MOTEGI, Japan - Honda Motor Co.'s Insight hybrid car tops the Toyota Prius in fuel economy. Like the Prius, though, the Insight will be a money-loser for its maker. Honda officials hope that, with volume production, the Insight will become a money-maker in two years. But that remains to be seen.
Honda engineers pulled out all the stops to achieve the goal of making the two-seat Insight the mass-production car with the world's best fuel economy.
Equipped with a manual transmission, the Insight can go 82 mpg in Japan's so-called '10-15' test of mostly city plus some highway driving. The Prius can go 66 mpg in those tests.
The figures are not directly comparable to U.S. or European mileage standards. However, Honda said the Insight gets 113 mpg when cruising at a steady 37 mph.
PRICE IS $19,100
Honda plans to sell 300 Insights a month in Japan, starting in November. The car will be priced from $19,100 (2.1 million yen) at current exchange rates, with a five-speed manual transmission. The automatic, which uses Honda's Multi-Matic continuously variable transmission, will be $730 more.
Sales will start late this year in the United States, Europe and Asia. Honda expects to sell 4,000 to 5,000 Insights a year in the United States. The U.S. market will receive only the manual transmission model for the first two years.
With its ultra-light aluminum body and plastic body panels, the Insight weighs just 1,804 pounds. It has what Honda calls a world-leading drag coefficient of 0.25.
The compact 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine produces 70 hp at 5,700 rpm. The Insight draws on its 44-pound nickel-metal hydride battery pack only when extra power is needed for acceleration. The battery is supplied by Panasonic EV Energy Co., an affiliate of Toyota Motor Corp.
Because the Toyota Prius uses battery power to get the car moving and to assist the engine at high speeds, it requires a larger, heavier battery pack. That is one reason the Insight gets better fuel economy. Honda engineers estimate that the Insight's battery pack costs about half as much as that of the Prius.
Unlike the Prius, the Insight can cruise at high speeds without draining the battery. The Insight has a top speed of 112.5 mph.
Under the strain of lengthy acceleration, say when climbing a mountain, the Prius' battery may stop supplying power to conserve its energy. In those situations, the Insight kicks down into second gear automatically, said Kenji Nakano, chief engineer for the engine section on the Insight, who test drove the Insight through the Rocky Mountains in the United States.
Although the Insight has hatchback styling, it offers limited storage space in the rear.
The car is 155.1 inches long, 66.7 inches wide and 53.3 inches tall. It rides on a 94.5-inch wheelbase.
Options include a $2,000 navigation system with four speakers, and a $136 rear wiper. Acces-sories such as a car cover, seat covers, and a luggage cover are made from recycled plastic PET bottles.
It will be built at Honda's Takanezawa plant, alongside the virtually hand-built S2000 and NSX sports cars.