the low-fuel warning light comes on. Briefly we discuss whether to keep going. The problem is that we don't know if the warning light means there is one gallon or two gallons or one ounce of fuel left.

We wimp. The idea of sitting alongside the road like a couple of boobs waiting for the automobile club to bring us fuel is remarkably unappealing. So, at Exit 2, we slip into a Sunoco station, having covered 624.3 miles. The Insight takes 9.6 gallons for an average of 65 mpg, just what the Insight's computer says.

The Insight gets a lot of attention from people of all ages, all of whom seem impressed by the fuel economy and odd appearance. That includes the woman who takes our $16.42. "Wow. That is going to be my next car," she says when she learns we last bought gas in New Hampshire.

Back on the interstate, I pull in behind an 18-wheeler going 55 mph, which means the engine is only turning over at 2,000 rpm and we don't even need the electric motor. When we are 61 miles from Cleveland, we are averaging 78 mpg with the mileage slowly increasing.

Cheryl is not amused, since every time she got behind a slow-moving truck during her driving stint it headed for the next exit. Most of the 18-wheelers wanted to go 70 mph, which was too fast for our fuel-economy run. She is now suffering acutely from miles-per-gallon envy.

About 7:30, we finally ease into Lakewood. We pull into a gas station on W. 117th and top it off. The Insight takes 1.03 gallons of gas, or 80.6 mpg. Our calculations show that we used 10.686 gallons of fuel for the 707.6 miles, which means about 66.2 miles per gallon.

It also means we came incredibly close to making it on one tank. The trip has taken 13 hours, about 90 minutes longer than normal. What we did learn is that the Insight is not a toy. It is a competent, acceptably practical vehicle for someone who puts a premium on being environmentally responsible and is willing to be a pioneer on a whole new automotive frontier.

Getting such amazing fuel economy is fun, but it would have been nice if Honda's expertise with the engine, batteries and aluminum body could have been matched in less technically demanding areas - such as the seats, handling and impact harshness. But maybe we'll see those changes when Honda comes out with a hybrid Civic next year. That could be really cool.