I recently had the chance to spend a few hours driving around in a Honda Insight. Not the new Insight – or the "sissy Insight," as I now call it, due to its gluttonous 5-seat configuration and its greedy, environment-destroying 4-cylinder engine that's designed to actually keep pace with traffic. I mean the original Insight, the cool one; the one that weighs less than a rhinoceros and doesn't accelerate as fast.
The opportunity came from a reader named Adam, who e-mailed me a few weeks ago with an interesting proposition. As I recall, it went something like this:
"Do you want to drive an original Honda Insight?"
So I thought about it, and I mulled it over, and I really considered my options, and then, after a reasonable waiting period and a few nights' sleep, I replied:
So then we met up. At first, Adam took me through the basics: five-speed manual. Two seats. Digital dashboard. Three-cylinder engine. That weird rear wheel cover that makes it look like a tiny, aerodynamic hearse, even though the cargo area is only big enough to accommodate a dead Furby.
And then we discussed fuel costs: in the five years since he bought this 2003 model, Adam has spent just $11.61 on fuel.
Ha ha! I'm just kidding. But don't you get the sense that there are hypermiler people out there who have crazy statistics like that? If you don't, I suggest you go on the hypermiler forums, where you will hear stories about almost unfathomably insane fuel economy numbers. Some guys, for instance, get 80 miles per gallon in an original Insight. Some guys get 60 miles per gallon in a Prius. And some guys are able to achieve the actual EPA rating in a Ford Fusion Hybrid. So that's how you know these people are pros.
In fact, some of the claims on hypermiler forums are so ridiculous that you want to call bullshit on these people, and laugh at them for their absurd lies. But this is a horrible idea. That's because hypermile people are obsessed with fuel economy. They live for fuel economy. They say stuff like: "I would never transport a dead Furby, because it would add extra weight." In fact, for that very reason, they often drive around naked.
So if you ever try to call out a hypermiler, you'll be stopped dead in your tracks. You'll be met with an enormous Excel spreadsheet, color-coded and perfectly arranged, showing every single fuel stop he's ever made, dating back to 1977, when he hypermiled a Chevy Impala to a robust 7.34 mpg. ("The tailwinds were strong that day," he'd say. "Also, I had just shaved my chest.")
So anyway: for a day, I decided I would use Adam's Insight to become one of those people. You can watch the video to find out what happened, but here's the basic gist:
Before I get started, I should note that Adam is already kind of one of those people. You've heard of a cold-air intake? Well, Adam's Insight has something different: a hot-air intake, designed to pump warmer air into the engine and improve gas mileage. He has a switch, mounted at the base of the gear lever, that lets him turn on and off Honda's Integrated Motor Assist system at will. And he has a digital display inside the car that shows all sorts of pertinent information, including throttle position.
So we took the Insight out on the road, and I discovered a few things very quickly. Most importantly, I learned that hypermiling is very difficult. If you're like me, you probably thought it involved a) turning off the air conditioning, and b) coasting down hills. Well, it turns out that it's a lot more challenging than that. You still turn off the air conditioning, but you don't just coast down hills. You feather the throttle going down hills, then back off the throttle on the way up, keeping very close track of your instant MPG and your throttle position, then you feather again, then you draft behind a truck, then feather, then throttle position, then back off, then truck, then feather, then watch instant MPG, then coast, then back off, then feather, and then you realize, at some point, that you're going slower than every single other car on the road, and you're sitting in a large pool of your own sweat.
The speed thing was especially a problem for us, because we conducted this test in Atlanta, where the speed limit is 55 miles per hour – a number we decided to stay close to for efficiency purposes. Unfortunately, no one in Atlanta goes 55 miles per hour. Little old ladies don't go 55. Church vans don't go 55. Even an illegal immigrant driving a stolen car with a trunk full of cocaine and human body parts would be pushing 70. And no one would give him a second look.
So what happens, when you do 55, is you're constantly being passed, and cut off, and glared at, even if you're staying out of everyone's way in a right lane. A guy on a motorcycle actually flipped us off. But it didn't bother me, because – at that very moment – I couldn't see him, since my eyes were filled with sweat.
In the end, I drove the Insight about 40 miles and achieved more than 71 miles per gallon, which is pretty damn good. I mean yeah, sure, my shirt was soaked through. And OK, fine, if you wanted to maintain that sort of average, you'd turn a 6-hour trip into a 4-day hypermiling affair, causing you to miss whatever event you originally set out for. But at least you'd have a great story for the hypermiling forums.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.