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An Insight across the Alps - long

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First off, I have to say thank you to all those, if there are more than one, who created and maintain this site and to all those who have contributed to it because without this site, I seriously doubt I would have bought an Insight. In fact not only did I buy an Insight, I bought her totally blind, as in paid for her up front without ever having seen one. Well, actually I did see one a few years ago when I was stateside but literally have no memory of her at all. Also never saw the inside of one, never sat in one, in fact gave the car no mind whatsoever because evidently she wasn’t going to be sold in Europe. But then Honda did decide to sell some in Germany, for one year. Also in Great Britain but since they’re still living back in the horse and buggy days with the driver riding shotgun, anything sold there is of no real interest.
So when I decided the time had come to change cars, I bought one that was for sale in Munich, a year 2000 model with all of 3,400 kilometers on the clock. The car was originally bought by some guy who was 83 years old and – obviously – he didn’t drive much! Couple of years later or so evidently he died and the family sold her to a local dealer who put her up for sale on the net where I found her. Picked her up for 10K euro’s which in my opinion was a steal of a deal and a half. And then some.
Almost a month after sending the money to the dealer – the French bureaucracy is notoriously slow and complex – I caught a train to Munich, spent the night, arrived at the dealer early in the morning and saw the car for the first time. Sweet. Better than I imagined. Put the plates on her, put her in gear, headed off.
Southeast on a German autoroute. Surprise, German autoroutes aren’t speed unlimited. At least this one wasn’t. Only 120 kph, slower than in France. Down into Austria briefly. Into Switzerland for the long run through the mountains. A sign said the passes were open. Good. Up and over the first big pass. Steep, twisty climb. Gorgeous. Then down, even twistier, maybe steeper. Then up a second big pass. Steeper yet, narrower roadway, sharper hairpins, very cool. Only just before the pass a barrier closed the road despite earlier signage saying otherwise. Merde as we say in France!
Okay, backtrack then head south over yet another pass and down into Italy to one of my favorite corners, the lake region, to watch the low light of a sinking sun wafting across the hills above Lago Maggiore. Beautiful. Back into the mountains and over yet another big pass and back into Switzerland. Sign on the summit says 23 K’s averaging 9%! Not much fuel consumed. Down into the valley, then west towards France, over a pass, a low one for a change, and into the Chamonix valley, over some hills and down into the valley heading for home where I catch the autoroute.
By now I’ve been on the road for a long time so I press the pedal and am cruising at 130/135. Fuel consumption goes up a bit but hey, it’s late, I’m tired. Forget it. And finally the last climb of the day, up to where I live, some 700 meters (2,300 feet for those still measuring distances by some long dead king’s appendages) of steep climbing. Bam, I’m home.
Final figures: 930 kilometers of autoroutes, mountains, steep roads, towns, traffic jams, country roads, everything but dirt. Fuel consumption for the trip: 3.6 liters per 100 K’s (65 mpg’s for statesiders – 78 mpg’s for the Brit’s)! Fantastical! Speeds ranged from slow to 135 kph (84 mph).
But I got to say hat’s off to those who are averaging less than 3L/100K’s. There’s no way I’m ever going to be able to pull that off. Going to town, yea, that’s possible. Like this morning, averaged 2.5L. Trouble is there’s the return with those 700 meters of climbing on grades from 8% up to 12% and lots of switchbacks. Kills the fuel consumption every time. So far I’m averaging about 4.3/4.4 round-trip home to town and back. Can’t complain though.
Tactics for the climb are way different than what apparently most Insight drivers are using. I’m in second all the way, except when I drop into first for the hairpins. Why? Because there’s no way I’m going to be able to recharge the batteries before I get home because I live right after the climb plus coming up in third doesn’t produce particularly significant consumption improvements. So instead of using third and sucking the batteries dry, I stay in second and watch the assist gage to minimize the battery drain. Translation: I come up hovering around 8 to 10 liters/100K’s and the battery charge only drops about two bars, three if there’s traffic to impede my flow.
And if anyone’s wondering what about the Insight’s acceleration, it’s more than fine. Or as they used to say for Rollers and Bentleys, it’s adequate. For a perspective, my last car was a highly modified last generation 300 ZX, non-turbo that I brought from the states with me when I moved to France 10 years ago. I like speed, I like good cars, and with the Z I was always rolling. Used to cross Italy averaging over 200 kph (over 120 mph). Her mileage was surprisingly good if you’re wondering, normally around 11L, sometimes less. Anyway, the Insight is one terrific drive, adequately fast and then some, excellent comportment and braking, and all in all way fun to drive. Contrary to comments I’ve read by usofa Insight drivers, for me the suspension isn’t hard at all and in fact is surprisingly good. The steering is good once she goes into the turn; there’s this hesitancy when the wheel is first turned but that’s pretty typical for non high performance cars anyway. Also I’ve read how people think she wanders too much but not for this pilgrim. But then cars in Europe are generally vastly more handling oriented than US cars. In fact the same cars sold stateside and here have dramatically different handling characteristics because they’re set up quite differently. Anyway, for me the Insight is a seriously terrific drive.
Enough. I warned you this was long. Oh yea, that trick for the auto-down for the windows really does work. Slick.