Mileage Match-Up: 2010 Honda Insight vs 2010 Toyota Prius

July 31, 2009
2010 Honda Insight and 2010 Toyota Prius

2010 Honda Insight and 2010 Toyota Prius

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 Insight

2010 Honda Insight

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.

Bottom Line: For those who want to be seen in a smart, high-mileage hybrid but prefer to pinch pennies at the dealership, the 2010 Honda Insight is the way to go.

2010 Toyota Prius

2010 Toyota Prius

2010 Toyota Prius

The basics: A 98-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine is packaged as part of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive; both electric and gasoline power sources transmit variably through a planetary gearset, altogether producing 136 horsepower and powering the front wheels.
Price: $22,750 and up
Fuel economy: 51/48 mpg
2009 EPA Estimated Fuel Cost: $732
Rating: 8.2 out of 10

The new 2010 Toyota Prius might look much like the version it replaces, but it’s been extensively upgraded inside and gets a host of powertrain upgrades.

Toyota has massaged its Hybrid Synergy Drive in the new Prius to be even more frugal, extending its use of electric-only mode and For fuel economy, there really is no better than the 2010 Toyota Prius. Fuel economy ratings of 51 mpg city, 48 highway might already seem unrealistically high, but they’re right on the mark, if not a bit conservative. TheCarConnection.com’s editors have seen figures around the 50-mpg mark—along with 54 mpg in typical commuting conditions in a recent drive—plus mileage exceeding 75 mpg when driving very gently and minding the electronic guides.

Most significantly, back-seat passengers get significantly more space than in last year’s model, thanks to a slightly raised roofline and a slimmer front-seat design. Compared to the Insight, it’s our pick if you plan to carry adults back there. But at the same time, those front seats aren’t very supportive, and if the driver even somewhat tall his or her knee will rest on the hard plastic edge of the center console.

And that remains TheCarConnection.com’s most significant complaint regarding the Prius; while it wows in nearly all other respects, its interior smacks of cheapness when you look at some of the details. It’s not too surprising though; after all, Toyota had to budge somewhere to accommodate that affordable sticker price, right?

The bright side is Toyota has both lowered prices on the base Prius II model and made available a slew of new tech goodies to those who are willing to pay extra; geeking out on extras like Lane Keep Assist, smart cruise control, and a ventilated solar roof are all within the realm of possibility.

Bottom Line: The 2010 Toyota Prius ups the ante in the hybrid world with 51-mpg city fuel economy and a finer style.

The Winner: Toyota Prius

The Prius isn’t perfect. Despite improvements, it still doesn’t handle particularly well, and its interior shows signs of cost-cutting. But when you look at what matters to most buyers in this class—ultimate fuel economy, high-mileage cachet, and available technological wizardry—the Prius reigns king in this Mileage Match-Up.

Strictly going on base models of the two, if you’re an average commuter and drive about 15,000 miles a year, it would take close to 14 years for the Prius to save you the money you could have saved with the Insight in the first place. However the base Insight doesn’t include electronic stability control, and we recommend it; if you would have upgraded to the Insight EX, which includes the feature, the Prius would be the pick to save you money after just five years.

Although we like Honda’s nav system a bit better overall, Toyota’s includes a more attractive map screen, easier Bluetooth pairing, and the potential to get live traffic information.

There are of course exceptions to this advice. If you value a more confident-feeling driving feel, you'll probably gravitate toward the Insight; the big-and-tall crowd will likely also appreciate the Insight's added airiness in front; and if you're overwhelmed (or underwhelmed) by gimmicky controls and displays, the Honda's interface feels a lot more straightforward.

Other Competition

The Prius and Insight—both high-mileage vehicles with unique body styles—are the only two true market entries in this very fuel-conscious segment. However, there are several hybrid versions of existing vehicles that also get excellent fuel economy. A top choice for those who either want a little more space or don’t want to have the Prius stigma follow them everywhere they go include the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid (41/36 mpg), which actually gets a better figure in city driving than the Insight. Others include the Toyota Camry Hybrid (33/34 mpg), or the Nissan Altima Hybrid (35/33 mpg)—although the Altima Hybrid has limited availability. Those who are willing to include clean-diesel vehicles on their shopping lists will discover that the Volkswagen Jetta TDI and Jetta SportWagen TDI get mileage up to 30 mpg city, 41 highway and considerably better in some real-world driving conditions.

2010 Honda Insight and 2010 Toyota Prius

2010 Honda Insight and 2010 Toyota Prius

Compare Cars

To see how the two stack up otherwise, visit our Compared: 2010 Honda Insight vs 2010 Toyota Prius page.

Then be sure to measure up any other vehicles that you’re cross-shopping—at TheCarConnection.com’s Car Compare page, where you can select by vehicle type, model year, price range, and more, then compare up to three selections on the same page.

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