Car Buying Articles
Toyota Prius vs. Honda Insight Tech
More Extensive Tech Options Come at a Steep Cost
One of the most popular cars on the road today is the Toyota Prius, so it's no surprise that the reincarnated Honda Insight was literally designed to steal market share from Toyota's iconic, in-demand hybrid. And though the primary appeal of a hybrid is better fuel economy while gaining green cred, high-tech amenities are part of the allure for many people shopping these two competitors head-to-head.
We compared the technology offerings (beyond their hybrid drivetrains) of the 2010 Prius and Insight, pitting a top-of-the-line Prius V ($32,720 including the optional $4,500 Advanced Technology package) against the range-topping $23,770 Honda Insight EX with Navigation. With such a huge discrepancy in price, we found these cross-shopped vehicles have an equally wide variance in available tech features.
Gas mileage is often a foremost concern for hybrid buyers, and both the Prius and Insight provide dedicated, detailed displays for the fuel frugal to monitor. For its 2010 refresh, the familiar Prius energy monitor — which shows power flow among the gas engine, electric motor and hybrid battery — moved from the center of the dash to the instrument panel, no longer competing with controls for audio and navigation. In addition to power flow, it displays:
- Energy recovered by regenerative braking
- If the car is being driven within a "Hybrid Eco" zone to provide superior fuel-efficiency
- Detailed fuel consumption in 1- or 5-minute intervals
- Fuel consumption history and average fuel consumption based on two separate trip meters
The Insight also has a power flow display and an "Eco Drive Bar" to monitor how fuel economy is affected by driving, as well as a Deceleration Monitor to indicate inefficient braking. The Insight goes a step farther with its Eco Assist display to let you compete against your own best fuel economy ratings by growing leaves on "plants" in the display. Eco Assist shows the score for each trip as well as accumulated points, and if you earn enough leaves, you receive a "trophy" in the display.
Arching over the dash above the Insight's instrument panel is an additional lighted panel that surrounds the digital speedometer and changes from green to blue-green to blue to provide instant fuel economy information. This panel will change color, with green being best and blue being worst, as throttle position and rate of acceleration change. This way, even if you don't glance down at the more detailed display under the analog speedo, you can get a sense of how your driving is affecting fuel economy just by checking the digital speedometer and the surrounding panel's color.
Fuel economy display: Insight
Neither car has a very impressive sound system, which is a shame considering that quiet hybrid interiors make for a potentially ideal audio environment. While both systems had solid sound staging and surprisingly good bass impact for such small cars without a dedicated subwoofer, tonal balance, tonal accuracy and timbre were sorely lacking.
If our test cars' audio systems are nearly on par in terms of sound quality, the Insight takes a huge lead by way of media options. For starters, the Prius only has a four-disc CD changer (a non-navi head unit available for the car comes with a six-disc version) that plays MP3/WMA files on a disc, an aux-in jack for iPod/MP3 player integration and wireless Bluetooth audio streaming.
In contrast, the Insight offers a six-CD changer and an aux-in jack, a USB port that allows access to music files on a USB drive, as well as full iPod control using the device's standard USB cable instead of requiring an optional, proprietary cable. The Insight EX with Navi also includes a PC card reader behind the head unit's fold-down faceplate for access to digital tunes on a memory card, although an adapter is required.
Music options: Insight
Hands-Free and Voice Activation
Bluetooth for mobile phones comes standard on both vehicles, and each car's hands-free system is largely hassle-free. Phone pairing is easy and straightforward, as is downloading a phone's address book. But the Insight has a few quirks that give the Prius an edge.
Both systems have voice-activated controls, but the Prius setup readily recognized vocal commands, whereas the Insight system commonly misheard commands. Plus, the Insight doesn't allow you to call by voice from a phone's address book; instead you can only use the head unit touchscreen, although you can set up voice tags for contacts and dial that way via voice. But in the Prius it was simply a matter of saying, "Dial by name" and then saying a contact — and it worked well with difficult names that usually trip up a voice-activation system.
Hands-Free and voice control: Prius
Both systems also have effective, easy-to-use navigation systems, but the Prius has several nav features that make it stand out. These include an ever-present Help button that explains additional features, a compass mode, a footprint map that scales down to 75 feet in certain urban areas, a pause-route mode and XM NavTraffic (which requires a separate subscription).
The Insight also has a few innovative features, such as off-road tracking, a calendar that makes it convenient to schedule reminders and the ability to preview various route options. And since the Insight's nav system is standard on the top trim, whereas in the Prius it's part of the pricey $4,500 Advanced Technology package, this category is a draw.
While the Insight has state-of-the-art safety features such as traction control, side curtain and front side airbags and driver and front-passenger active head restraints, the Prius offers all of those features plus a driver's knee airbag and Brake Assist technology that provides maximum stopping power in a panic situation.
The Prius pulled way ahead in safety tech with its Pre-Collision System (PCS). It uses radar to sense when an object in front or on the side of the vehicle is too close and gives a visual warning, sounds a buzzer and puts Brake Assist into standby mode. If the brakes aren't deployed and PCS determines that a collision is eminent, brake force is automatically applied and the seatbelts are cinched in preparation.
Our test car also came with Lane Keep Assist (LKA), which uses a camera to detect lane markings and alerts drivers with an instrument panel display and audible warnings when they drift out of their lane. An actuator also gently applies steering torque to guide the vehicle back between the lines. LKA works in conjunction with automatic cruise control and employs the radar sensor used with PCS. But remember, you'll pay for all this protection as part of the $4,500 Advanced Technology package.
Safety options: Prius
The fully loaded Prius also has a notable advantage in terms of specialized technology, while the Insight offers little more than steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters (an ironic performance feature given the car's fuel-efficiency focus).
The Intelligent Park Assist on the Prius automatically eases the car into a parallel or perpendicular parking spot and is another part of the Advanced Technology option. Toyota's Smart Key system (which allows you to lock and unlock the Prius just by grabbing the door handle), keyless push-button start, Hill Start Assist to keep the car from rolling backward on a steep incline, and a new feature called Touch Tracer Display (TTD) are also included with this option package.
TTD uses a hologramlike display in the instrument panel to confirm when buttons on a pair of round steering-wheel controls are pressed. While TTD may sound (and seem) gimmicky, it's helpful for confirming button inputs without requiring you to look down at the steering wheel. And while our test car didn't come with it, the moonroof with solar-powered ventilation is a popular option on the Prius II and IV models that keeps the car cool while parked.
Additional features: Prius
Top in Tech
The Prius came out on top in three out of six categories, while the Insight excelled in only two and tied the Prius in one. And while you may not consider buying either of these vehicles based on technology alone — outside of the hybrid variety — these bells and whistles can make a difference in your enjoyment of day-to-day driving.
The tech in the 2010 Toyota Prius V easily exceeds that offered in the 2010 Honda Insight EX with Navigation, as well it should given the massive $9,000 difference in sticker price. If cross-shopping the Prius and Insight, you'll need to decide which high-tech features really matter to you — and how much you're willing to spend on them.