|2010 Toyota Prius
|2010 Honda Insight
By Derek Mau and Melody C. Yang
2010 Toyota Prius
2010 Honda Insight
Now for the evening’s main event — In the corner to my right, The Challenger, wearing Alabaster Silver Metallic — weighing in at $19,800, ranked as the top-selling vehicle in Japan in April 2009 — ‘The Samurai from Suzuka’ – Honda Insight!
The Insight shows off its dedication to green with its blinking Eco Assist (Ecological Drive Assist System) display and the crowd responds enthusiastically.
In the far corner, wearing Classic Silver Metallic – Weighing in at $22,000, undefeated in forty-six fights, and Heavyweight Hybrid of the World — ‘The Undisputed Eco-Statement of the 21st Century’ – Toyota Prius!
The arena EXPLODES and Prius shadowboxes and dances in the ring with its superior fuel economy of 50 mpg.
Toyota has dominated the hybrid car market in North America since the introduction of the second generation Prius in 2004. Now in its tenth year of production, the all-new third generation Prius* looks better, has more power, and gets better gas mileage than the previous generation. After Honda announced its new 2010 hybrid last fall, the media touted the upcoming Insight as the “Prius Killer”. With both cars now on the market, just how does the Insight stack up against the Prius?
How the Prius and Insight Measure Up Side By Side
It is no accident that the two cars are similar in appearance – the wedge shape with the Kamm-tail (i.e. the chopped off rear end) provides excellent aerodynamics and improves fuel economy. The Insight boosts an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy rating of 40/43 MPG, which pales when compared to the 51/48 MPG for the 2010 Prius. Contrary to the usual expectation that better fuel economy means less power, the Prius has a larger, more powerful 1.8L Atkinson-cycle, four cylinder gasoline engine producing 98 horsepower and a 60 kilowatt electric motor outputting 80 horsepower, resulting in a total of 134 horsepower. The Insight has a 1.3L i-VTEC gasoline engine producing 88 horsepower and a much smaller 10 kilowatt electric motor which provides another 13 horsepower, combined to give a total of 98 horsepower. And the difference is definitely felt behind the wheel. For people used to driving a regular combustion engine, switching to a hybrid car is always an adjustment, and switching to the Insight requires a whole new set of expectations.
Still, 40/43 MPG is nothing to sneeze at, and for those of us on a tight budget, youngsters wanting a sportier look and a fun feel, or people who just prefer a smaller car, the Insight is the most affordable hybrid available on the market today with a starting MSRP, for the LX model, at $19,800. The base price of our EX test car is $21,300. For drivers who need a personal navigator to find their way to the local Stop-N-Go, the Insight EX with Navigation has a list price of $23,100.
In a Prius the electric motor can power the car on its own. In the Honda the electric motor is designed to “assist” the gasoline engine, providing more get-up-and-go when the need arises. The net result is this: in a Prius the transformation from electricity to gas-engine is subtle. In the Insight there are all sorts of noises and rumblings. The blending of gas and electric power is seamless enough, but the car feels jerky coming out of idle from a stop. Plus, the Insight rides firmly and has lots of road noise.
Because the Honda has two motors, one that runs on fossil fuels and one that runs on batteries, it is more expensive to make than a car that has one. But since the whole point of this car is that it could be sold for less than Toyota’s Smugmobile, the engineers have plainly cut the suspension components to the bone. The result is a ride that feels more connected to the road , but not very inspiring when traveling a little above the posted speed limit. Steering feedback feels real and not artificially boosted as with the Prius. Understeer is predominate when entering turns and is a huge reminder to reduce your speed accordingly before entering.
The Honda’s gas engine is a much-shaved, built-for-economy, low-friction 1.3 that, at full tilt, makes a noise worse than someone else’s crying baby on an airplane. It’s worse than the sound of your parachute failing to open. Really, to get an idea of how awful it is, you’d have to sit a cat on a Cuisinart. Despite the Insight’s caterwauling and power deficit compared to the Prius, it does have decent throttle response and pick up — for a hybrid.
They say patience is a virtue and 0-60-mph times of these hybrid hatchbacks are a test of your willingness to let time slip by, as the Prius gets to 60 mph from a standstill in 10.1 seconds, while the Insight needs 10.9 seconds. The Insight is a scrapper and closes the gap in the quarter mile race. While waiting in line at the Costco checkout aisle, the Prius finishes the quarter mile in 17.3 seconds at 79.7 mph, while the Insight is there in 17.9 seconds at 78.2 mph.
The stiff new chassis gives Toyota’s hybrid hatchback a stable and refined ride on a par with other midsize cars. Road noise is better controlled, too, with quieter tires and better cabin insulation. The electric-assisted power steering still lacks feedback, but between a new rigid mounting system and extra steering caster, the wheel seems more secure in our hands, with a heightened on-center feel. The driving position still isn’t perfect, but the new seat design and telescoping steering wheel are a big improvement.
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