Never mind an NSX – this is the finest example of Japanese engineering
Heading down to Japanese Sunday at the Goodwood Breakfast Club, it’s understandable to be excited about seeing the likes of the Honda NSX up close, a mint Nissan GT-R, or perhaps a Datsun 240z. Who wouldn’t?
We’d wager however, one car that didn’t spring to mind was a humble first generation Honda Insight. If anything, you could have walked past it along the crowded Goodwood grid, it looks that inconspicuous. Seeing as there were only two in attendance, you may not have spotted them at all! For us however, this spotless example, owned by Ewan Dalton, was one of the highlights of the day, and here’s why…
Released in 2000, the Insight was, and remains, one of Honda’s most innovative vehicles. For seven years it held the title as the most fuel efficient vehicle on the road and it predates the Prius as the first Hybrid available outside of Japan. Despite being produced in the same factory as the S2000 and the iconic NSX, two altogether more desirable or aesthetically pleasing cars, the Insight was a perfect example of function over form. And actually, when it comes to looks, the Insight is aging pretty darn well.
“I remember seeing them when they first came out and thinking that they were quite unusual. Then I saw one again at a car meet years later and thought that it’s just so cool now,” beams Ewan as he walks us around the little two-seater.
“It was basically an engineering exercise Honda did to show off what they could do. I think they lost money on every one they sold, and they didn’t sell many because they were expensive at the time. It’s an interesting car to drive down though”.
For those of you that didn’t give this hybrid electric vehicle a second look, more fool you.
All hand-built, the fully aluminium Honda is only 850kg in weight and its distinctive sweeping lines incorporate fish-like aerodynamics to help it glide through the air. The goal? Make a car as efficient, and cheap to run as possible. Talking to Ewan, the Insight is still loyally delivering against those objectives today.
“It's about 40 miles down here from home and we averaged 60mpg,” he added. “We weren't hanging about. my foot was on the floor two thirds of the way. If you're careful you can easily get 90mpg or more.
“This is my daily. It's peanuts to run. Insurance is cheap, no road tax, hardly any maintenance. There's no rust. Tyres are pumped up to 50psi, so it's like a roller skate. It's got hardly any rolling resistance. Put £40 in the tank and you’ll do 400 miles.”
As a previous owner of Honda S2000s and an NSX, along with several faster, more exotic cars, Ewan revels in the joy of driving such as cost-effective, and quirky example of Japanese engineering: “This is another end of the scale. Driving a slow car is an interesting thing, if you're interested in the mechanics of driving. It's all about preserving momentum, staying off the brakes as long as possible, and enjoying the little innovations.
“Even stupid little things. There's a lean burn mode on it. If you're cruising along it switches on and adds a lot more air to the fuel mixture, and that means you can get much better mpg, sometimes up to 150! The problem is that it overheats the cat. The ECU and the engine decides to turn up the wick for a few seconds and it fires a load of exhaust gasses at the cat to settle it back down, then it goes back to lean burn mode. Little things like that. It’s just a lot of fun.”
It certainly isn’t the fastest car at Breakfast Club, and it won’t be the most talked about, or photographed either, but it surely must be one of the most endearing.
How would Ewan sum up his strangest car? “I've got a lot of respect for Japanese engineering. The way they do things differently from a lot of other people. It's interesting. This is just an excellent example of that.”
We couldn’t agree more, and after talking to Ewan, we’ve done a few quick sums around running costs, and a Honda Insight is now right at the top of our shopping list.