Constantly Vicious Transmission: 2003 Honda Insight
The first generation Honda Insight is an early Japanese gas-electric hybrid that features the strange combination of lean-burn engine, a 5-speed manual transmission, extruded aluminum monocoque construction and a sub-1900 lb curb weight…except this example has the optional CVT-auto transmission, which means it won’t have the same snick-snick Honda shifter feel, but how hard could it be to swap in a 5 speed and maybe a K20. Find this 2003 Honda Insight offered for $1995 in Los Angeles, CA via craigslist. Tip from MikeD.
From the seller:
2003 Honda Insight hybrid
title status: salvage
Selling my 2003 Honda Insight hybrid coupe
Automatic . Excellent engine and transmission.
Ice cold ac hot heater .
Power locks and windows .
Runs amazing .
Amazing gas saver 3 cylinder .
My car is half gas half hybrid .
Fills up with $15.
Tags and registration paid for until 2021..
Clean little gas saver great for work or school.
Daily driver .
Pink slip in hand .
See a better way to drive something Hybrid? firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m a 13 year owner of a 2000 Insight, green w/ 5speed. Despite owning it forever it’s also what un-made me a Honda fan, dealing with constantly failing IMA batteries (five total), and a Honda factory recall to reprogram the battery control computer to greatly reduce the MPG, acceleration and regenerative braking, but that’s not a story germane for this DT post.
What is germane is the 2001 Insight I briefly owned with the CVT. I bought it used and the transmission was harsh and exhibited all the characteristics of a crappy CVT. Not knowing the maintenance history on the car, I decided to change the trans fluid to see what effect that might have on it: a lot in fact. The car became more fun than my manual as unlike a conventional hydraulic fluid auto transmission, the Honda CVT would accelerate the instant you hit the gas, no waiting for a downshift, no delay at all. It even had a “sport” button that kept the engine in its (minuscule) power band.
What the manual transmission gives you on the Insight is “lean burn”, not found in the auto version. I could legit achieve 70mpg in the manual versus 55mpg in the auto. OTOH the CVT has a greater range of gearing than the manual, so that’s a plus. Why Honda didn’t give the auto Insight lean burn is a mystery to me.
My third Insight for a few years was a K20a 220hp swap. The only one I regret selling? The Insight with the CVT.