When you think about a hybrid car, you probably generate a mental picture of a Toyota Prius. Honda, however, was first to sell a gas-electric hybrid in America, and that original hybrid was called the Insight. When it debuted for the 2000 model year, the Insight was revolutionary, a teardrop-shaped 2-seater designed to cheat the wind and to get more than 60 mpg on the highway. Toyota didn’t offer its iconic boomerang-on-wheels Prius until the 2004 model year.
Today’s 2013 Honda Insight is bigger and more practical than the original, if not quite as thrifty with a gallon gas. It is the most affordable hybrid car for sale, mainly because it employs a proven Integrated Motor Assist powertrain similar to the one that came installed in the very first Insight. This powertrain is what is known as a “mild hybrid,” in that it is unable to accelerate or maintain speed operating solely on electrical power. Aside from Honda, General Motors is the only other large automaker using “mild hybrid” technology.
To determine if an inexpensive hybrid relying on dated technology can still be insightful, I spent a week with an Insight EX. On the one hand, I think many people could be very happy owning this car. On the other hand, I think the expiration date on the nameplate is rapidly approaching.