Honda vehicle developers delivered a mighty message to the car culture when they introduced the Insight: You can be energy efficient and techno-savvy, and you can look cool while you do it. Of course, Honda has a long history of innovation. But with the two-seater Insight, it has surpassed even its own extensive track record. The Insight uses its own braking motion to create power and recharge the battery, eliminating the need to plug it into any outside power source. At stoplights, the car’s engine automatically shuts off, conserving energy; engaging the clutch automatically restarts the engine. All of this, combined with an aerodynamic design that’s sleek and futuristic but not outlandish, means that the Insight offers a smooth, powerful, and surprisingly quiet ride — all for the bargain price of $18,980.

Honda has long been known for its reliable vehicles and for their high gas mileage, even on nonelectric models. The Insight was meant to take that success one step further. “We wanted to change people’s perceptions that ‘environmentally friendly’ means ‘compromise,’” says Robert Bienenfeld, a senior manager of automobile product planning. “We wanted to deliver a technological tour de force — a statement of where we think advanced technology needs to go in the next century.”