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Here's a discussion of my transition to a MkI Insight, MkI Insight vs. MkII Insight vs. Prius, and normal cars vs. hybrids in general.

Transition to a MkI Insight

After Ford Mustangs from '87 to '91, and very rust-prone but fun-via-light Civics including 3 MkI CRXes, it was time for something different, something that I could rely on for a many, many years, but yet something that retained fun-through-lightness and efficiency-through-lightness of all those fun but hideously rust-prone older Hondas...

I wanted to stay with hatchbacks, as they are both very aerodynamic and you can fit surprisingly big, bulky stuff in them. That narrowed it down to either a MkII CRX (same issues as MkI, including rust, but it has real suspension travel but weighs more) or a Celica...

Toyotas have always seemed a tad bland to me, with their vast ballooned-looking expanses of textured plastic on the dash. They've generally seemed like the GM of Japanese car companies to me, granted with excellent reliability. They're excellent, top-rate A-B transport appliances, with the soul of a toaster oven. My Mom's previous car, an '89 Corolla, was actually carbureted... It had the 16V DOHC box checked off, but was carbureted. It was as if Toyota was hell-bent on economies of scale for their DOHC 4-cylinder motors, and being able to point out that their cars used modern valvetrains... with 1950s-tech carburetion in that '89 Corolla's case. The Celica is also a little on the heavy side (and looks it), with mpg that varied widely.

And then of course Honda did have that other offering, what is typically thought of as a mutant, underpowered tech-oddity that looked like someone forgot to take it out of the wind tunnel for the night, the CRX-meets-EV1 MkI Honda Insight. It seemed like a Hail Mary pass trying to get one of those, considering how few were sold, but then car buying as a prolonged Grand Interstate Adventure was standard procedure for me with my fixation on small, agile rust-prone little '80s Hondas well into 2009. My price range typically had been $1600 - $2400, and a healthy non-ravaged Insight cost at least $5000... but then, being aluminum alloy, it's not like the local garage would ever condemn it due to excess rust at Annual State Inspection time as had happened with most of my previous Hondas. So I took my time, with checks of, eBay and sometimes one or two others at least once a day, often twice (especially, followed sometimes by increasingly evolved choice questions to the seller and a quick CarFax background check. And then appeared the the one in Centreville, MD that was clearly mine... Subtly pre-disastered by a rough repaint (a “2-foot car”, meaning the dust and bumps under the paint, and the slight overspray here and there, don't show until you're really close). It had a lot of miles on it (189k, which from my research on actually didn't seem that high all things considered but was enough to scare off others), shifted fine (the 5-speed tranny is a vulnerable and sometimes abused part in those cars), and the gauge cluster showed it still got good sustained mpg, suggesting it was healthy. The original battery pack's tired cells had been swapped with a Civic Hybrid pack's cells a few years prior, so that seemed fine, the other concern up there with tranny condition.

I bought the car just prior to a New England vacation, meaning except for the drive home the car sat a total of about a month... Nickel-based cells (NiCd, NiMH, NiZn) can develop self-discharge tendencies from nickel dendrite formation probably from a combination of chronic high states of charge and lack of an occasional slow, thorough discharge-recharge cycle. I've read that the first generation of Civic Hybrids also didn't use pack fan cooling, sometimes needed... It soon started throwing IMA errors and tripping out the IMA system, meaning it's hybridness was broken and so it reverted to being a seriously future-looking 2000 CRX HF in aluminum alloy. The local dealership replaced the pack for about half the standard retail price, couldn't go less as it was non-standard Civic Hybrid cells they were replacing vs. the original Insight factory cells, and “about half the 50 bolts in the pack were missing” which I was utterly unaware of.

So, in any case, for a total of about $6500, I have a gorgeous CRX-meets-EV1 4-wheeled metallic silver Cirrus S22 fuselage of a car, a 2000 Insight Lean Burn HEV 5-speed, that uses half the fuel of a Civic while delivering about CRX DX -level acceleration and handling, with CRX HF -level acceleration only if the pack's state of charge is really low. It's not like a Prius where the driver sits back, mouth agape, in oh-wow wonder of the Energy Flows displayed on the central Information Pod in a conventional-chassis compact family car. No, the MkI Insight is from NSX (aluminum world-class sports machine) and CRX genetic stock, with an S2000-derived steering system (Miata-sized roadster with Porsche-level howling high-rpm power). While its overall performance is a close match of the MkI CRX DX (very close weight and horsepower specs) but with none of the old CRX's need for added pitch and especially roll stability or higher lower-rpm power (where the IMA makes all the difference) and isn't Si-grade let alone S2000 or NSX grade, there's plenty of the motorcycle/S600/S800/Civic S/CRX fun efficiency through adding lightness heritage there that you just don't find with Toyota products, because it's not in Toyota's heritage. The '78 Corolla a neighbor had way back was a fine lightweight car, but the '78 Civic CVCC of a late aunt and the similar '81 Civic 1500DX that was my first Honda were funky little engaging things that just wanted be driven somewhere, both starting instantly as if they had simply been waiting for you, patiently wondering what took you so long.

The 2000 – 2006 Insight (technically 1999 to 2006) and 2001 to present Prius both started from the Japanese car industry taking GM seriously when it introduced in the '90s both extended-range electric vehicle (EREV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) concept car versions of its lease-only, hand-assembled, very low production EV-1 Impact battery-powered electric car (BEV). While Honda and Toyota took it to mean their dominance of the efficient vehicle segment was about to be obliterated if they didn't respond quickly with comparable offerings of their own, GM soon ended EV-1 production and bought the Hummer brand as part of its program for focusing more on high-profit SUV sales, recalling EV-1s for crushing soon after that. It then sold the patent for the large-format (high capacity) NiMH Ovionic cells used in about a quarter of the EV-1s to Chevron, which promptly sat on the patent, actively prohibiting any other company from making high-capacity NiMH cells.

MkI Insight vs. MkII Insight vs. Prius

Toyota, with its continuing evolution and relatively enormous (vs. the Insight) sales of the Prius model, now in its third generation, has been seen as taking over Honda's traditional role of making the most eco-friendly cars available. The new Insight has not been selling well at all... i've seen maybe four, possibly five different MkI Insights here in York, PA over the past couple years while seeing none of the new model, and the MkI Insight was one of the worst-selling cars ever produced.

There's a very basic set of differences between the Honda and Toyota approaches to designing a high-efficiency vehicle, including a hybrid electric vehicle (HEV).



The problem with the new Insight is that it's retaining the simpler, for-enthusiasts IMA but not the go-for-it aluminum alloy etc. weight reduction of the MkI, leading to a very mild hybrid with half again the weight of the original Insight but with 2/3rds the battery pack capacity. Honda will tell you “we were able to reduce the size of the battery pack vs. the original”, but the chemistry's the same, so you have half the EV-ness to the car vs. the original, with the original accelerating noticeably quicker and also getting much better mpg than the new.

The new Insight (2750 lbs. vs. 1850 lbs. for the MkI 5-speed), while seating four or in a pinch five vs. two for the original, can technically get seriously better mpg per occupant, but don't try to pass anyone while climbing the Appalachians with all seats filled. With 84 hp from its ICE and about the same weight as a Prius, which has a comparable 80 hp ICE rating, the mountain-climbing ability with its SoC-depleting sustained power demand is about the same for each, with the MkI Insight better than each (61 ICE hp, but only 1850 lbs.).

Where the new Prius especially whoops the new Insight is maximum EV propulsion power, 80 hp, equal to the ICE for 160 hp total peak, vs. 13 hp for the Insight (the same for each generation), 97 total hp in a much shorter peak. When you remember that the Prius can run in pure BEV mode when it wants to, and it has now over twice the battery pack capacity of the new Insight (2kWh vs. 670Wh, 1kWh for the MkI Insight), the new Insight is a very mild hybrid indeed. It does however corner just fine, and Car & Driver recognized that by awarding it as the best green car over the Prius for its much better-controlled switchback handling vs. the Prius.

With the MkI Insight, Honda took the same hard-core “add lots of lightness, cut drag to nothing” approach as GM did in making the EV-1 Impact, whereas Toyota rather brushed all that aside to add lots of modern tech to a normal car with its Prius. Both the EV-1 and MkI Insight were largely laughed at at the time, except for the dedicated few who hailed/hail them as the miracles of efficiency that they were/are. The EV-1 leases were terminated without option to renew within one year followed by the vehicles' being crushed, Insight production was halted in 2006 without a replacement in sight, and the Prius continued on as “the car” for green-leaning families.

Normal cars vs. MkI Insight:

Normal car =

MkI Insight:

MkI Insight 5-speed vs. MkI CRX

2000 Insight 5-speed w/ AC:

1985 CRX:

The Insight is different... I've read it described “as fun as mud” but that's really not the case at all. If you think of normal roads as all a series of dragstrips, and petroleum as an elixer of the Gods, and/or a real vehicle, by definition, can hold/tow two at least Insights in weight and/or volume, then, well, have fun with your F-150 and/or Mustang. I wanted a worthy successor to all the MkI CRXes and the two Civics I've had. I saw no reason for a newer vehicle to get worse mpg than an older vehicle, and that massively narrowed it all down to the Insight right there and then. Throw in a view of anything much over 2,000 lbs. as just simply fat, stupid, unresponsive, dumb and unfun for single-person commute duty with the fact that the Insight is incapable of ever rusting, and the choice becomes rather clear... There's only one car that meets that criteria, and it wasn't made after 2006.

During the '80s, for fun mpg you had the choice of the CRX of any flavor or year, most of the Civics, some Corollas, the VW Rabbit and its derivatives (including the GTI and the fun in a mutant way 55 mpg Rabbit Diesel), plus the Mitsubishi/Dodge Colt and Isuzu Sprint with its turbo derivative, plus the less fun Subaru Justy and Toyota Tercel. In the '90s it would have restricted you pretty much to the very humble Geo Metro, a GM-manufactured (!!!) derivative of the Sprint. Then everyone seemed to prefer SUVs, everyone else getting called a “tree-hugger”. Then in 2008 gas hit $4 / gallon... Long-term reality, it turned out, could not be illusioned away after all.

As far as no longer getting an out-of-control impish grin from a flyweight Honda, I can't help but smile whenever I approach my wonderfully odd little aircraft fuselage of a car.

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