Like a ditzy party animal or an all-out slacker, Honda was late for work. The Japanese automaker went into the office and decided to wage war against the Toyota Prius, only to discover that Toyota has moved on from the model they were aiming for.
The weapon that Honda has chosen in the green wars is the new 2010 Honda Insight, a sloped-nosed four-door hybrid that looks about the same as the Prius, just cheaper. Honda’s aim with this new car was to take away Toyota’s customers by offering 41 miles per gallon without the premium price tag.
We had a chance to drive the new Insight for a weekend and our test car was around $20,000, well below the Honda Civic Hybrid and the last generation Prius.
Seems too good be true? Honda is offering the same sort of thing that you get in the Toyota, but at a price that is far more affordable for the masses. Amazing.
Sadly, it’s not as good as you might think. Toyota has moved on from the Prius that Honda’s fighting and created an all-new version that’s massively better. The new model is capable of 50 miles per gallon, a number that will let Toyota keep it’s standing as the most fuel-efficient car in the United States. At least for now.
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The new 2010 Prius is a bigger brute as well. It grew 0.6 inches and became a tad faster, one second quicker to 60 miles per hour in fact. Not to mention the bags of goodies that come with the car now, including a roof-mounted solar panel that generates enough power to keep the cabin cool on really hot days, which we seem to be having a lot of.
So that brings is us to an interesting stand still. If Toyota can manage to get the price of the Prius down to the Insight’s level, we might have a serious war on our hands. Let the guns fire away, as Toyota has priced the new 2010 Prius at $22,800, leaving Honda mortally wounded. In order to avoid certain defeat, Honda will now need to lower the price of the Insight. After all, that was the point of this car, wasn’t it?
Honda will tell you that they aren’t really after the Prius, but who’s going to believe that load of nonsense. Not I and nor should you. The appearances of both of these cars were not mere coincidence, as they could be twins. The look of the two cars was down to science. Honda created the Insight to be as aerodynamic as possible, as did Toyota. Apparently, that design is the pinnacle for aero excellence for a road legal vehicle.
We like the styling of the Insight a little better than the Prius. The front end, which seems to have been lifted out of the Clarity and the Accord, is proper and it fits well. The Prius seems a bit too cute and cuddly, as if the trees and deer hug as it goes by. Not our sort of thing. Granted, both of these cars aren’t truly pretty at all. The new Nissan Leaf has more character than both of these combined.
We much prefer the normal sedans that are made into hybrids. The Ford Fusion Hybrid, which is a fantastic machine, is downright pretty. Sure, it won’t offer the same sort of looks that will make eco-women smile at you as you drive past, but it still looks like a normal car and that matters to us.
On our weekend voyage in the Insight, we were impressed with how well it was put together. The Japanese have a way of creating things that are well planned, wonderfully constructed, and covered in pleasant surfaces and materials.
The car uses Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist technology that will allow you to run on all-electric power until you reach 30 miles per hour. After that, the gasoline motor kicks in and away you go, albeit a bit slowly.
Like most hybrids, the Insight’s instrument panel is laden with readouts that encourage you to drive like a sane person. It actually can make you feel bad about stomping on the accelerator, as your average mpg icon will dip.
One interesting feature is ECON mode, which we find a bit pointless. In order to engage the system you must push a round green button on the far left of the dash. The system allows the idle-stop to kick in sooner, the throttle response and the power to dial down, and the air-con to rely more on recirculation. We feel that the ECON mode should always be on, as the point of a hybrid is to be economical. So why would you want it off? You might as well buy a normal Civic, as when the system was off we only managed 35 to 40 miles gallon.
On one carefully planned drive, we were able to get 55 miles per gallon when the green button was on, which is pretty darn good.
The Prius is our favorite when it comes to the interior. The navigation system is excellent, but it does feel like a poor man’s Lexus unit. The eyebrow readout on the top of the dash is cleverly laid out and easy to read. It feels more upscale when compared to the cheaper Honda. There is also considerably more room in the cabin.
The Insight is a decent driving car on the road. It’s not Volkswagen GTI crisp, but for a hybrid, it’s not too shabby. You can easily fling the car into corners and around parking lots. It’s not quick or fast, but it does like to be pushed around. Sadly, the lack of a real engine noise puts us off a bit from driving aggressively.
The Prius delivers the same experience, but it most be noted, the car feels heavier. The previous versions rolled about like Jell-O, while the new 2010 Prius feels more like a car should. Now, let’s get one thing straight, this isn’t a car that is going to put a smile on your face in the bends and neither is the Insight, unless you enjoy driving around being smug about your mileage numbers. However, they’re good for what they are.
On the highway, the Toyota feels planted and smooth, while the Honda can be blown around with a slight gust of wind.
Which car would we choose? It would probably be the Toyota although we would rather have the Fusion Hybrid and be done with it. The Fusion offers better looks, a better interior, and a better driving experience. We like both the Insight and the Prius, but we wouldn’t pick either one if it were our money. Yet, if you had to choose between the two, go with the Toyota. You might even be able to pick one up for a good price.