A Very Important Honda

Most people aren’t familiar with Honda’s first generation Insight, which is hardly surprising. It was a sort of real world ‘test of concept’ car, built in small numbers and mostly sold in America. But the Insight is a significant car, one built out of engineering obsession – to build the world’s most fuel efficient car. And they succeeded. And a rare example has come to auction at Turners Wellington. Read on...

Sure, the styling isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it was a case of function over form. Honda’s engineers wanted a super lightweight structure and aerodynamic form. So everything is about efficiency. The car was designed and built at Honda’s special projects plant in Suzuka, alongside the NSX and S2000. Where those two models were designed for speed, the Insight was designed to save fuel. The body and frame, and much of the suspension and brakes, is made of aluminium resulting in a curb weight of just 832kg. The shape is designed for aero efficiency which resulted in a drag coefficient of just 0.25, the lowest of any production car at the time.

And then there’s the power plant. The 1L, 3 cylinder petrol engine produces a whopping 67hp but is aided by a 13hp electric motor that assists as needed. It’s not all that powerful but it is very light and slippery which means it’s quicker than you think. The hybrid battery tech is getting pretty old now with its nickel-metal hydride set-up and it’s probably the Insight’s greatest weakness. That said, Honda still make batteries for the Insight and reconditioned units are available in NZ. This car was the most fuel efficient petrol car in America until 2015.

So how does it drive? Well it’s great fun actually. It’s small, light and only has two seats, which are very low to the ground. So it feels faster than it is and corners like a go-kart, especially if you upgrade the rear springs and shocks from the rather soft factory set-up. And they are comfortable and reliable (ageing battery aside). Most of these have done stratospheric mileage by now and are still going strong (Jonny Smith of the Late Brake Show has one with 320,000 miles (515,000kms) on the clock).

And they are rare. Of the 17020 built, 14288 went to America, 392 to Europe and 2340 stayed in Japan. One was brought to NZ when new and still resides in Honda NZ’s heritage collection. The ones on the road here are used imports from Japan.

This car is being auctioned at Turners Porirua with an auction estimate of $4000-$5000. More details here.

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