Monday, March 1, 2010

Expectations, or Why I Bought A Hybrid

A few years ago, due to an accident that thankfully crumpled only steel and not any people, I found myself in the market for a new car. Well actually for a used car, cause that's how I roll. I had been thinking along the lines of a sporty small wagon or hatchback, something like a Mazda3, but I wasn't too thrilled with the prices. Seems as though vehicles of this type are for some reason popular in heavily urban areas, and they hold their value well. Grrr.

So I was on Craigslist for a week or so, and an ad came along for a 2000 Honda Insight for a very attractive price. My fiancée was enamored with this car when it first came out, and I had said for a long time that I'd buy a hybrid when they became reasonably priced in the used market. Though to be honest, I was hoping for a few more years of personal internal combustion fun before taking the eco-plunge. Regardless, I wanted to use the opportunity to at least get a test drive of this techno-marvel, so I contacted the owner and set one up.

I was not expecting much, as this was (and really, still is) the economy car of economy cars. I really rather enjoy driving, and I'd never owned a vehicle that wasn't well regarded in the "fun-to-drive" metric. So I fully anticipated hating the Insight, and then having to do battle with my eco-conscience when justifying why I wouldn't be buying it. And then I drove the damn thing.

Calling it sporty would be a stretch. But that first drive was eye opening. One, it drove like a real car. Sounds pedantic, but I came into it assuming that it was more like a fragile toy, perhaps a slightly upsized Power Wheels, and I didn't get a bit of that while taking it around. Two, it's dynamics were actually fun. Steering was linear, well weighted, and reasonably precise, it felt spunky off the line, I got to row my own gears, and its low weight was felt. Three, the experience was a blast. The dash was a carnival midway of lights and gauges, all of it giving direct feedback on how my driving was affecting the car's efficiency.  I drove away in my finacée's Miata (a car I am in love with), wondering if I could make this tinny little two seater work in my life.

I took the plunge, and I can say now that it was the right call. After driving it for nearly 3 years and 25,000 miles it soldiers on like a champ, and I can still get well over 500 miles on a 10 gallon tank. With the stares and comments I get, I feel like I'm driving an exotic car, and I guess in many ways that's accurate. It's constructed from aluminum and composites, took its shape from a wind tunnel, it has a ground-breaking propulsion unit spinning the wheels, and only 16,000 were ever built. But even more than that, it's evident that it was designed and built with a singular focus on performance. Just not one of the performance categories most people associate with exotics.

Only a few driving experiences have made me laugh with joy; first power-on oversteer in a light weight RWD car, first time perfectly shifting on entrance and exit from a fast corner, any chance to take the Miata through some twisties on an Autumn day with the heat on and the top down, and the first time my Insight went into Idle Stop and I silently cruised to a halt at a light. Good times. 

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