2010 Honda Insight and 2010 Toyota PriusEnlarge Photo
Toyota’s Prius is more than just a high-mileage model; it’s a global green-car icon, with well over a million sold throughout the world. This year marks an all-new third generation of the Prius in the U.S.; the 2010 Toyota Prius promises even better fuel economy plus improved acceleration, a roomier interior, and way more technology options.
But Toyota is no longer alone in the niche market it created with the Prius. Earlier this year, Honda introduced its own unique standalone hybrid model, called the Insight. The two cars—especially their silhouettes—have an undeniable resemblance, but the rival Japanese automaker initially said that the bargain-priced 2010 Honda Insight wasn’t designed as a direct rival to the Prius. Though after Toyota announced lowered prices on the 2010 Prius, the fight is definitely on.
TheCarConnection.com recently took a follow-up drive in each of these frugal wonders—sitting in the back seats, fiddling with the multi-layered displays, measuring real-world mileage, and putting them through the paces of an everyday commuter.
Let’s just say at this point that the competition is close, but there’s a clear winner. Read on.
2010 Honda InsightEnlarge Photo
2010 Honda InsightEnlarge Photo
2010 Honda Insight
The basics: Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist is matched to a 1.3-liter four-cylinder, together making 98 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque. Power is delivered to the front wheels via a CVT automatic.
Price: $20,510 and up
Fuel economy: 40/43 mpg
2010 EPA Estimated Fuel Cost: $893
Rating: 7.4 out of 10
From the outside, the 2010 Honda Insight looks promising; its shape looks just as wind-cheating as that of the Prius, yet it somehow manages to look a little more distinctive and sporty. Take a step inside, and at least in the front seats the Insight feels very spacious; repeat Honda buyers or hybrid virgins will quickly feel at home with the two-tiered instrument panel, while technophiles will enjoy the Eco Guide and Eco Assist hybrid system displays. But try the back seat because you might just find it a little disappointing; compared to the Prius, it’s short on headroom and feels tighter overall.
The Insight is by no means a sporty car, but it’s all relative; next to the Prius the Honda feels positively sprightly. Provided you don’t have the big green Eco button engaged—and especially if you use the steering-wheel paddles—the Insight responds with a lot more verve than the Prius, powertrain-wise, and has a more nimble, agile feel overall. However its powertrain can be coarse, and Honda’s inexpensive IMA hybrid system reveals its simplicity with more abrupt transitions between motor assist and the gasoline engine.
In what counts to most buyers in this class—fuel economy—the Insight doesn’t wow as much as you might expect, with EPA sticker numbers of just 40 mpg city, 43 highway. TheCarConnection.com’s editors have seen 44-45 mpg in normal commute conditions—and nearly 60 mpg in extra-vigilant eco-driving—and can confidently say that these numbers are lower than most drivers will see. Though in design the Insight has a mild hybrid system, Honda allows electric-only operation for coasting, or some cruising, at up to 30 mph.
The base Insight LX doesn’t even include electronic stability control, and popular features like cruise control or a nav system aren’t even optional on that model. If you want those features, you’ll need to step up to the EX, at $22,010—just a few hundred dollars lower than the Prius’ starting price.