VW Turbo Diesel-Swapped Honda Insight May Be the Ultimate Fuel-Saver

In the Bay Area, a Craigslist seller is looking for $6,000 cash or trade on his modified 2000 Honda Insightwith a turbo-diesel engine. It’s advertised as smog free (which is perfect for Californians) and gets 60 to 70 miles to the gallon. 

When fuel economy is your number-one criteria for a vehicle, a Honda Insight is generally a good bet. For about $23,000, you can get a nice-looking 2021 Insight that the EPA says will get 55 miles per gallon in the city and 49 on the highway. It’s changed quite a bit from the first-gen Insight inside and out; for starters, the 2021 Insight has a 1.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder powertrain compared to a 1.0-liter three-cylinder 12-valve system on the 2000 version.

Touted as the first production gasoline-electric hybrid automobile sold in America, the 2000 Insight has a lightweight aluminum-and-plastic body, an interesting aerodynamic shape, and came with all-season, low-rolling-resistance Bridgestone Potenza tires for just under $20,000. Available only with a five-speed manual, the transmission in the first-gen Insight has short first, second, and third gears and taller overdrive gearing in fourth and fifth. Unique gears reduce rotational mass, further enhancing fuel economy.

This particular 2000 Insight is a little extra, with a 2003 Volkswagen TDI ALH 1.9-liter turbo diesel engine with a five-speed manual. The seller says it gets about 62 miles per gallon in the city and on mountain roads, and he thinks he can probably get 65 to 70 mpg on long highway stretches. Car and Driver tested a 2000 Insight for 40,000 miles back when it was new, anticipating good fuel economy, as the Insight was rated for 70 mpg on the highway and 61 in the city by the EPA. They achieved only 48, so maybe the VW swap makes up the difference.

The seller’s Insight could probably to Los Angeles and back to San Francisco on a single 10-gallon tank of gas; that depends on gridlock, of course.

With a new water pump and timing belt added during the swap less than 10,000 miles ago, this two-seater also has a three-inch straight free-flowing exhaust and Malone eco tune. The batteries have been removed to improve trunk space, which also improves the weight; now the aluminum body houses “loud and rumbly” turbo diesel that makes for a ride that feels like a rocket ship, the owner says.

If you own a small fuel-efficient Toyota or VW caddy, they’re open to a trade because they’re apparently starting a farm that only uses the most fuel-efficient vehicles in America.  

Correction: Monday, Dec 21 @ 9:23 pm ET: A previous version of this story mistakenly identified the tires as Blizzaks. The Honda Insight originally came with Potenza tires. The Drive regrets the error.

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