It’s simple to consider hybrid cars as a comparatively latest factor. But whereas their widespread adoption might need solely occurred previously few years, the oldest mainstream manufacturing hybrids are actually 1 / 4 of a century previous.

At the forefront of this push have been the unique variations of the Toyota Prius and the star of this function, the Honda Insight. The far more radical of the 2, it wears its eco credentials on its sleeves. Every a part of it appears designed to eke out one of the best economic system potential; the Insight is a much more ‘pure’ tackle hybrid driving than the common heavy PHEV SUV rolling on large wheels.

Here, there are 14-inch wheels shod in super-skinny 165-section low rolling-resistance tyres, and the rears are partly hidden underneath wheel spats and sit 110mm additional inboard than the fronts, to decrease drag. The spats aren’t a token afterthought, both, as a result of the entire physique was designed to be as slippery as potential, with a teardrop form giving a drag coefficient of simply 0.25Cd, whereas leading to a automobile that appears like a retro-futuristic spaceship.

The important construction, physique panels, wheels and numerous the suspension elements are constructed from aluminium. There’s even magnesium used within the engine to trim the fats, and there are not any rear seats. This ends in a automobile weighing 835kg. 

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A light-weight automobile doesn’t want a lot energy to maintain it transferring, so Honda fitted the Insight with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, years earlier than the usage of three-pots within the automobile business turned commonplace. It’s backed up by a 13bhp motor and a 12-volt nickel metal-hydride battery pack, for a complete output of 72bhp and official economic system of 69mpg.

Speak to a couple homeowners, and so they’ll inform you the Insight is nice for far more – 80-90mpg, if you happen to’re cautious, and 100mpg isn’t unprecedented. This we will consider, as a result of by the point we arrived on the shoot location, about half an hour away from the place we picked the automobile up, the determine was at 60mpg and was climbing.

These days we’re used to intelligent animations in digital instrument clusters telling us all a couple of hybrid automobile’s power circulation, however the easy set-up within the Insight in its S2000-esque gauge cluster works simply as nicely. A sequence of backlit segments present if the battery is being charged or offering help, together with the general cost degree of the battery. There’s additionally a shift indicator telling you when to vary to the next gear for higher effectivity.

This tells you to take action very early, usually at little greater than 1,500rpm. Follow it, and progress is particularly sluggish, however given the modest degree of energy on provide and the long-geared five-ratio transmission, the Insight by no means feels even remotely quick, regardless of its low weight.

When it involves altering gear, the shift high quality feels nice and correct, whereas the pedal motion is gentle. It’s pretty softly sprung, giving a snug journey high quality but additionally fairly a little bit of physique roll. Yet when the automobile modifications path, you possibly can really feel simply how gentle it’s. There’s valuable little life within the steering, which we will attribute to the Honda having a really early electrically assisted set-up.

You’d assume the noise of that inline-three revving its coronary heart out may get a bit a lot, however you’re stored nicely insulated from it, save for some rattles at idle, that are handed into the cabin. There is an inexpensive quantity of highway noise at cruising speeds, which appears inevitable, as a result of Honda wouldn’t have gone to city on the soundproofing right here.

It’s an intriguing automobile to drive, quite than an thrilling one. It’s additionally enjoyable watching the hybrid show exhibiting the facility administration in motion, and seeing the reflection from white paint on the highway floor flashing by as reflections within the domed rear windscreen. The cabin is an easy affair on the entire, livened up with the identical steering wheel discovered within the S2000, albeit wrapped in plastic quite than leather-based.

While Toyota simply beat Honda when it comes to beginning manufacturing, the Insight landed within the UK first, and the Honda had the sting when it comes to technical innovation. It was definitely the extra fascinating of the 2, and stays so; the Prius is a charisma vacuum by comparability.

It’s the Honda which ended up with the cult enchantment. You must pay not less than £7,000 for an honest Insight as of late, whereas an early Prius might be purchased for buttons. But the Insight’s additional verve didn’t lead to extra gross sales. Throughout its life, the Toyota outsold the Honda many instances over. The Insight was simply too ‘on the market’ for its personal good; a unusual form, an absence of practicality with solely two doorways and two seats mixed with a excessive value counted in opposition to it.

It additionally wasn’t the best factor to construct. Honda made the Insight at its Takanezawa plant in Tochigi – recognized for constructing halo merchandise such because the NSX and S2000 – the place its aluminium-intensive development made it costly to make. Nearer the top of its life, manufacturing shifted to Suzuka, with Honda solely ever constructing the automobile in low numbers.

Production completed in 2006, and it wouldn’t be till 2009 that the second-generation Insight arrived. Honda didn’t make the identical mistake twice, developing with one thing conspicuously extra typical than the unique. It offered higher than the Mk1, however not anyplace close to strongly sufficient to cease the Prius-vs-Insight rivalry wanting awfully one-sided in direction of Toyota’s nook.

The Mk2 Insight bowed out in 2014, with the title but to return to the Honda secure. The Prius, then again, is now in its fourth era, with the fifth model revealed very just lately. It’s a disgrace the Insight’s story ended, as a result of proper now, a automobile as dogmatically targeted on extracting one of the best MPG potential as the unique is one thing we may actually do with. For now, you’ll discover me with my nostril buried within the classifieds.

What we mentioned then

“Honda’s Insight brings a glimpse of the long run to in the present day’s showrooms. It ought to show encouraging for patrons, as a result of this automobile tells us we needn’t drive boring equipment to do our bit for the long run. Perky to drive, simple to dwell with, interesting-looking and sensible besides, it’s a step in the proper path.”

Interested in shopping for one?

Your important downside with the Insight is discovering one to purchase within the first place. Its gradual gross sales imply there are not often greater than a handful on the market throughout the entire nation, and the few which might be round have been commanding ever-stronger cash lately.

The aluminium development means rust ought to be much less of a problem than within the common 20-or-so-year-old automobile, however that’ll be offset by larger restore prices within the occasion of injury. Certain Insight-specific elements can also show troublesome to come back by.

You ought to all the time preserve the well being of the battery cells in thoughts, so use the automobile repeatedly to maintain them working correctly. An IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) gentle on the sprint may point out a problem and battery substitute is dear. The Insight does perform if the pack dies, as a result of there’s a 12-volt battery to energy the automobile’s ancillaries. Some homeowners change the nickel-metal hydride battery with lithium ion, however this can be a far dearer course of.

Model: Honda Insight Mk1
Production dates: 1999-2006
Price then: From £17,000
Price now: From £7,000
Engine: 1.0-litre 3cyl petrol 
Power/torque: 72bhp/91Nm
Transmission:  5-speed handbook (with CVT choice from 2001), front-wheel drive
0-62mph: 12.5sec
Top pace: 112mph

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