Drove 2 hours to see the Insight. Really neat car, amazing that it was possible 20 years ago (development then release). The interior was bigger than I expected, ample headroom and comfortable seats, power from a stop was perfectly fine, though accelerating from say 55 to 65 took a while. I drove about 20 miles through different speeds and liked the mechanics. It reminded me of the MR2 Spyder I test drove a year or so ago, agile, light, stiff, and loud (road noise).
I'd never driven a stop-start engine setup before and temporarily forgot as I drove away at first, then was reminded as I came to a stop. To me, the stop-start system is a little too aggressive. It stopped the engine before I actually came to a stop. If I were setting up a stop system, I'd say wait for complete stop and 1 further second. As it was, little stop sign stops that most people don't actually completely stop at cycled the engine back on a bare second after stopping it. I wonder about wear in that instance.
On to this specific car, I did a thorough inspection of the interior and exterior armed with some notes from InsightCentral forum. The interior was in excellent condition for its age (15 years), only the blown speakers would have to be replaced. There were no trouble codes from the ECU and everything worked, even the auto-down driver's window which is a common fail point. It had the right tires on it, Bridgestone RE92s which are critical for getting the most mpg from this car, though they are quite expensive at nearly $100 per tire plus fees. The exterior was quite a different story, unfortunately. In the pictures on Craigslist the paint looks great, can't see any wear really. Both skirts covering the rear tires had significant scarring, likely from tire shops unfamiliar with removing skirts since hardly any cars have them anymore. Both driver and passenger mirrors had even worse scarring on the paint side from his wife scraping them on the sides of the garage (he suggested this excuse). There were quite a few chips and dings on the front of the car and all 4 wheels had curb scraping the entire circumference of the lip.
After the test drive (solo), I walked to him and said that the mechanicals were in great shape, everything worked well. I started to talk about the exterior condition being much rougher than I had expected. As I was finishing my sentence he broke in saying I should keep shopping and that this car's exterior was in fine condition for its age. I then began to think of what I would pay for the car, still interested, if only for my mother who needs the mileage, but isn't so caught up on cosmetic appearance. I began to bargain with the guy by saying "I don't think I can pay $5500 for your car" expecting him to discuss the matter and perhaps ask for my offer. Instead he immediately stood up and very curtly thanked me for coming out and forcefully wished me a safe trip home, ushering me out of the building. I guess he's not the bargaining type. I might have paid $4000, maybe $4500 for the car, still a fair offer, based on the research I've done, but I wasn't offered the chance.
In the end, I still think it's an interesting car, but given the sports car style road roughness and noise, and the lack of a back row, and as Dave has brought up, the safety is not as good as it could be, I don't think I would get enough use/enjoyment out of it to justify its semi-premium cost for a car of that age. It's not the right tool for the job.
Riding home I noted how much quieter and smoother my Grand Prix was, and more responsive to acceleration demands, and also the 22mpg I had gotten on the 230 mile round trip.
It sounds strange after the praise I just gave of the Insight, but it made me appreciate my Grand Prix a bit more.
I like the new Civic and it will
probably be the best choice once it has aged a couple years and I can get one for $13-15k. I will have to confirm when they release of course. I did like the 2013 Accord, but I don't think it lines up enough with my wants, mostly that it's too big and while efficient for what it is, not where I want to be. The Civic should be between the Insight and Grand Prix in suspension roughness, so that it's somewhat firm, but not punishing or too sofa-like. With the right engine it should have the pull of the Grand Prix while being quite efficient for a non-hybrid. Guess I'm sticking with the ole' Pontiac a while longer. And Honda has promised the most quiet Civic ever, so maybe it will approach the Grand Prix's road noise. I test drove either a 7th or 8th gen Civic when I bought my Grand Prix and the road noise was almost as bad as the Insight.