The first production Hybrid electric vehicle to be available in the U.S., Honda's Insight was something very remarkable. Unveiled in 1999, the Insight earned the highest combined EPA rating for fuel economy in a passenger vehicle at 60/66 mpg (city/highway) for five years in a row.
Nearly identical to the VV in technology and engineering, the Insight's most dynamic changes are at the surface level. A rear wiper was added, the headlight shape was refined, the aluminum wheels lost their plastic covers, and interior appearance was modified slightly. The final production Insight is incredibly innovative with much more advanced and sophistical features than the original concept vehicle.
The chief engineer behind the Insight was Kazuhiko Tsunoda, who wanted to create a production vehicle based on the J-VX, as well as creating a vehicle that consumers would actually want to buy. The Insight was created to be ‘a real world product for the global market'. Some of the goals behind creating the Honda Insight were to make a vehicle that was fun to drive, as well as creating the world's most efficient production vehicle, and to achieve extremely low emissions. Designers also wanted to achieve the levels of safety and comfort that consumers had come to expect, along with to be able to sell this vehicle at a reasonable price.
Honda took the basic concept of the J-VX as a beginning point, but explored further options for the body shape and interior styling. Designers knew that the J-VX was amazingly designed as a show car, but a production vehicle would have to have a more conventional appearance to be accepted by customers. By eliminating the rear seats, the Insight began looking more like the Honda CRX.
With a long history of creating innovative, low emission, fuel efficient, engine technology, Honda produced the front wheel drive, 2-person, 3-door coupe Insight. Attempting to create a vehicle incredibly fuel efficient with low emission, the Insight was a ‘commercially viable stepping stone between today's combustion engine vehicles and the potential ‘super green' vehicles of the future.
The Insight could achieve 0-60mph in just 11 seconds, had a five speed manual transmission, and had a body construction of aluminum alloy. With a curb weight of 1887 lbs, the Insight could be purchased for $20,080.
A hybrid gasoline-electric vehicle, the Honda Insight was capable of an impressive 70 miles per gallon. Very similar in appearance to a modernized Honda CRX, the Insight is completely full of materials and technology not found in conventional vehicles. Powered by a compact electric motor and a highly efficient 1.0 liter combustion engine, the Insight doesn't need to be ‘plugged in' like a standard electric vehicle since the batters are charged by regenerative braking and the gasoline engine. The Insight features a much higher energy density than batteries, and since the Insight runs primarily on gasoline, it had a much further cruising range than any electric vehicle, nearly 600 miles on a full tank. The Insight was a godsend at the time, as gas prices were at an all time high since the 1970's.
The Honda Insight featured a ‘parallel' hybrid propulsion system, and in this system both the gasoline engines and electric motor are able to directly drive the vehicle. A series hybrid is unique because the vehicle can run the gas engine at its highest efficiency, while a regular car or parallel hybrid, the engine has to be used less efficiently over a wide range of speeds.
The engine bay of the Honda Insight is much smaller than a Civic, but the engine is actually quite compact. The electric motor normally starts up the combustion motor, but in case of emergencies, the small 12 V battery will drive a starter motor to turn over the engine.
The primary power plant of the Insight is a 1.0 liter, 3-cylinder, SOHC, 12-valve, gasoline engine. Very advanced in its design, the Insight came with 67 horsepower, and 66 lb-ft of torque and featured weight-saving materials such as aluminum, magnesium and plastic, along with Honda's VTEC technology to maximize efficiency. The VTEC works by switching between various sets of lobes on the camshaft. The shape of the lobes in the VTEC determine the timing and lift of the intake and exhaust valves. The VTEC technology was originally used to increase engine performance, switching to an aggressive cam profile at high rpm to increase torque and horsepower before returning to a more traditional profile at lower rpm.
A variation of VTEC technology, the VTEC-E was used to increase efficiency while maintaining adequate performance. Controlled, the valve timing and lift give a lean fuel/air mixture at low-rpm to produce high fuel efficiency and a relatively high torque output. All of this is achieved by closing the secondary intake valve nearly shut, which reduces the fuel input to the cylinder. The lift of the secondary intake valve is increased when the engine is called on for more performance at higher rpm, and the engine runs like a conventional 4-valve per cylinder motor.
The AC electric motor was a 10-kilowatt, permanent magnet that was mounted between the engine and the transmission. The magnet was both small and thin, and measured 2.3 inches thick, and was 16 inches in diameter while providing up to 25 lbs – ft of torque. Stored in the cargo area of the vehicle, the 120 nickel-metal hydride D cells powered the motor at 144 V. The battery pack was kept cool using active and passive cooling, while a power control unit regulates the charging and conditioning. The guarantee on a battery pack from Honda was 80,000 miles or 8 years.
The hybrid system is named the Integrated Motor Assist, and the primary power comes from the gasoline engine, but under hard acceleration, while the electric engine assists with secondary power, providing a total output of 73 hp at 5700 rpm, and 91 ft-lbs of torque at 2000 rpm.
Used as an regenerative brake, the electric engine kicks in when one partially steps on the brake pedal, and the electric motor is used as a generator to recharge the battery while slowing down the vehicle. The hydraulic brake slows down the car even further if you depress the brake further. Feeling much like conventional braking, the transmission is very smooth.
The Idle-Stop feature is yet another gas saving technique of the Honda Insight. Once the Insight slows to a stop, the clutch is disengaged and the transmission is put into neutral, while the gasoline engine shuts off completely. The engine restarts as soon as yo put the car into gear and press down on the gas.
The Insight has the lowest aerodynamic drag coefficient of any commercially mass-produced vehicle, with just a 0.25 cd. Only weighing around 1800 lbs, the use of aluminum construction by Honda makes for a very light vehicle.
47% lighter than a comparable steel body, the Insight features a single body aluminum frame, though it features better bending and torsional rigidity. The Insight's front brake pad calipers and rear brake drums are also made of aluminum as well, in addition to the frame. Only weighting 124 lbs, the gasoline engine itself it quite compact.
Much like a mid-level Honda Civic, the Honda Insight interior is considered Spartan, yet functional. The Insight's electronic display is easily laid out and quite easy to read.By Jessica Donaldson