I finally found out what the IMA system does when the batteries need a charge and the engine needs assistance.
My wife and I drove the Insight to Grandmaís house in Uniontown, Pennsylvania last weekend from our home in Fairfax, Virginia. It was raining cats and dogs and the weather forecast mentioned light snow in the higher elevations. Great! Perfect weather to test the Insightís foul weather capabilities and mountain climbing prowess.
The car was loaded with a 160 lb driver and a petite co-pilot. We packed an overnight suitcase, paper bag containing five magazines and John Grishamís latest novel. Food provisions consisted of two oranges, eight thin mints and a quart of water. We had minimal emergency supplies, a tire plug kit, small air compressor and a chamois in case of cleaning opportunities. Based on my bathroom scale we were 50 lbs shy of the Insights weight limit.
The Insight was full of gas, fresh oil and filter, tires at specified pressure, and battery gauge two bars short of max charge. The electrical system was stressed. The entire trip, lights, wipers and window defroster were used non-stop.
My preferred route to Uniontown is winding back roads through the mountains of West Virginia. This route risks fatal contact with deer, but avoids traffic and highways. The country road route takes 4 + hours of driving time. My wife prefers a route through western Maryland on four lane highways, because itís faster. The trip to Uniontown usually takes three hours fifteen minutes traveling primarily on the Maryland highways. I acquiesced to her wishes since both routes are scenic and because hail is common in West Virginia Appalachian mountains this time of year. [Oooh, just the mention of hail makes me shudder--InsightMan.]
The first real test of the Insightís mountaineering abilities presented themselves between Frederick and Hagerstown Maryland on I-70. This stretch of I-70 ascends continually for about 20 miles into the Allegheny mountains. This would be the toughest challenge for the Insight on route to Uniontown. Many of the roads we would encounter are steeper, but none so formidable.
I started up the grade at 65 mph in fifth gear. My objective was to maintain between 60 and 65 mph speed for the whole trip. After about two miles in high gear and floored, the down shift light suggested fourth gear. I complied with the computerís request. In about three more miles the battery gauge indicated two bars short of empty. I believe two bars indicates the batteries are effectively discharged. Still floored, the down shift light again indicated a lower gear was appropriate for the task at hand. I shifted into third gear and maintained my 65 mph speed by keeping the engine at approximately 3,800 rpm. Surprisingly, not a problem for the little three-banger. 65 mph on this grade is more than a respectable speed. We were passing many of our fellow motorists.
While climbing the grade at 65 mph, with the batteries completely spent, three green bars appeared on the charge gauge. The IMA started charging the batteries while maintaining the 65 mph climb. The IMA continued charging the battery until enough charge was available to allow the electric motor to assist the gas engine. Once the motor assist depleted the batteries, the IMA again started the charge cycle. This cycling of charge and assist continued until we reached a plateau near Hagerstown. We maintained our cruising speed, but of course, our gas mileage suffered.
To climb mountains in the Insight, one needs to simply downshift when the car starts to lose speed and keep on trucking. There is no need to watch the gauges, second guess the computer or worry about battery condition. However watching the gauges does make the trip shorter.
The remaining ride between Hagerstown and Uniontown is mostly roller-coaster conditions, ratchet up climbs and breath taking drops. The Honda rode the coaster in stride. Each steep descent provided the IMA adequate opportunities to charge the batteries, which added plenty of electric assist for the next climb. The Insight completely charged and discharged the batteries about five times during the trip.
In my Mercury Sable, I have to shift into second and ride the brakes to manage the momentum on many of the descents. The Honda went down the mountains in fifth gear using the charging action of the motor to slow the car, minimizing the need to brake. One steep incline was usually enough to fully energize the batteries. We arrived in Uniontown with a full charge. The elapsed driving time to Uniontown was three hours fifteen minutes. The same amount of time it would have taken in any of my conventional vehicles.
The one way gas mileage for the 206 mile run was 53.8 mpg The gas mileage home was a little better at 62.9 mpg even though we hit a bit of snow and ice. Not bad for mountainous terrain but a far cry from the 71.2 mpg I obtained on my Richmond trip. Of course, the Richmond ride was under ideal conditions.
The trip was enjoyable. My wife and I considered the ride comfortable, better than other small cars we have owned.
In my humble opinion the Insight is a car for all conditions. The little car wonít take the place of a mini van for large families and it wonít take 4X4 enthusiast off road, but it will meet the driving needs of a large number of people.
Has anyone taken the Insight across the country yet? Possibly my next test.
Life time mileage 54.9 mpg, with 2,534 miles on the odometer.
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[Barry, what a great report! You're really putting some miles on your Insight. It was very interesting to see how the IMA system takes care of itself under heavy load conditions. I thought it would be an Insight owner from the Rockies who was the first to describe what happens when the IMA charge is exhausted, but your trip to PA revealed what I could never discover for myself while driving in lower Michigan. Thanks--InsightMan.]