Hybrid love: The MK1 Honda Insight

Major Waffle 00s cars Honda
Can a hybrid really stir the soul of a petrolhead who has V-Power running through their veins? If it's the MK1 Honda Insight, then most certainly.

Is it possible to lust after a green car? Can a hybrid really stir the soul of a petrolhead who has Shell V-Power running through his veins? You might think that these are rhetorical questions. It would be sacrilegious to suggest that a petrolhead could ever consider a green car to be an object of octane-fuelled desire. Well let me present a case for a car that could just change your opinion.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the first generation Honda Insight.

I've always had a mild interest in Honda's obscure two-seater coupé, but recently this interest has turned to full on desire. The Honda Insight isn't so much knocking on the door of my Real World Dream Barn, it's positively ramming it down with the full force of its 120 nickel metal hydride batteries. It's no wonder Harry Metcalfe has one in his own (Un)real World Dream Stable.

Consider the facts. This is a two seat coupé that manages to combine futuristic styling with a delightfully retro feel. It may have been launched in the UK back in 2000, but if Honda unveiled it today, it would still look like it had been beamed down from outer space. To me, the Insight has always looked like one of the cars that were shown in those 1950s films that tried to predict what we'd be driving in the next century. Based on the Insight, I'd say they got it pretty much spot on, other than the fact that, as far as I'm aware, the Insight can't hover a few inches off the ground.

A pair of Honda Insights at a wind farm

I have every reason to believe that the Insight could become something of a PetrolBlog hero, potentially scoring very well on the PetrolBlog Score. It looks brilliant and by all accounts drives pretty well too. It's also highly exclusive, with only 250 or so left in the UK and yet despite this, a good Insight can be bought for less than £4,000. An unlikely hero then?

Its tiny 1.0 litre, 3-cylinder VTEC engine is mated to the 120 144-volt batteries and power control unit sat between the rear wheels. Under acceleration, the IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) works with the petrol engine, increasing the power from 68 to 76ps, the equivalent of a 1.5 litre engine. Crucially, low speed torque rises from 91Nm at 4,800rpm to 113Nm at just 1,500rpm. Combine these figures with the fact that its aluminium body contributes to a total weight of just 850kg and you can see how the Insight can achieve quite remarkably fuel economy figures.

On a combined cycle, the Insight will return figures of 83mpg, rising to 94mpg extra urban. Its 40 litre tank therefore means that the Insight could theoretically do 700 miles on a tank of petrol, with some owners claiming to have reached 1,000 miles. Not bad, eh? Oh and did I mention a CO2 figure of just 80g/km? Groundbreaking stuff, even by today's standards.

Honda Insight dashboard and dials

It may only be 15 years since the J-VX concept was launched at the Tokyo Motor Show, but the Honda Insight is undoubtedly a modern classic, fully deserving its place in the automotive hall of fame. At the time it was the world's most economical mass produced petrol car and also the most aerodynamic, with a drag figure of just 0.25 Cd. And as the first mainstream petrol-electric hybrid in Europe, it represents the genesis of the volume hybrid technology. By my reckoning, it would still rank well within the top ten most economical petrol cars on sale today. Insight by name, insight by nature.

It's little wonder that Honda UK gave the Insight a massive PR push when launched. It was used as the lead car at marathons across the country, including a 10km run around the Silverstone GP circuit. There was also a record-breaking 3,737 mile tour of Britain, where the Insight achieved an average MPG figure of 103. Honda even put it up against the Jordan Honda F1 car where it showed that 3.5 litres of petrol could theoretically be enough for 27 laps of the Silverstone circuit. The F1 car ran out of fuel before the end of the first lap!

Honda Insight and Jordan Honda F1 at Silverstone

Contemporary reviews were critical of the Insight's small luggage space and an excessive amount of road noise. There were also complaints that the batteries drained far too easily. But the onset of time means these concerns seem less of an issue. Depreciation has taken a big chunk out of its original £17,000 price tag and in 2012 it makes more sense than ever.

A post-2001 car will be tax exempt and anyone who registered soon enough would have paid no London Congestion Charge. Think of it as an obscure two-seater sports car alternative, or a fuel efficient second car and I honestly can't think of many better ways to spend £4,000. In fact, the only drawback I can see is the high cost of insurance, so it would be worth getting some specialist green car insurance quotes before you think too hard about Insight ownership.

Honda Insight at the car wash

But right now, the Honda Insight sits idling outside my Real World Dream, standing every chance of giving one of the other ten the boot. They are by all accounts ultra reliable, which is hardly surprising given how little there is to go wrong. It is however worth taking into account the cost of the battery pack, which can last for anything between 50,000 and 250,000 miles, depending on how the car is being driven. A replacement pack will cost £2,000 including fitting, but they can be reconditioned for about half that cost.

I've also noticed that many Insights go on to complete intergalactic miles, easily surpassing 100k and some well on their way to half a million. Check out the Honda Mile Makers site for more information.

Is it possible to lust over a green car? When they look like the result of a genetic experiment involving a track cycling helmet and a woodlouse, yes it is. Add the ridiculously cheap running costs and exclusivity factor to the mix and you have the hallmarks of a PetrolBlog hero. As we say on twitter - #WANT!

For more information, check out InsightCentral.net, a site that I think I may be spending quite a bit of time on over the coming months.