The first-generation Honda Insight was the first hybrid to appear on the American market. It was a two-seat, two-door hatchback that weighed less than 2,000 pounds and achieved around 60 mpg. Under its hood was a small 1.0-liter, three-cylinder engine that only made around 67 hp. As you can imagine, that minuscule motor made it pretty slow. But can a first-gen Honda Insight be modified to go faster?
The aftermarket support for the first-generation Honda Insight is almost non-existent
A side view of the 2001 Honda Insight. | Fairfax Media via Getty Images/Fairfax Media via Getty Images
While you can technically modify the first-generation Honda Insight, its aftermarket performance support is basically non-existent. That means that any performance modifications would most likely need to be fabricated. While other popular platforms like the Honda Civic have off-the-shelf performance parts like cold-air intakes, exhaust systems, and tuning software, the Insight does not.
That being the case, plenty of first-gen Honda Insight enthusiasts have resorted to completely swapping out the hybrid powertrain in favor of a K-Series swap from an Acura RSX. A few manufacturers – like Innovative Mounts — make engine mounts to swap the larger engine and transmission. Also, a custom wiring harness, exhaust, fuel, and cooling system are necessary.
Why would anyone want to swap a K-Series engine into a Honda Insight?
Honda spent a lot of time and effort making the Insight’s chassis stiff and lightweight. When you mix that featherweight chassis with an engine that makes 200 hp and is mated to a close-ratio, six-speed manual transmission, you get quite the pocket rocket. According to many K-swapped Insight owners on K20a.org, this performance combination is good for quarter-mile times in the 10 and 11-second range.
For reference, that’s as fast as a BMW i4 M50 and a Chevy Camaro ZL1. Both cost around five times as much as a K-swapped Honda Insight. That said, you can look forward to spending around $10,000 to $15,000 for a properly swapped Honda Insight. However, that cost can add up if you add more performance modifications to the engine.
There are some fuel-efficiency modifications for the first-generation Honda Insight
The view of the battery pack on a first-generation Honda Insight. | Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images
Although engine swapping a first-gen Honda Insight is fun, it may not be for everyone. In that case, the Insight can be modified for fuel efficiency instead. The battery pack on the Insight is made up of 120 D-sized nickel-metal hydride batteries for a total output of 6.5 amp hours. However, that battery pack can be swapped out for an 8 amp hour battery pack from aftermarket companies like Greentec Auto.
This modification alone can lead to better fuel economy and greater performance. There are also aftermarket electronic controllers available, which allow the user to control the Insights regenerative braking and battery output for better efficiency.
Modifications aside, the Insight is great for what it is
A view of the engine bay on a red Honda Insight. | David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images
While the first-generation Honda Insight can be modified to be faster and more efficient, it’s still a good car for what Honda meant. If you can find a clean example, you’ll have a car that can achieve over 50 mpg and operate reliably for many years. However, if you want to swap the engine, you can have a race car that will beat nearly anything on the streets.