No, itís not an old car, and I havenít rebuilt it from scratch. Itís the latest technology in cars -- the 2000 Honda Insight.
Neil caught me in the parking lot at C. T. English Middle School and asked about it. I get asked lots of questions, so here are some answers.
What is it?
Itís a hybrid -- part gas and part electric. There are several types of hybrid cars, differing in how they use the gas and electric motors, but I know only two cars that are produced in volume and available for sale in the US--the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight.
It always runs on gas, with the electric motor boosting the power when itís needed.
There are, Iím told, something like 100 small (D-cell like) nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries in an enclosure behind the seats. The ownerís manual doesnít say how long they last, and Iíve never seen them. In fact the battery compartment says, ďNo user serviceable parts inside.Ē
Iím getting 58.5 MPG driving Highway 17. Itís rated 61 MPG city and 70 MPG highway. I can clearly see it getting better than 70 MPG if your driving is all on flat ground and between 45 and 65 MPH.
It can easily keep up with traffic on 280, and it accelerates well enough that merging isnít a problem. And yes, it has no problem going up Highway 17. Itís a five-speed manual, so you donít have much power in fifth gear, but downshift into fourth or third and you can get back to speed after getting stuck behind a semi.
I got it at the Honda dealer in Los Gatos. They had one in stock, so I took it off the lot. They sell fast though, and there arenít that many available in the United States this year, so they are hard to find. I got lucky. It cost about $27,000, out the door. That includes some dealer markup because they wonít haggle much given the heavy demand and limited availability. I recommend the extended warranty because who knows if all this fancy technology will keep working.
I got it because my other car is a full-sized pickup, with the traditional full-sized pickup gas mileage. Although I need the truck for hauling stuff around, I hate driving it to work every day. I was waiting for something like the Insight to come along. It goes about 600 miles on a tank of gas.
How many people can you get in there?
Itís a two-seater, and you canít be too heavy, as it only carries about 360 pounds. It really is a commuter car.
How do you know how the battery is doing?
The dashboard looks like something out of a science fiction movie. Itís all electronic, with meters for battery charge level, whether or not youíre charging or assisting with the motor, and all the traditional car stuff.
How is it on emissions?
Itís rated as an ULEV -- Ultra Low Emission Vehicle. Thatís pretty good, but not quite the best gas powered rating possible. The Toyota Prius gets a better rating, but based on what Iíve read, the Honda didnít miss the mark by much. The only thing better than the Toyota would be pure electric.
Why not the Toyota?
The Honda gets better mileage, and I really like the way it looks. The Toyota is a small but traditional-looking four-door sedan.
Why not get an electric car?
They have too limited a range for those of us living up here. Highway 17 would demand a battery charge in a hurry so Iíd have to recharge in town before I came home. That isnít necessary with the Insight.
Are there any tax or other benefits to driving a hybrid car?
Not that I know of. There were rumors that the California legislature was looking into letting ULEV cars use carpool lanes, but I donít think that has happened. There are rumors of a possible tax credit, but I havenít seen anything specific. If you hear anything, please let me know.
I love this car! Itís fun to drive (even though it is my first manual, and Iím still a bit rough) and it sure saves money. Compared to my truck, I spend about one-fourth of what I previously spent on gas. That adds up in a hurry at almost $2 a gallon. I recommend it to anyone looking for a new commuter car.