Can you modify a first generation Honda Insight?

The first generation Honda Insight was the first hybrid to appear on the US market. It was a two-seat, two-door sedan that weighed under 2,000 pounds and achieved around 60 mpg. Under its hood was a small 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine that only developed around 67 hp. As you can imagine, that tiny motor made it quite sluggish. But can a first-generation Honda Insight be modified to go faster?

After-sales 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

Although you can technically modify the first generation Honda Insight, its aftermarket performance support is virtually non-existent. This means that any performance modifications will most likely need to be crafted. While other popular rigs like the Honda Civic have performance parts out of the box like cold air intakes, exhaust systems and tuning software, the Insight has none. .

That being the case, many first-generation Honda Insight enthusiasts resorted to swapping out the full hybrid powertrain in favor of a K-series swap of an Acura RSX. Some manufacturers – like Innovative frames – craft engine mounts to swap the bigger engine and transmission. Additionally, a custom wiring harness, exhaust, fuel and cooling system is required.

Why would anyone want to trade in a K-series engine for a Honda Insight?

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Honda has put a lot of time and effort into making the Insight’s chassis stiff and light. When you mix that featherweight chassis with a 200hp engine mated to a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission, you get a real pocket rocket. According to many Insight K-swap owners on K20a.orgthis combination of performance is good for quarter-mile times in the 10- and 11-second range.

For reference, it’s as fast as a BMW i4 M50 and a Chevy Camaro ZL1. Both cost about five times more than a Honda Insight K-swap. That said, you can expect to spend around $10,000 to $15,000 on a properly traded-in Honda Insight. However, this cost can add up if you add other performance modifications to the engine.

There are some fuel efficiency tweaks for the first generation Honda Insight

The view of the battery on a first generation Honda Insight.
The view of the battery on a first generation Honda Insight. | Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images

While swapping out a first-generation Honda Insight’s engine is fun, it might not be for everyone. In this case, the Insight can be modified for energy efficiency instead. The Insight’s battery pack is made up of 120 D-size nickel-metal hydride batteries for a total output of 6.5 amp-hours. However, this battery can be replaced with an 8 amp-hour battery from aftermarket companies such as Greentec Auto.

This modification alone can lead to better fuel economy and better performance. There are also aftermarket electronic controllers available, which allow the user to control Insights regenerative braking and battery output for improved efficiency.

Tweaks aside, the Insight is great for what it is

A view of the engine compartment on a red Honda Insight.
A view of the engine compartment on a red Honda Insight. | David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Although the first-generation Honda Insight could be tweaked 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 run reliably for many years. However, if you want to swap out the engine, you can have a race car that will beat almost anything on the streets.

RELATED: Fuel Saver Flashback: Second-Generation Honda Insight

About Marco C. Nichols

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