GRAN TURISMO CAR REVIEWS

1999 Honda Insight
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Specs

Year: 1999
Class: Subcompact Car
Type: 3-door hatchback

Host: GT5
Country of Origin: Japan

Price: $20,200 (used car lot)

Mileage: 4,760.6

Construction: aluminum body with plastic panels

Length: 131.5" // Width: 66.7" // Height: 53.3"
Wheelbase: 94.0"
Overhang: 3 feet 2 inches
Track: 56.5" [F] 52.2" [R]
Ground Clearance: 5.9"

Weight: 1,808 pounds
Steering: electric power-assisted rack & pinion
Layout: Front Engine+Motor/Front Drive

Tires: P165/65R-14
F. Suspension: MacPherson struts, coils, anti-roll bar
R. Suspension: torsion beam axle, coils, shox, ARB
Brakes: vented discs, drums

* This car was not given oil change or rebuild, since it starts with 11 horsepower more than the dealer quotes. 80 hp tested versus 69 hp quoted.

Powerplant: 1.0 liter SOHC inline-3
144v, 10 kW (13 hp/36 ft.-lb.) motor

Engine Construction: aluminum, magnesium, & plastic
Aspiration: natural
Fuel Syst: PGM-Fi
Valves / Cyl: 4 (VTEC enhanced)
Bore x Stroke: 2.83 x 3.21"
Compression: 10.8:1

Starting HP: 80 @ 6,000 rpm
Strtng Torq: 92 @ 2,000 rpm

Credits per HP: $252.50
Pounds per HP: 22.60
Pnds per Torq: 19.65
HP per Liter:     80.4

Idle: 500 // Redline: 6,000 // RPM Limit: 6,500

Transmission: 5-speed manual
Differential: open type

0-60 mph: 12.871 seconds
0-100 mph: 37.160

400 M:        19.426 @ 74 mph
1 Kilometer: 34.328 @ 97 mph

1/4 Mile: 19.496 @ 74 mph
1 Mile:    48.045 @ 107 mph

100-zero mph: 5.900 seconds

Top Gear RPM @ 60 mph: 2,150

Top Speed at Redline
1st: 31.8 mph
2nd: 65.6
3rd: 98.5
4th: 123.3 mph @ 5,500 rpm
5th: 122.x @ 4,500 rpm

----------EXTERIOR / HISTORY-------------


Long ago somebody coined the phrase "build a better mousetrap". This implies that wherever this fellow lived, there was some sort of a massive rodent problem nobody could solve. Mice are quick and flexible. They can squeeze themselves thru tiny cracks in our walls, making their escape with ease, but mice are not very bright. It doesn't take a rocket scientist with a world-class patented design to outsmart a mouse, yet wherever this rodent problem was, nobody could figure out how to fix it.  

So we can safely assume that conventional mousetraps were not working. Perhaps the best trap on the market was something akin to what we'd see in a Tom & Jerry cartoon: a block of cheese shoved under a box. The mouse goes under the box, and somehow the box falls over the mouse. Now what? The mouse is trapped, but how do we get it out of the trap? Anybody feel like grabbing it from under the box? Durrrr....

So somebody somewhere had this brainstorm: "hey man, we gotta build a better mousetrap if we're gonna get that mouse". A lightbulb went over this fellow's head (just like in a cartoon), and perhaps he actually did it. Perhaps he built the better mousetrap. But it took planning, strategy, and a bit of luck for this to happen.  

These were the conundrums faced by automotive engineers over the past few decades; in this case, the "mouse" was fuel-economy. How do we build a better, more economical car? We've figured out fuel management, we've figured out aerodynamics .... what could be next?

As a kid in the late '70s or early '80s, I remember reading some article in Popular Science magazine about hybrid cars. The idea is to take two unrelated power-sources, and figure out how to make them work in tandem with one another. Electric cars had already been attempted, but with the battery technology of the times it was obvious electrics were not gonna be an answer. If somebody could figure out how to get the electric car to be assisted by a gasoline motor, that might help. 

But it was one of those articles you read, and then you sarcastically say to yourself or your friend: "yea, that'll happen". The idea sounded so farfetched, so science-fictionish, who could ever take it seriously.

As the '80s rolled into the '90s, and gasoline cost roughly $1.65 a gallon in America, the very idea of a hybrid car which saves gas by using two power-sources seemed unnecessary. People stopped buying cars in America, and were now buying giant 5,000+ pound SUVs with V8 engines; their excuse being that these SUVs were "safer" than cars. It actually seemed the very concept of the car might soon be archaic and forgotten amongst middle-class and rich people.

It was during this time, oddly, that Honda and Toyota engineers must have been quietly at work developing the better mousetrap. They must have been at this for years, quietly trying to figure out how to get the hybrid to work. It is little known to most of us that Honda was actually the one who did it first. Honda's Insight was released to the public a full 7 months before Toyota's Prius. Everyone assumes the Prius came first, but this is just an illusion. It's probably the fact that the Prius is so popular that it's assumed Toyota got there first.

At first, hybrid cars started off slow, but as gasoline rose to 2...3....4 dollars a gallon in the States, these machines began to make some sense.  

In many ways, the Insight is actually the "better mousetrap", in comparison with the Prius. Most people also don't know of the Insight's stellar fuel economy numbers: with a CVT transmission, we're talking of 70 mpg city, 61 mpg highway. That beats the Prius, hands down. Honda did it not just with hybrid technology, but also by using every available concept on the market. The tires are narrow, high-pressure, low-resistance types. Since the car is a 2-seater, it tapers inwards towards the rear dramatically, creating a teardrop shape overall. Apparently the most aerodynamic design possible, in a 4-seater or a 2+2 this tapering would not work. It would make the rear seats incredibly cramped. The rear wheels are also semi-covered by movable panels. 

Some people assume Honda was just trying to be futuristic here; trying to use an old gimmick by releasing the first space-age pod-car, but none of this is for show. The car's futuristic shape helps the Insight attain one of the lowest aerodynamic drag ratings on a production vehicle, ever: 0.25. And the insight is made mostly of aluminum, with plastic body panels, which is why it's so light at 1,808 pounds. In this day and age, this is amazing.


Back in the '70s and '80s, super-light economy cars were actually commonplace. Look at Toyota's Starlet/Tercel, which weighed-in at 1,565 pounds. Honda's CR-X weighed just over 2,100 at its heaviest during its second generation, but 1st generation cars were even lighter. Nowadays, we simply can't find cars like this anymore. There's been a trend towards heavier cars for awhile now, which is in direct contradiction to the goal of saving more fuel.  

For instance, Honda's CR-Z (a newer hybrid) is just over 2,500 pounds. The Honda Fit is 2,656 here in America. I think in Japan it's possible to get a Fit weighing much less than this, but my point is it's generally  impossible to find super-lightweights on the market, as modern cars are burdened with all this junk nowadays, and need to have greater torsional structural ratings. Granted, the econobox of the past wasn't as safe as modern fuel-misermobiles are, but their basic goal (better fuel economy) was often met. They met this goal partially by not packing on the pounds. The Insight has taken a look back to the past, therefore, in an effort to be the best econobox on the market, the very KING of econoboxes.   

It was understood upon its release that the Insight was not for the general public. It would not be this hugely mass-produced car, Honda raking in millions of dollars.  Instead, Honda openly admitted the Insight would be somewhat experimental, and whoever bought would basically be beta testers! 

So who exactly would buy an Insight then? A family of 7?  This is not the Insight's target market. With just two seats and a small cargo space, it was more likely the aging Baby Boomer who wanted something to drive that was different from anything currently on the market was more likely the one to find an Insight attractive.

More likely a male would buy it than a female. Most females tend to get freaked out by anything mechanical they don't understand, especially cars. So it would mostly be men driving Insights. Older men with a lot of intelligence. Maybe college professors and aerospace engineers. The Insight's high technology also factors in, keeping these drivers occupied with an endless stream of data on how great the car is doing at saving gas. An older sort who appreciates what the Insight would be all about is whom Honda was after.  


But the real question: Is this one worthy? Is it worthy for us guys and gals who might get curious about racing it?  Or is the Insight another Prius?  Doomed to a life of Sunday and Compact Cup races?  

              

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----------ENGINE / DRIVETRAIN-----------

Featuring Honda's brand-new Integrated Motor Assist program (IMA), the Insight has quite an insight into doing things better, indeed. 

The very concept of IMA seemed strange and unlikely to work when the Insight made its debut 12 years ago, but nowadays hybrid technology is becoming commonplace. It's proved itself at being able to blend amongst gasoline and diesel-powered automobiles. Basically, we start with an ordinary gasoline engine. In this case, Honda has given us a pint-sized 3 cylinder device, displacing just under 1.0 liter. This sounds downright frightening to an American like myself, but let's investigate further.

 I'm noticing that when I bought my Insight, it was dealer-quoted from the used car lot at 69 horsepower, but when I took it to the garage, it now rates at 80 hp, even though no oil change had been performed and my car had some miles on it. This is because (I'm assuming) the dyno results are including the Insight's electric motor along with the gasoline engine. Rated at a measly 13 horsepower with 36 foot-pounds, it seems the total power output of 80 hp is factored at the garage, while the dealer was merely quoting this car's gasoline engine's power. Make sense?

Integrated Motor Assist is an interesting concept, and amazingly it works. Basically, if the car is at a stoplight, the engine won't be running, assuming the battery is properly charged. Hybrid batteries NEVER hold a full charge, by the way. To do so would shorten their overall life. IMA's computer makes sure a full charge never happens. It makes sure of lots of variables, actually, keeping tabs on dozens of variables at once.  Like this one: only if the battery needs some help will the engine start running. The engine (yes) can actually help charge the battery. 

Now, as the car starts to move slowly (around a parking lot, for instance), the motor will sometimes run all by itself. As acceleration is needed in greater demand, the engine now cuts in.  Finally, as the car reaches its cruising speed (whatever that may be), it will now summon help from the engine or electric motor as needed--the ultimate goals are to keep that battery charged, and to use as little fuel as possible in the process.

Finally, there's braking. During braking, the engine sometimes shuts off, the motor now acting as a generator to recharge the battery. Hybrid cars can actually sometimes use their generator-motors as a primary braking system. The car's real, old-fashioned brakes (discs, pads, shoes and/or drums) therefore can wind up lasting a very long time.   

I drove and raced the Insight around a few tracks to see if all this stuff works. The motor does its job seamlessly, and is never noticed, ever. I kept driving around. As the battery drained a bar, I found a spot where I could let the car coast down a hill, just to see if IMA actually works at charging up the battery in-game. And yes, that missing bar did wind up getting recharged after a few moments of coasting. Neat!

The only criticism to be found in-game is the fact that after the battery is fully charged, the engine keeps running, it won't stop like a real-life hybrid's engine will. Another criticism is that this car's battery pack (which is comparatively small compared to some other hybrids, consisting of a series of Ni-MH D-cells) doesn't hold much juice. After just 5 laps around Madrid Mini, the Insight's battery was already drained to just two bars. This is a major drawback for those wanting to do some longer-distance driving or racing. Nurburgring Nordschleife? This track seems not an option.  I'm pretty sure the Prius can go further than this, and I know some full-electrics like the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Tesla Roadster have a longer range.  

Not that I'm gonna complain and take my copy of GT5 back to GameStop or anything, but it would be kinda neat to see (and hear) that engine shut off like it's supposed to, and it would be neat to have at least have the option for a larger battery pack. I don't care what it costs, you know me, I'll buy it!  But whatever. Even with these lacks, it's still a neat car to have in the game.   

But what's really neat is the fact that the Insight actually is not only a better mousetrap, it's a better race-car. The '03 Prius can accept just 135 horsepower at best, with 125 foot-pounds of torque. When we combine this meager power with the car's weight (which is 2,365 pounds at the least) it's obvious the Prius will at some point become useless. Not so with the Insight. Well...the Insight will also become useless at some point, but it's a guarantee it'll give a better shot at a longer career than Toyota's pet will.   

I did fully power this car, the Insight. All three engine stages. There aren't any turbos, but still, the Insight winds up with about 30 extra horsepower in comparison to the 2003 Prius G.  Strange, since the Prius has a larger 1.5 liter 4-cylinder. Again, the Insight only packed a 1.0 liter 3-cylinder. Oh... here's how the Insight's stages pack up:

Stage 1: 128 @ 6,600 / 117 ft-lbs. @ 2,600

Stage 2: 152 @ 6,800 / 152 @ 2,800

Stage 3: 165 @ 6,900 / 163 @ 2,900

Not bad, especially when it's considered this car only weighs 1,800 pounds to start. I'm not sure at this writing how long the Insight's career is in GT5, but it's totally possible to take this one outside of the Beginner's Series to do some Clubman Cup action. :) The Prius can do the Tsukuba and Cape Ring Clubman races, but it's too heavy (or not strong enough) to conquer Route 246.

During my Clubman race at Tsukuba, I think I did notice the Insight's acceleration is just a tad smoother than it seems a 3 cylinder engine would be able to provide all by itself. This is that 13 horsepower motor. It does seem to help, especially out of slower areas. You're never sure about this though. I mean, I was never sure about this as I got around to some serious racing. But as the Insight climbed the ranks from 8th place to 2nd in less than 3 laps, and then battled it out with an Audi A3 Quattro during Laps 4 and 5, it was obvious the Insight can rise to the challenge!

Honda's CR-Z is probably another hybrid that can make it this far, too. I keep forgetting about the CR-Z.   

One major criticism, so far as racing goes, is this car's gearing, which is very tall--obviously made for extreme fuel-economy. Oddly, the Insight was offered with a manual-transmission only (a CVT became available later on) and we definitely have this 5-speed in our game. The CVT does a better job at saving fuel in real-life, so perhaps Honda offered the 5-speed because it was the safest option to go with in 1999, this being an experimental car and all.

But like I said, this gearing is tall. Acceleration is lacking, and climbing hills can sometimes knock off some gathered speed, especially if power is near-stock. The 5-speed close-ratio therefore comes in hand early. It's especially a good buy for some small track action. I have yet to see any scenario during which full-custom gears are needed, but they are available if this is so.

Now, anybody want to see if this car can actually do some serious motoring?    

    

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-------CHASSIS / HANDLING--------

So we've established that the Insight is useful and better in some ways than any other hybrid or low-powered electric in our game. Now let's see about its driveability. As a front-drive Honda, we're looking for some Civic or CR-X material here. Accurate steering, phenomenol brakes, and other such typical Honda traits. Unfortunately, it is here that the Insight often disappoints! 

I mean, granted, this is supposed to be New Technology, aimed at slowing down use of the world's oil supply. It's supposed to be economical and dazzling. In all these respects, the Insight succeeds massively. But as a racing car, it does need some attention.

Braking is simply average. I'm going less than 100 mph in a stock Insight at Madrid, for instance, when the car comes towards that first hairpin. I figure: it's a Honda. I'll brake somewhere between 100 meters and 50. It'll be able to handle this, no problem. Nope. BAD idea!

As the car now struggled to turn, I found my Insight doing a face-first into the guardrail barrier!  Oops. I am driving on medium radials, and this needs to be improved for sure, but there are some other cars out there that'll brake and steer more confidently on this same rating of tires.  

And so it goes. Next time I approached this turn, I started at 100 meters instead of somewhere between 50 and 100. Cool. The Insight likes this a lot better. It now brakes fine and makes its orbit safely throughout the rest of that hairpin. It's definitely those tires, then. Those tires are the problem. With a tread-width of just 165, these are made for (again) fuel-saving scemes, not tossing around a race course! Narrower tires create less rolling resistance, which means better fuel-economy.  But. Even when equipping some sport tires, there are times when the Insight still fails! Which is simply inexcuseable at times.  I'll brake the car at an appropriate spot (if I start any earlier, for instance, it would now be approaching too slowly), get mid-turn, apply a little throttle, and damn...look at all that understeer!

That's the biggest complaint, as usual, with front-drive cars. But the Insight? This thing just loves to plow!  As a Honda, the Insight is somewhat of an embarassment to other Hondas, who can often get the job done right.  Even an Odyssey has better cornering prowess (more stability, for instance) than an Insight at times. It's not that the Insight understeers, it's that it really understeers. Easily!  It's unlike any other Honda I've ever raced.     

After doing the World Compact Car Cup at London and Madrid Mini, I started to realize it takes some effort to keep the Insight away from those walls! It would get to be maddening if these races were more than 3 laps apiece. As the car understeers, those tires quickly overheat, too. Now you really have to slow down massively, even though the turn is nearing its end and we should be accelerating.   

The Insight also suffers a bit from traction loss while leaving tighter areas. Again, this traction loss is often accompanied by overheating tires. But the good news is, if we've got some room to work (during a larger turn in which the Insight doesn't need any extreme steering angles) it is possible to straighten out those wheels a bit (to keep understeer from showing up in the first place), and then tighten them up again. Full throttle can be applied as the car leaves the turn, and at times the Insight will actually grip-inwards with Integra-like tenacity. Well, maybe 50% of an Integra's tenacity. But still...a merit is a merit.

Don't take any of these words as reasons to totally avoid the Insight, though. During the Clubman Cup my lilac-colored Insight now was shod with medium sport tires and FINALLY started behaving like a Honda! :D Much of those previous issues were now gone at Tsukuba's tight corners. Understeer diminished, braking distances shorter, and absolutely no wheelspin with any sort of throttle. I actually had some options now, as I drove. Options other than "steer and pray the car turns", that is. Some deeper trail-braking was now possible, just as a Honda should.

 With just 155 horsepower during the race at Route 246, the Insight has enough power to keep up, but not enough to have its traction damaged out of this track's slower areas (what slower areas there are). During this track's larger turns, the front wheels did start to overheat again, and there were some moments where the car started to understeer, but overall the Insight could be trusted. As long as I didn't push TOO hard and braked-in appropriately, it could enter turns and hold a decent line, allowing me to win this race.  

Acceleration felt sluggish again, especially since I had my imaginary mechanics install the stock gearbox. Most of the track was now driven in 3rd gear, with 4th finally becoming an option down the main straight, and 2nd only being used out of the first and final sharp corners. But down those longer straights, the Insight kept putting down some speed anyways, its space-pod aerodynamics a virtual lottery ticket to an easy 2-second win.    

As the world's first hybrid electric/gasoline automobile, the Honda Insight actually is also perhaps the very BEST for the job, if you're looking for something offbeat to drive on a rainy day. It blows away Toyota's snobby Prius, that we can guarantee.  And blowing away a Prius somehow makes it all worth it.  
    

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PROS----------------------------

1). Wanna try something a little different on those tracks? Here ya go.

2). Somewhat inexpensive.

3). Finally a hybrid which can leave the Beginner's League to tackle more events and fatten up those credits. We got our first hybrid in GT2, but it's taken this long to leave the Sundays for the Clubman!

4). Unique aerodynamic teardrop shape. A little pod car, straight out of science fiction circa 1950! 

5). The Insight pulls an amazing 123 mph Top Speed, despite having just 80 horses to start. 

5). Power upgrades available, and these upgrades can take the Insight further than a Prius.

6). Just 1,808 pounds, too, in a world full of compacts that rarely weigh less than 2,500 nowadays.

7). Smallish dimensions. Once the Insight is on some decent tires, this car can have you hopscotching between the competition, as it will easily fit in areas some other cars would take with discomfort.

8). Fun to watch during replays!     


CONS---------------------------

1). Noisy! Jeez that 3-banger is noisy!

2). Tall gearing, too, which leads to...

3). Sluggish acceleration. A closer gearbox is needed early to help, even during Sunday Cup and Compact Cup ventures.

4). Yes, this car will go further than a Prius, but it still has its limits. Just 165 horses at best.

5). This is one of the only front-drive Hondas with average braking. We can't make mistakes in this car. Miss that braking point? You will pay, my friend.

6). Lots and LOTS of understeer on stock tires, or soft radials. Only with medium sport tires will the Insight finally start handling like a Civic, and even then it still can bite us in the ass at times. 

7). I wish we could throw a turbo in this car. Just one. Please?????

8). A larger-capacity battery (along with a stronger motor) would be nice, too.

9). This one is light, true, but sometimes it pays for this, as its stability over bumps and curbs often suffers.

10). I thought I was "doing my part" to save the world, only to learn that gasoline in Gran Turismo is free and CAFE rules do not apply.


Published: February 18, 2012

   

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