For about a year and a half, I've wanted to get a high-efficiency car of some sort. When I first heard about the Honda Insight, it sounded to me like it would be an excellent match for me. Good fuel efficiency, good convenience, and a reasonable price.
Well, I finally broke down and got it, and I'm very, very, positively impressed; in particular, I haven't had the problems that some reviewers have reported with it. The performance is quite reasonable, the ride is plenty smooth, and I really am getting the kind of milage they predicted. I am particularly stunned by the review I read in Consumer Reports, where they got only 55mpg, and found the acceleration to be quite sluggish. What did they do to that poor car?
The car has a number of advantages, and a few disadvantages. Rather than sweep the latter under the rug, I hope to address why I felt they were not an obstacle to my use of the car.
Obviously, the biggest advantage of this car over other cars is gas milage. I have gotten about 65mpg so far, although I've only used a bit over a half-tank of gas in a few days of driving around quite a bit. My best trip milage so far has been in the low 70's. Other people do better; I am not yet very used to the car.
The car does not magically produce 70mpg; it depends on the driver's judgement. This means that, if you want, you can drive it without giving milage a second thought, and you will get reasonable milage, but you probably won't get excellent milage. On the other hand, if you let the car train you a little, you can get very good milage. (One user reports a lifetime average of 84mpg!)
The technology is a lot of the fun of the car, too. It has two tripmeters, as well as an odometer, and it calculates mpg for all of them. Furthermore, it has a gauge of "instantaneous" mpg, which ranges from 0 to 150, and shows you how much gas you're using right this minute. It quickly goes to 150 when coasting.
The car has a number of features which combine to produce its impressive efficiency. It's very aerodynamic, and the engine is assisted by a fairly powerful electric motor. (The motor is charged automatically during normal use.) Furthermore, it simply turns the engine off when it's stopping (or stopped), out of gear, and warm enough to start easily; the engine turns on again automatically when you put the car in gear.
The car is a lot of fun to drive; if nothing else, the milage and charge indicators provide a little bit of a video game to play while driving. This doesn't distract you when driving requires attention, but on open stretches of road, it's nice that the car is doing something you can react to. This is also how the car "trains" the driver. It turns out that the electric motor often makes it more practical (and fuel-efficient!) to drive in a lower gear than you might expect on another car; watching the display makes this clearer.
The car also gets a lot of stares, which I think is fun. It's a very strange-looking car; no one could mistake it for anything else.
Capacity. This is a two-person car, and the recommended load, including all occupants and cargo, is only 365 pounds. In fact, the car handles just fine with more than that - but milage will suffer. The trunk space is large enough for a small grocery run, but I am not sure it would handle a really big load of groceries, if there were two people to move. I suspect this is one of the things that has kept more people from buying this car. In my case, I'm keeping my older car (an '88 Subaru station wagon), and I'm not worried at all about capacity. Since 90% or more of my family's use of the car involves one or two people going somewhere, it's nice to have a car well-suited to this use. We couldn't do it as an only car.
Manual transmission only. Until later this year, all Insights come with a 5-speed stick. I happen to like stick shifts, so I don't mind this at all, but a lot of people can't drive one.
Power. A lot of people expect anything this small to drive like a sports car. It doesn't, and if you drive it aggressively, you get "poor" milage (say, 45-50mpg), but it handles just fine. On the other hand, it's not all that fast, and if you're in the "recommended" gear, you probably won't be able to accelerate as fast as you might in another car. It's more responsive than my station wagon, though.
I love this car. It fits very well into a niche in my life ("small, efficient car for puttering around"), and it's reasonably priced. I am mildly surprised that it doesn't sell a lot better than it has so far, but I think it will sell better in time. I think cars like this are a big step towards reduced fossil fuel consumption, and I'm all for it.