Transport Evolved Honda Insight

Staff Car Report: Why We’re Adding a Classic Hybrid to the Transport Evolved Fleet

As you might remember, since the Walton-Elliott family decided to emigrate from the UK to the U.S. (just a few months after the Gordon-Bloomfield family) , we’ve been a little low on cars in the Transport Evolved staff fleet. Having sold both our 2005 Toyota Prius and 2010 Mitsubishi i-Miev before we left (and packing our 1969 Morris Minor on the ship with the rest of our stuff) we’ve been trying hard to find a car that offers some kind of green credentials while not breaking our budget.

Our new car. It has an electric motor, but it's not an electric car.

Our new car. It has an electric motor, but it’s not an electric car.

And if you’ve been reading the ongoing saga of searching for cars to replace the ones we sold back in England, you’ll know that we’ve been thinking long and hard about which car best suits our needs, our travel requirements in a (fairly) rural part of Washington state, and our budget. But now I’ve got some news.

The Transport Evolved staff fleet has grown with the addition of a vehicle that was nearly seminal, but even as the excitement of the new car purchase washed over me, I could feel the despair of some of our readers. That’s because it is a car almost entirely built for economy and efficiency (albeit ours is the version which whilst it achieved SULEV status at inception is less efficient overall than it’s non-automatic sibling).

But it’s not an electric car. It’s a first-generation low-mileage 2006 Honda Insight with CVT transmission. And here’s why.

The First generation insight CVT is actually less efficient, but it's emissions are nicer

The First generation insight CVT is actually less efficient, but it’s emissions are better

Our funds wouldn’t stretch to a Kia Soul EV, or a brand new 107-mile Nissan LEAF. Those were pretty much the only all-electric models that could make the journey we think we need them to make on a regular basis. The same lack of funds meant the i3REX, also a consideration, wasn’t feasible.

Next year, with a little more savings and being less close to the massive move we just paid for (they’re expensive) we might be able to stretch funds to a newer electric car. Right now, the likely 102 mile distance between us and our family, very few public chargers and almost no DC quick charging en-route (not to mention a fairly substantial climb) simply meant we were priced out of cars that could make the trip — and ones we could afford that couldn’t.

I’ll admit. It was quite depressing. Although the journeys we need to do might be possible in the 2013 LEAF, (as well as the case we’d precluded for price reasons) it would have been a major stretch, especially in winter. We would have been driving on the limits of range, and for cars like the 2013 Nissan LEAF the journey would certainly require a charging break. No problem back in England where many rest stops and major roads are now covered by rapid charging stations. But over here, in this part of the country, at the moment and without decent rapid charging, it was just too risky.

Having lived for two years with a fully-electric car, it wasn’t a nice decision to make. But we went back to looking at hybrids.  This is of course with the optimistic thought that when things are settled and we know where we are living (we’re currently renting a place from friends) we might be able to either trade-up to (or in-addition get) an electric car again. But which hybrid?

The 2016 LEAF could do it, but was outside our price range.

The 2016 LEAF could just do it, but was outside our price range.

The first generation of hybrids are mainly high-mileage cars by now, sometimes requiring battery replacement, or in the case of the first generation Toyota Prius, $1000 of drivetrain work. We’d lived with a second generation Toyota Prius for a while, and it was certainly a solid car, but as recent immigrants, the price of second hand vehicles in the US was still somewhat hard to swallow (especially considering the loss we’d taken selling the Gen 2 Prius in a hurry to move).

In fact, vehicles that go for ‘scrap value’ in the UK are treasured over here where no yearly roadworthiness and emissions test kills them off. At least, that’s true for the state we’re living in.

In the end the car that called to us (and was available at the right moment and the right price) was a 1st generation Honda insight. Considered by some to be a upcoming design classic, it is at the very least an interesting vehicle. Made from aluminium and magnesium its lightweight body and svelte 2-up design clearly identify it as a vehicle intended to be slippery and efficient. The dinky 1 litre, three cylinder engine is combined with a equally small 10 kilowatt electric motor and a NiMH pack built from commercial D cells – with a puny 4Ah of usable capacity.

Given the electric side of it is so feeble, and with no capability to run as a pure electric car, what on earth prompted us to choose it?

The first generation Prius is considered to be somewhat underpowered by many

The first generation Prius is considered to be somewhat underpowered by many, and suffers from its non-hatchback design.

First up, efficiency. Despite no electric car capability, all that careful design paid off. In fact, until 2015 the first generation insight remained the most efficient hybrid sold in the US. Second, price. We could either have a very high mileage Prius, or a 38,000 mile 2006 Honda Insight.

Our third reason might surprise you, but it’s well worth considering: a healthy community investment in development, aftermarket parts, and ensuring the world’s first mass-produced hybrid doesn’t go quietly into the night.

It seems that the first-generation Honda Insight has a collection of loyal followers who are keen to not only keep this early hybrid on the road, but also to improve and enhance it. This, it must be said excited us a little. Whilst lots of people seem to produce batteries for the first generation Prius, there’s not a lot of deep enthusiasm for those early cars. And if we’re honest, those first-generation Prius sedans had some problems…

But we’re already waiting on a new underbody pan designed to improve airflow, made by a member of the Insight-owning community. We’re even looking forward to the possibly at some point in the future of an enhanced battery pack that will double the capacity if the original Honda unit in the car should it become unserviceable.

Then there are all the tweaks available to make the electric motor assist mode more aggressive. All these together can improve the efficiency still further. And of course, we’ll be sharing our experience of this ten-year old modern classic with you here at Transport Evolved.

The first generation insight was a design project in energy saving. Aluminum and magnesium enclose a teeny 10kW motor and 3 cylinder engine.

The first generation Insight was a design project in energy saving. Aluminum and magnesium enclose a teeny 10kW motor and 3-cylinder engine.

What would you have chosen? An older EV that might not fit the bill? Would you have got a loan to buy a new EV and sucked up the depreciation? Let us know in the comments below…


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  • vdiv


    In order to be legally considered Classic it must be 20 years old 😉

  • Surya

    I just can’t imagine ever going back to a non-all-electric car in the future. I hope I never need to!

  • JohnCBriggs

    I’ve always wanted one of those. Until the introduction of the 2016 Prius Eco, the original Insight had the highest MPG of any vehicle without a plug.

  • Otmar

    The early Insight is an excellent car!
    When I bought mine in 2003 it was with the intention of turning it into a lithium powered BEV with the performance of the recently discontinued GM EV-1 in a lighter package. I drove it as a hybrid for a number of years in stock condition sometimes getting 82 MPG on long trips. In 2008 I started the EV conversion by installing a rebuilt EV-1 motor and although it did run for a student demo, for a number of reasons it still sits in my garage waiting to be finished. Someday maybe…
    In the meantime John Wayland in Portland OR is working on a beautiful conversion of his into a long range (72 kWh, 400 mile) BEV.
    I hope you enjoy many efficient miles in yours!

    • Otmar,

      It’s my hope that you come up to PDX soon. I’ve yet to meet you! Also, I’m hoping to take John out for a coffee some time and perhaps introduce him to Kate. I think he’d love her Minor project!

      • Otmar

        I’m looking forward to meeting you too! Maybe we can all meet up with John, I don’t get to see him enough.

    • I did think buying it that it would be a beautiful vehicle to convert… they are certainly beautifully engineered. Ours is the CVT, and I can have a bit of a heavy right foot, so I’m not expecting such good milage 🙂

  • Congratulations!
    With lightweight aluminum, rust free, and streamlined body this car is ideal as a donor car for electric conversion.
    So when you decide to change it please don’t sell it for scrap or to someone random.
    Sell it as a donor car.

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