Driveway Outtake: Two Red Hybrids

Someone likes hybrids, and in the color red. The Prius is of course one of the most common cars here, but the number of gen1 Insights is becoming rather small, like the car itself. Isn’t it now a rather curious relic from a different time? At a time when SUVs are the dominant vehicle of choice, this diminutive little gas saver seems rather quaint.

Curiously, we’ve never done a full CC on it either, just this short take, so it really is a somewhat forgotten and overlooked little thing. And how exotic it was in 2000, when it was the first hybrid available on the US market. It made a sensation with its sky-high EPA numbers (49/61/53, city/highway/combined), which were the highest for a gasoline fueled car until 2016. Of course it was super aerodynamic, ultra-light and only held two passengers. The Prius quickly showed that for only a slight penalty, one could have a legitimate four-five seater and not have to compromise.

The two-passenger Insight’s IMA system had a lower level of hybridization and smaller batteries than the Prius, which were basically commercial-grade NiMh D cells in a pack delivering 144 volts to the 10 kW brushless motor attached to the rear of the engine. In 2000, only a five-speed manual transmission was available; starting in 2001, a CVT was optional.

The Insight’s battery pack has not turned out to be as long-lived as the Prius’, and replacement is almost inevitable. New packs are available for about $2000. Some owners have disabled its hybrid system, and a few have even swapped in larger Honda fours to turn it into an ultra-light pocket rocket.

Total global sales during its six-year run amounted to 17,020 units; much less than Honda had projected. The Prius was a more practical solution, and has sold well over a million times.