2010 Honda Insight vs. 2010 Toyota Prius – The Heavyweight Hybrids Weigh In

Expert Reviews Honda hybrid Toyota

2010 Toyota Prius vs. 2010 Honda Insight
By Derek Mau and Melody C. Yang

2010 Toyota Prius
2010 Honda Insight

  • 50+ miles per gallon
  • Toyota quality plastics and fabric upholstery
  • Dedicated EV mode at speeds 25 mph or less

  • Lower entry cost than Prius
  • Lots of visual reminders that encourage good fuel economy
  • Extra large out side view mirrors

  • Higher cost of entry
  • Console bridge encroaches upon cockpit space
  • Annoying “beep” when shifted in reverse
  • Navigation map doesn’t have “night” display mode

  • Power output is meager
  • Stiff and bouncy ride characteristics
  • Back seat passengers have limited space and headroom
  • Cupholders more than an arm’s length away

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.

2010 Honda Insight vs. Toyota Prius

Pre-Fight Hype

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.

2010 Toyota Prius vs. Honda Insight

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.

Driving Impressions

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.

2010 Toyota Prius vs. Honda Insight

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.

(Continued on page 2)

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  • 2010ToyotaPriusGuy says:

    I think the 2010 Toyota Prius will continue to dominate its class for many years to come. It is generations ahead of its nearest competitor and the interior and exterior are getting even nicer ( http://www.2010-Toyota-Prius.com for reference ) With the current need to reduce fuel consumption and the rebates the government seems to offer up to purchase hybrid vehicles, they will only continue to increase in popularity.

  • Patrick says:

    Who would buy a car of any make if there is no dealer anywhere near or it would be a major problem to get the car to the dealer if you have any kind of issue? I suspect if the “annoying beep” isn’t worth driving by the dealer and having them reset it in a minute or two, then it really can’t be THAT annoying. Meanwhile it’s nice that that issue came to light so some people who might find it annoying can have it taken care of before delivery.
    I drove the new Prius today as a friend is looking to buy one. I was impressed!

  • John says:

    I test drove the 2010 LX Insight because they didn’t have any EX at the time. I was very disappointed in the car’s performance for a compact; noisy on highways, bumpy ride on the smallest potholes, very slow to respond on the acceleration (during econ mode on), and cornering is terrible. The back seat would never pass my requirement for use as a carpool vehicle due to the back twisting and head bumping just to get in and out. I am 5’8″ and my head scrapes the roof when I sit in the back. Plastics inside are hard and look cheap. A car like this competing in the compact car segment really hurts Honda’s reputation in terms of build quality and comfort. Other cars cost thousands less for the same features, and some have longer warranties like Hyundai’s and Kia’s. It would take around 8 to 10 years (depends on how one drives) at $4 a gallon to recoop the cost difference for the Insight. I feel the Insight is a big disappointment for the majority of consumers.

  • Defronk says:

    I have a Pruis and it work better then the Honda and toyota is a very good car i have 3 toyotas plus the Pruis I got 2 week ago

  • Derek says:

    Why should I visit the dealer to defeat something that should be owner configurable? What if I don’t have the time or inclination to visit a Toyota dealer or one isn’t within my neighborhood?

    I think I understand the reason why the beep is there in the first place – because the car is so quiet – but I really want it to STOP!

    Yes, the previous generation Prius’ had a “night” mode for the nav-display. It automatically switched to “night” mode when the headlights turned on. I didn’t observe this behavior with the 2010 Prius and I couldn’t find anything in the setup menus to enable or disable night mode for the nav-display.

  • dee says:

    Please note, the “annoying “beep” when shifted in reverse” mode you mentioned can be changed by your dealer-just as several other options.

    Please note, the navation screen, does in fact have a night display mode. Had an older Toyota model and it had the same night mode, so not sure of how many Toyota’s with Nav you’ve looked at, but it does switch to night mode.

    Also, I’d say the cockpit feel is something subjective. I like the feeling.

  • Lee says:

    I,too, was very excited to see the insight. How disappointed I was when it arrived at a Ft. Pierce dealership and they immediately jacked the price up by $2,000! This for a car that has yet to be proven in NHTSA crash testing (Prius passes with flying colors), IIHS crash tests (Again, Prius passes with flying colors), reliability (It’s a Toyota!), consumer satisfaction, price point competitiveness (No contest with the Prius). Almost forgot…I TRIED to contact the CEO of Honda to complain about the $2,000 markup (essentially Honda trying to rip off U.S. consumer for the rebate they could get buying the car), got as far as some “wet behind the ears” kid in California who could not conduct negotiations with a mad cat, let alone a “make or break” consumer for life. No more Honda’s for me after that disappointment.

  • Derek says:

    Honda should have left this one alone or worked harder to put out a better hybrid. I wanted to like the Insight, but it missed the mark on so many counts. Pitiful.

    Honda can claim that the Insight isn’t a competitor to the Prius, but making the Insight look like a Prius doesn’t help their argument. And rushing out an inferior product is the wrong move, especially when the market for car sales is still slumping.

  • Derek says:

    Review was written up with help from Melody. She might be a little biased since she owns a 2nd-gen Prius, but her input was invaluable for putting together this review.

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