The King of Green Cars -- The Toyota Prius. All new for 2010 with its beaklike nose and 50+ MPG. Can it withstand an assault by Honda, the car company with the greenest brand in the business and its new Insight hybrid? One way to find out -- put 'em in the ring and see who staggers out standing at the end.
I'm Brian Cooley and in this prizefight, the two competitors look suspiciously alike! But underneath, their hybridness differs, as does their cabin tech. So let's see who gets it right most often as judged by myself and fellow car tech editors Wayne Cunningham and Antuan Goodwin.
Round 1: Value
The Insight doesn't quite equal the Prius on gas mileage, but it's no slouch. And it costs a little less than a base Prius is you really scrimp. Unfortunately, the Insight's interior and ride quality remind you of its low cost! The Prius can cost into the 30k's if loaded up, but Toyota shocked the industry when it basically matched the Insight's MSRP, at least for a stripped Prius. In the end, these two are close in price and cost of ownership, but the Prius better MPG will make it a better value over time. Give to Toyota, taking the first round.
Round 2: Cabin Tech
The Insight's nav system and head unit are familiar ones and offer the basics including Bluetooth hands free and iPod support. But there is no cutting edge technology and the absence of live traffic particularly grates as that information can help save a lot of fuel as well! The Prius has a slightly degraded version of the head unit and nav we love in Lexus cars. Live traffic is there, and niceties like Bluetooth streaming and high end JBL audio can be had -- but no iPod adapter is available. So, give it to Toyota for live traffic and a better looking maps. Now its 2 rounds to NONE!
Round 3: Electronics interface
Both of these cars have touch screen controlled nav head units, but the Honda unit is just getting a bit stale. Luckily, Honda has what we feel is the better voice command system that can run just about anything. And the color changing Instrument panel is a cute but also useful way to train us how to drive leanly. On the Prius, you get a better-looking interface, but it was frustratingly sluggish in our experience. But its easy to find what you want, even functions you may not use all that often and Toyota has introduced this trick screen display of the steering wheel controls. This one's a squeaker, but give the round to Honda by a hair. Now its Toyota 2, Honda 1.
Round 4: Performance
Judging "performance" on these cars requires some recalibration. These aren't fast cars, but efficient ones. But they need to move smartly in traffic and avoid getting squashed like bugs on the freeway. The Insight is a bit buzzy and harsh, but we never got the feeling it wasn't up to the task in real world driving. When you press the pedal on the right, things happen. And its MPG is real good if not in the magic 50+ range. The Prius annoyed us more than once with its hesitance to get up out of its own way. The car has the power, but its programming seems to keep it in reserve in an obsessive attempt to drive lean. Ride quality was a bit better in the Prius, but the bottom line is the Honda felt more like a car that was willing to run while sipping gas. Give it to Honda, tying it up now at 2 rounds a piece!
Round 5: Design
This is a subjective thing and neither of these cars will elicit a low, admiring whistle from people as you drive by. Everyone notices how similar these cars look, even if Honda refuses to see that. Both are distinctive cars, rather than hybrid versions of another model, so you'll get plenty of visual confirmation you're driving a hybrid, for better or for worse. Alright, this one's a tie and we couldn't see either excelling here! Give each a point and now it's Toyota and Honda tied up at 3!!! A rare and agonizing PF tie!
Last page: The winner is...
OK, you may be looking to use for a decision on which of these cars to buy, so we can't leave it a tie. Toyota took Value and Cabin Tech, but Honda nabbed Performance and Interface. They tied for being not much to look at. So we'll break the tie with some straight up CNET editor inside stuff: Which we would we buy with our own money?
Wayne with the Prius.
Antuan too the Insight.
Now its all on me! I would buy ... the Insight. The actual driving feel and, to my eye, slightly more handsome styling beat out the Prius slightly better MPG and cabin tech.
So there you have it, in a VERY close PF. The new Honda Insight sends the 3rd generation Prius back to its corner, beaten but not ashamed.
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