2001 Honda Insight (ZE1)
The Honda Insight (ZE1) was powered by a 1.0-litre petrol three-cylinder with the firm’s VTEC variable camshaft profile technology, but that wasn’t even the Insight’s party piece. Instead of a conventional flywheel, it used a 2.5in thick 10kw electric motor. Sandwiched between the somewhat conventional petrol engine and the entirely conventional five-speed manual or optional CVT auto, this clever little assistant was christened the IMA (Integrated Motor Assist), and allowed the light-footed Insight driver to achieve upwards of 70mpg. Unlike the conformist, anonymous Prius, the Insight was wildly styled with a dynamically gifted alloy monocoque chassis. The Insight is undoubtedly the first hybrid to have become collectible. People modify them to run modern Li-ion batteries in place of their less efficient Nickel-hydride packs.
Its bold exterior might lead road users to expect you to emerge requesting to be taken to their leader, but this shape forms a near ideal low-drag teardrop. At just 0.25cd, the Insight’s slipperiness allows this two-seater to reach 113mph – not that outright conventional performance is what the Insight is about. That sense of the science fiction continues in the cabin. Dials flick to life like the helm of a starship, yet traditionally sporting touches are sprinkled throughout too, suggesting that saving the planet could also be fun. A low-slung seating position – with a gearstick perfectly positioned for quick changes – mixes with a wheel and dial set styled on the S2000’s. All these touches augment the sense that the Insight was developed as a driver-focused coupé first and a highly-efficient mpg megastar second.
With batteries fizzing and IMA at peak assist, there’s still only 73bhp and 91lb ft under your right foot, enough to deliver acceptable performance, yet it’s no sports car. There are times however, when the Insight feels sporting. Its gruff three-pot might lack the potency or stratospheric redline of its Type R cousins, but it’ll still spin smartly to a 6200rpm limiter. Foot to the floor, with charge in reserve, you feel a pleasant added waft from the IMA. While the chassis is stiff, the suspension is set up for compliance. Trying to maintain hard-earned momentum in the corners makes the Insight pitch a little more than an outright sports coupé would, yet low rolling resistance 165/65 R14 tyres are the weakest link. The Insight majors on efficiency, but it’s clear that Tochigi’s engineers couldn’t help but make this little eco-warrior great fun to drive.
There aren’t many Insight-specific issues either. There’s the charge imbalance and flat original batteries to deal with, but other than that, it’s fairly conventional old-car stuff. Look for rotten fuel and brake lines and cracks in the rear trailing arm bushes. Some owners have also reported clogged EGR valves – an easy DIY fix. If you want to buy into the Insight experience you’re in luck because this hybrid is one of the most affordable ways to hypermile. Tired-yet-running projects start around £2500, with decent examples coming in at between £4000 and £6000. You can still bag a cherished Insight with change from £10k, but with interest levels and values climbing fast, that won’t be the case for much longer.
Owning a Honda Insight ZE1
Donovan van der Walt runs the Honda Heritage Press Fleet; we asked him what the Insight has going for it. ‘It’s the first Honda Hybrid sold in the UK, which makes it special. It has been part of our Heritage Fleet for six years.’ When asked what’s gone wrong with the Insight, the answer was somewhat predictable for these machines because it’s generally the only thing that does regularly fail. ‘The Hybrid system battery was replaced, because of extended storage and not being driven. Parts are becoming scarce, but even so the annual servicing is roughly £140. The car’s fuel economy makes it very cheap to run. If it has a drawback though, it’s the lack of passenger space, you only have the one front seat and that’s it.’
TECHNICAL DATA 2001 Honda Insight (ZE1)
- Engine 995cc inline three-cylinder, 12 valve sohc with rockers, Honda multi-point indirect fuel injection
- Power and torque 73bhp @ 5700rpm;
- Max Power 91 lb ft @ 5700rpm (with IMA assist)
- Steering Power assisted rack and pinion
- Transmission Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
- Suspension Front: independent strut and damper (with hollow rod) and forged aluminium lower wishbone and anti-roll bar. Rear: semi-independent, coil springs and remote dampers mounted to twist-beam axle
- Brakes Servo-assisted. Front: vented discs. Rear: drums
- Performance Top speed: 113mph;
- 0-60mph: 13.5sec
- Weight 835kg (1840lb)
- Fuel consumption 83mpg (approx.)
- Cost new £15,490 (in 1999)
- Classic Cars Price Guide £3000-£6500
Vibrant two seater interior; driving experience not quite sporty 1.0-litre triple employs Honda’s VTEC Technology. The Insight was made alongside the NSX at the Honda R&D home in Tochigi.
‘Other road users might expect you to emerge requesting to be taken to their leader’