Honda Insight coupe uses two engines to stretch fuel economy
Date Posted: 5/10/2005
TOCHIGI, Japan -- Aluminum vehicles like the S2000 roadster by Honda and Acura's exotic NSX sports car come together in a hands-on assembly process at Honda's exclusive Takenezawa factory in Tochigi Province of Japan, where technicians recently rolled out the first production edition of a new kind of automobile aimed at the American car audience.
That first model, boldly painted in "New Formula Red" over a windswept aluminum structure concealing seats inside for only a driver and passenger, packed an ultra-efficient three-cylinder gasoline engine as well as a battery-powered electric motor. It draws from both in an unusual hybrid arrangement designed to maximize fuel economy.
A car that uses two engines can conserve on fuel?
This new Honda -- labeled the Insight -- clearly does.
As the first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle available in America, the Insight is also the first car to bust the fuel-economy ceiling of 70 miles per gallon for highway driving, as confirmed in recent fuel efficiency tests conducted by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Official EPA scores for Insight list fuel consumption for city driving at 61 mpg, and 70 mph on the road, but subjective tests run as high as 80 mpg for highway driving.
In addition to thrifty fuel economy, Insight also produces fewer greenhouse gases and qualifies as an ultra low emission vehicle (ULEV), emitting emissions with 84 percent less hydrocarbons and half the number of nitrous-oxide molecules as does the engine of a conventional car.
Consider Insight the culmination of research by Honda into automotive technologies using lighter vehicles equipped with more efficient and cleaner engines.
It also takes a giant stride into the future of automotive design in a process which unites lightweight but strong structural elements with innovative power sources and high-tech computer controls.
Despite the dazzling hardware, Insight acts and feels like a conventional car and delivers more than adequate acceleration for city driving at lesser speeds and steady yet remarkably quiet operation at a freeway pace.
We spend time behind the wheel of Insight in various pre-production prototypes, running laps on roads ringing the vast Twin Ring Motegi race track in Tochigi mountains not far from the Takenezawa plant. The coupe, virtually silent at start-up due to its electric motor connection, leaped to action on command with the little gasoline engine kicking up fast-fired acceleration.
The Insight handled turns with sharp steering controls and felt agile in motion, but still produced a smooth and comfortable ride quality when moving at a steady state at higher speeds.
It also hummed in quiet efficiency, the unusual sound a tell-tale indication that something very different was occurring under that sleek hood.
On the instrument panel, an electronic display provided instantaneous performance information about fuel economy, engine operation and integration with the electric motor and its battery pack.
All work together in a seamless process.
Primary power comes from the 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine, an ultra-efficient plant composed of lightweight materials like aluminum, magnesium and durable plastics. It uses low-friction and lean-burn techniques with Honda's wizardry of variable valve control to produce 67 horsepower at 5700 rpm and torque numbers of 66 lb-ft at 4800.
Secondary power is delivered by the thin and compact permanent-magnet electric motor, which ties to a 144-volt nickel-metal hydrate battery.
A power control unit (PCU) regulates the electric charge from the battery, then uses electricity generated through vehicle braking to recharge the unit so an outside source for electric power is not required, unlike pure battery-powered electric vehicles.
The PCU switches between electric and gas engines depending on usage to conserve fuel and control emission gases, and in certain situations -- such as when the vehicle's manual transmission is placed in neutral position -- the gas engine is actually shut off momentarily.
But step on the gas and it kicks in again, instantly.
The electric motor also enhances the power of the engine in circumstances such as accelerating from a standing start -- it adds a boost to help overcome inertia, then cuts back and defers to the gas engine once underway.
On the instrument panel, you may observe this process through the electronic display. It indicates when each engine is utilized, and when the battery is being recharged.
With a fuel tank holding 10.6 gallons and the battery recharging itself, Insight can travel 700 miles or more before requiring additional fuel.
The unusual fuel economy and efficiency of operation is enhanced by the dramatically sleek styling and use of light-weight structural elements.
Insight looks daring due to its slick shell featuring a prominent nose, large expanse of windswept window glass, flat side panels with skits covering rear wheelwells and a rear section that tapers in flanks and top to a blunt tail.
It earns a coefficient of drag -- the measure of its aerodynamic efficiency -- of only 0.25, best in the world for a mass-produced vehicle. As a result, it cuts through the air with more efficiency than a conventional design, requiring about 30 percent less power to move forward.
The ultra-lightweight aluminum structure also translates to better fuel economy, as the design weighs 40 percent less than an equivalent steel body. In addition to the aluminum framework, aluminum shows up in sheet form for roof, doors and side panels.
The Insight also packs safety equipment like dual air bags and three-point safety belts with pretensioners and load-limiters, plus anti-lock brakes.
In the comfortable cockpit, twin high-back bucket seats stand on either side of a center console, with ample space for body parts, including a generous stretch for legs. Convenience features range from power controls for windows and door locks to remote releases for fuel door and back hatch, and an audio system with cassette deck and speakers.
The battery pack consumes space in the rear below deck, but there's room above for cargo storage.
Honda plans to build about thirty Insights each day at the Takenezawa factory, with initial color choices limited to the three shades of Citrus Yellow, New Formula Red and Silverstone Metallic blue.
| Vehicle Specifications:
| 2000 HONDA INSIGHT Specs
||Compact 2-seat coupe
| Model Options:
||Compact 2-seat coupe
| Overall Length:
| Engine Size:
||SOHC 1.0-L I3 VTEC
Magnet Electric Motor
| Gas Mileage:
||$ 18,880 to $20,080