2010 Honda Insight vs. 2009 Toyota Prius Comparison Test

2009 Toyota Prius Hatchback

(1.3L 4-cyl. Hybrid CVT Automatic)
  • 2010 Honda Insight vs. 2009 Toyota Prius Comparison Test Video

    Watch the 2010 Honda Insight vs. 2009 Toyota Prius Comparison Test Video on Edmunds' Inside Line | September 25, 2009

1 Video , 29 Photos

  • Comparison Test
  • Top 10 Features
  • Final Rankings and Scoring Explanation
  • 2010 Honda Insight Specs and Performance
  • 2009 Toyota Prius Specs and Performance

Psychologists have said that consumers have a three-week memory of fuel prices. If prices stay constant for more than three weeks, the buying public's decision-making ability becomes myopic and they act as though prices have never been different from what they are in the here and now.

And at this very moment, fuel prices have been below two bucks a gallon for about six weeks. Fuel is so cheap that we're considering igniting 55-gallon drums of the stuff in our front yards just for kicks.

Now, we don't know the hippocampus from a hippopotamus, but our instincts remind us that good times don't last forever. An increase in fuel prices in the near future is practically inevitable, and those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

That's where the all-new 2010 Honda Insight and 2009 Toyota Prius fit in. By shopping for fuel misers like these while gasoline is still cheaper than designer-bottled sugar water, savvy shoppers will dodge long dealership queues in the future and avoid forking out a premium for such cars — like they did in the summer of 2008.

Follow the Follower
You might remember the original Honda Insight. When introduced in 1999, it was the first hybrid vehicle sold in the U.S.A., an affordable technical tour de force that achieved spectacular fuel economy by adding a battery-assisted electric motor to the powertrain. But as a diminutive two-seater, it certainly wasn't a car for the masses.

It took Toyota's introduction of the Prius to stamp the word "hybrid" into the public consciousness and swell the ranks of hypermiling wonks. Boasting an extra pair of doors and a rear seat compared to the early Insight, the Prius was a real car suitable for families. That it looked the part of a hybrid sealed the deal among the socially conscious, and Toyota has ridden this wave of success to new heights, selling 181,221 examples of the Prius in 2007 alone.

In response, Honda has retooled the Insight formula for 2010 into a four-door package that paints a target dead smack on the Prius' nerdy forehead. The Insight's sheet metal is said to be shaped by the wind tunnel, but the general proportions and detailing are far too Prius-like to be coincidental. Honda's intentions with the Insight appear obvious — scale the heights of hybrid sales success by following in the Prius' footsteps.

The Cars
Often found clogging up the passing lanes of freeways all over the country, the Prius is now a common sight on public roads. The 2009 Toyota Prius we tested will blend right in, as it is largely unchanged from earlier models, right down to its 110-horsepower powertrain with its 1.5-liter engine and sophisticated hybrid system comprised of two electric motors and planetary gearsets. (A revised Prius is on the horizon for 2010, but it remains under wraps.)

Our Prius boasted its fuel economy of 48 mpg city/45 mpg highway on its price sticker and it was equipped with the $3,280 Package #5 option, including a navigation system, premium audio, satellite radio capability, Bluetooth, a back-up camera, stability control, cruise control and a few other items. This car is well-equipped but not the most fully loaded Prius variant available and checks in at $27,643.

The all-new 2010 Honda Insight merges an updated version of Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system with a 1.3-liter, eight-valve inline-4, and the powertrain produces a combined output of 98 hp and 123 pound-feet of torque. The IMA system slots a 13-hp electric motor between the engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT) and it is juiced by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack behind the rear seats. Lithium-ion batteries would have cut the space requirement in half, chief engineer Yasunari Seki says, but were quickly rejected on the basis of cost.

And cost is the Insight's trump card. Honda's hybrid system is more basic than the Prius' NASA-grade hardware, yet its more affordable cost is the key to delivering the Insight's dirt-cheap sticker price. At least, we think it's dirt cheap. Pricing hasn't been formally announced, so we're going on whispers and hints from the Honda brass. But you can count on the Insight's official EPA fuel-economy rating of 40 mpg city/43 mpg highway, plus the fact that the car will be formally released on Earth Day, April 22, 2009.

Our scrutiny of Honda's marketing data makes us pretty confident that the model we drove — a fully optioned Insight EX with navigation — will sticker for very close to $22,170 with destination. If we're wrong, then we only request that you wait at least three weeks before composing your hate mail.

Static Electricity
When you climb inside a Prius, you're confronted with a decidedly unorthodox dashboard layout. There are no conventional gauges; instead the speed readout and general operational information peek out from a narrow slot at the base of the windshield. The climate control, audio and navigation controls are all embedded in a single, centrally located multifunction screen. Even the "gear" selector sprouts from the dash immediately to the right of the steering wheel. The Prius is a hybrid, dammit, and it won't let you forget that fact.

The Insight, however, trades a little zoominess for much improved function. There's a real gauge cluster in front of the driver and non-virtual heating and ventilation controls that fall immediately to hand. The Insight's cabin also places you in a driving position that's more natural than that of the Prius, and this is further enhanced by the Honda's telescoping steering wheel and height-adjustable seat.

These two latter features aren't available in the Prius, yet it desperately needs both of them. The Toyota's driving position seems scaled to Japanese bodies, not corn-fed American ones, so you can never place the tilt-only steering wheel in quite the right place. Simply put, you sit on the Prius and in the Insight.

If you think this means the Insight has the superior cabin, you'd only be half right. Full-size humans can find space and comfort in the backseat of the Prius, whereas in the Insight they will find only cramps. Your knees have to splay to accommodate the front seatback, while the tumblehome of the Insight's roof eats up precious headroom. You could say that swelled heads fit better in the back of the Prius.

Behind the backseats, it's pretty much a draw in cargo capacity, although Honda claims a bit more volume by the numbers than the Prius. It can also claim more volume of the acoustic variety, as the Honda is noticeably noisier than the Prius, and it doesn't come close to isolating its occupants from road roar and wind hiss in the way that the Toyota does.

Hedonists take note: The Prius boasts a back-up camera, HID headlights and keyless ignition, and you can't find these goodies on any Insight.

Nothing's Shocking
Economy with speed is as common as gravy-flavored ice cream, and these cars proved no exception once we placed our testing equipment on them. The Prius' 110-hp combined output propels it from a standstill to 60 mph in 10.4 seconds (10.1 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip), followed by the Insight in 10.9 seconds (10.5 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). Off the line, however, neither of these hybrids feels as glacial as these numbers suggest thanks to the boost in low-end torque provided by the electric motors.

It's not just in acceleration that the Prius pips the Insight. The Prius also brakes shorter, coming to a halt from 60 mph in 120 feet, 5 feet fewer than the Insight. It also produces a quicker slalom speed, 61.8 mph compared to the Insight's 59.3 mph. Despite the numbers, the Prius' brake pedal feels like a lumpy mattress underfoot as the transition from regenerative braking to pure mechanical braking is clumsy, while the electric-assist steering responds with all the enthusiasm of warm tapioca.

Ride quality is an area where the Prius gets the nod, as it glides over pavement compared to the choppy springiness of the Honda. The flip side of the Honda's firmer suspenders comes in routine handling maneuvers, where it is more alert than the Prius. Likewise, the Insight's quicker and more naturally weighted steering imparts lots of confidence even in everyday driving. This transparency in the feel of the controls paired with the more user-friendly driving position help give the Insight a thin edge in our scoring evaluation.

Fuelish Behavior
The numbers most relevant to these dromedaries relate, of course, to their frugality with fuel. To that end our two drivers hashed out a driving loop of nearly 100 miles, consisting of a mix of city and freeway driving conditions. They topped off the fuel tank of each car at the same fuel pump and drove the loop. Then they switched cars and drove the loop again. They then refilled them at the same fuel pump and recorded the dosage.

To make a long, boring story short, the Prius netted 54.4 mpg to the Insight's 51.5 mpg during our driving loops. These results are considerably better than the EPA estimates for each car since our driving style was conservative to minimize variables in performance and to ensure the cars remained nose-to-tail for the entire drive. Hard-core hypermiling wonks will undoubtedly top even these results.

Perhaps the most loudly voiced objection from both drivers is that the Insight's cruise control consistently undershot the target speed when in Eco-Assist mode. Like a nun armed with a switch, this mode modifies the Insight's behavior to favor fuel-efficiency over drivability and comfort. The Prius, which needs no such supplemental mode to achieve its stellar fuel economy, exhibited no such untoward tendencies.

When Being Green Reduces Your Green
Some of us will make a choice between these two cars based solely on superior fuel economy. But if you're really interested only in the contents of your wallet, some careful assessment of the cost/benefit equation will be illuminating.

It turns out the additional $5,473 required for the privilege of owning a Prius instead of an Insight can buy a lot of fuel. At today's fuel prices, the actual monetary savings earned by the Prius' edge in fuel economy is miniscule, working out to a paltry $70 per year. Paying off the Prius' extra tariff in sticker price with the savings in fuel purchases would require more than 75 years.

Even if fuel prices were to leap to $5 per gallon, a Prius owner would have to drive his car for nearly 413,000 miles just to break even. These calculations use the EPA combined fuel economy numbers — plug in the higher fuel-economy results we measured and the payoff period is measured in lifetimes.

This simple math exercise demonstrates how deceptive a 5-mpg difference can be. Among fuel-sippers like these, this is one occasion where it doesn't pay to be green. It turns out that the 2010 Honda Insight's emphasis on affordability as well as fuel economy puts more dollars in your pocket than the 2009 Toyota Prius.

There's a certain irony in the Insight's victory. In its desire to create a car that wears its hybrid-ness on its sleeve, Honda examined its rival to such a degree that the Insight and the Prius are nearly indistinguishable at a glance. Yet Honda's final product is no Prius clone, and its lack of hybrid-style compromises in the way it drives works to its advantage in this comparison.

Consider the Prius outsmarted. For now.

The manufacturers provided Edmunds these vehicles for the purposes of evaluation.

Feature content is a factor that can make or break a purchase decision for many buyers. This is particularly true in a comparison like this, where there's a significant cost difference between the contenders. Features help illustrate what you get for your extra money. We picked features that we think will be important to the average buyer in the segment.

Features

Features
2010 Honda Insight EX Navi 2009 Toyota Prius
Alloy wheels O S
Back-up camera N/A O
Bluetooth connectivity O O
Cruise control O S
HID headlamps N/A O
Keyless entry/ignition N/A O
Manual transmission control O N/A
Navigation system O O
Stability control O O
Telescoping steering wheel S N/A

Key:
S: Standard
O: Optional
N/A: Not Available

Alloy wheels: It's OK to want a bit of style. Honda asks you to pony up if you want to spruce up your Insight with alloy wheels.

Back-up camera: Safely reversing is made easier with a back-up camera, especially when the rear cargo area is crammed full. This is not offered on the Insight.

Bluetooth connectivity: With the proliferation of laws against the use of handheld cell phones while driving, Bluetooth technology is becoming a must-have feature if you plan on chatting while driving.

Cruise control: Cruise isn't quite ubiquitous yet, but it's getting there. It's standard on the Prius.

HID headlamps: HIDs offer visibility that's superior to traditional halogen headlamps, throwing light that is much brighter to better illuminate roadside reflectors. This is not offered on the Insight.

Keyless entry/ignition: Walk up, open the door, turn the ignition (or press the start button) and go. No fumbling with keys at all. This is not offered on the Insight.

Manual transmission control: Manual control over gear selection allows drivers to better manage many driving situations — like when holding a gear for acceleration or engine braking while decelerating. The Prius' engine-braking mode doesn't allow this type of control. It's optional on the Insight.

Navigation system: More than a set of maps, a navigation system can provide a plethora of regional information or simply find the nearest Pho noodle restaurant.

Stability control: These systems provide a safety net on slippery roads or during evasive maneuvers.

Telescoping steering wheel: A steering wheel in the correct position improves comfort and can reduce driver fatigue.

Final Rankings

Final Rankings
Item Weight 2010 Honda Insight EX Navi 2009 Toyota Prius
Personal Rating 2.5% 100.0 50.0
Recommended Rating 2.5% 100.0 50.0
Evaluation Score 15% 71.6 68.5
Feature Content 15% 50.0 60.0
Performance 15% 88.2 97.0
Fuel Consumption 25% 87.8 100.0
Price 25% 100.0 75.3
Total Score 100.0% 83.4 80.2
Final Ranking 1 2

Personal Rating (2.5%): Purely subjective. After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the vehicles in order of preference based on which he or she would buy if money were no object.

Recommended Rating (2.5%): After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the vehicles in order of preference based on which he or she thought would be best for the average consumer shopping in this segment.

28-Point Evaluation (15%): Each participating editor ranked each vehicle based on a comprehensive 28-point evaluation. The evaluation covered everything from exterior design to cupholders. Scoring was calculated on a point system, and the scores listed are averages based on all test participants' evaluations.

Feature Content (15%): For this category, the editors picked the top 10 features they thought would be most beneficial to the consumer shopping in this segment. For each vehicle, the score was based on the number of actual features it had versus the total possible. Standard and optional equipment were taken into consideration.

Performance Testing (15%): Instrumented testing included acceleration from zero to 60 mph, braking from 60 to zero mph, lateral acceleration (grip) on a 200-foot-diameter skid pad, and slalom.

Fuel Consumption (25%): Fuel consumption is the major reason people purchase economy-oriented vehicles such as these, so this category was weighted heavily. Using EPA combined fuel economy ratings as the basis for comparison, we awarded a score of 100 percent to the more fuel-efficient vehicle. The less efficient vehicle was scored proportionally based on how close it came to the better-performing vehicle's fuel consumption.

Price (25%): The numbers listed were the result of a simple percentage calculation based on the less expensive vehicle in the comparison test. Using the "as tested" prices of the actual evaluation vehicles, the less expensive vehicle received a score of 100, with the remaining vehicle receiving a lesser score based on how much each one costs.

Vehicle
Model year2010
MakeHonda
ModelInsight
StyleEX w/Navi 4dr Hatchback (1.3L 4cyl gas/electric hybrid CVT)
Base MSRP$22,170 (estimated)
Options on test vehicleNone
As-tested MSRP$22,170 (estimated)
Drivetrain
Drive typeFront-wheel drive
Engine typeInline-4
Displacement (cc/cu-in)1,339cc (82 cu-in)
Block/head materialAluminum
ValvetrainSingle overhead camshaft, variable intake and exhaust lift, 2 valves per cylinder
Compression ratio (x:1)10.8:1
Redline (rpm)6,200
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)98 @ 5,800 (includes electric motor assist of 13 hp @ 1,500 rpm)
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)123 @ 1,000-1,500 (includes electric motor assist of 58 lb-ft @ 1,000 rpm)
Transmission typeContinuously variable transmission with sport mode and paddle shifters
Transmission and axle ratios (x:1)Variable between 3.17:1 and 0.53:1; Final Drive = 4.20:1
Chassis
Suspension, frontIndependent, MacPherson struts, coil springs and stabilizer bar
Suspension, rearSemi-independent, torsion beam, coil springs and integrated stabilizer bar
Steering typeElectric speed-proportional power steering
Steering ratio (x:1)16.7:1
Tire brandDunlop
Tire modelSP 37
Tire typeAll-season, low rolling resistance
Tire size, front175/65R15 84S
Tire size, rear175/65R15 84S
Wheel materialAluminum alloy
Brakes, front10.3-inch ventilated disc with single piston sliding caliper
Brakes, rear7.9-inch drum
Track Test Results
0-45 mph (sec.)6.85
0-60 mph (sec.)10.9
0-75 mph (sec.)16.6
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)17.9 @ 77.9
0-60 with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)10.5
Braking, 30-0 mph (ft.)32
60-0 mph (ft.)125
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)59.3
Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g)0.79
Sound level @ idle (dB)44.2
@ Full throttle (dB)72.5
@ 70 mph cruise (dB)68.8
Test Driver Ratings & Comments
Acceleration commentsAlmost agonizingly slow unless you brake-torque the launch, then it's merely slow and matches the Prius' highly repeatable numbers.
Braking ratingGood
Braking commentsIt probably doesn't take much brake hardware for a 2,700-pound car, but this is good performance nonetheless. No evidence of fade, but I didn't torture it, either. Some rear-end wriggle, but nothing spooky or dangerous.
Handling ratingAverage
Handling commentsSkid pad: Extraordinary measures that no Insight buyer is likely to use (ESC off and allow the tail to hang out around the skid pad) produce better-than-average results. But it takes a bit of skill to hold it there, as it feels on the brink of oversteer all the way 'round. Slalom: The Insight will definitely oversteer with the ESC turned off, requiring a handful of opposite lock to keep up with it at the exit. With ESC on, there is no drama whatsoever.
Testing Conditions
Elevation (ft.)1,121
Temperature (F)52.1
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)40 city/43 highway/41 combined
Edmunds observed (mpg)51.5
Fuel tank capacity (U.S. gal.)10.6
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)2,734
Curb weight, as tested (lbs.)2,736
Weight distribution, as tested, f/r (%)58/42
Length (in.)172.3
Width (in.)66.7
Height (in.)56.2
Wheelbase (in.)100.4
Track, front (in.)58.7
Track, rear (in.)58.1
Turning circle (ft.)36.1
Legroom, front (in.)42.3
Legroom, rear (in.)33.5
Headroom, front (in.)38.4
Headroom, rear (in.)35.9
Shoulder room, front (in.)52.7
Shoulder room, rear (in.)50.4
Seating capacity5
Cargo volume (cu-ft)15.9
Max. cargo volume, seats folded (cu-ft)31.5
Warranty
Bumper-to-bumper3 years/36,000 miles
Powertrain5 years/60,000 miles
Corrosion5 years/Unlimited miles
Free scheduled maintenanceNot available
Safety
Front airbagsStandard
Side airbagsStandard dual front
Head airbagsStandard front and rear
Knee airbagsNot available
Antilock brakes4-wheel ABS
Electronic brake enhancementsElectronic brakeforce distribution
Traction controlStandard (EX only)
Stability controlStandard (EX only)
Tire-pressure monitoring systemTire-pressure monitoring
Emergency assistance systemNot available
NHTSA crash test, driverNot tested
NHTSA crash test, passengerNot tested
NHTSA crash test, side frontNot tested
NHTSA crash test, side rearNot tested
NHTSA rollover resistanceNot tested
Vehicle
Model year2009
MakeToyota
ModelPrius
Style4dr Hatchback (1.5L 4cyl gas/electric hybrid CVT)
Base MSRP$24,095
Options on test vehicle50-State Emissions, Package #5, Carpet Floor Mats and Cargo Mat, Rear Bumper Applique
As-tested MSRP$27,643
Drivetrain
Drive typeFront-wheel drive
Engine typeInline-4, Atkinson cycle
Displacement (cc/cu-in)1,497cc (91 cu-in)
Block/head materialAluminum/Aluminum
Valvetrain16 valves, double overhead camshafts, variable intake valve timing
Compression ratio (x:1)13
Redline (rpm)N/A
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)76 @ 5,000 (gasoline engine); 110 maximum when blended with the electric motor
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)82 @ 4,200 (gasoline); 295 @ 0-1,200 (electric motor)
Transmission typeElectronically controlled continuously variable
Transmission and axle ratios (x:1)N/A
Chassis
Suspension, frontIndependent, MacPherson struts, coil springs and stabilizer bar
Suspension, rearSemi-independent, torsion beam, coil springs
Steering typeElectric-assist power steering
Steering ratio (x:1)19.1:1
Tire brandGoodyear
Tire modelIntegrity
Tire typeAll-season
Tire size, frontP185/65R15 86S
Tire size, rearP185/65R15 86S
Wheel size15-by-5.5 inches front and rear
Wheel materialAluminum alloy
Brakes, frontVentilated disc with single-piston sliding caliper
Brakes, rearDrum
Track Test Results
0-45 mph (sec.)6.5
0-60 mph (sec.)10.4
0-75 mph (sec.)16
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)17.6 @ 78.6
0-60 with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)10.1
Braking, 30-0 mph (ft.)30
60-0 mph (ft.)120
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)61.8
Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g)0.7
Sound level @ idle (dB)39.2 (engine off); 42.6 (engine on)
@ Full throttle (dB)70
@ 70 mph cruise (dB)68
Test Driver Ratings & Comments
Acceleration commentsIt didn't seem to matter what I did on the launch; it always made about the same results. I even tried a start with the engine auto-stopped. Linear (to a fault) acceleration and the engine could be quieter.
Braking ratingVery Good
Braking commentsHuh? 120 feet from 60 mph? That's pretty darned good, and the Prius showed signs of good fade resistance as well. Better feel than I ever remember from a Prius, too. Did Toyota change something without telling us?
Handling ratingAverage
Handling commentsSkid pad: There's a little sliver of understeer between ESP warning (beep-beep-beep) and actual ESP intrusion. No sense in going harder than the nanny will allow. Slalom: Again the key is not to trigger the electronic overlord here. Smooth, gentle inputs and an early turn-in work best.
Testing Conditions
Elevation (ft.)1,121
Temperature (F)53.9
Wind (mph, direction)N/A
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)48 city/45 highway
Edmunds observed (mpg)44
Fuel tank capacity (U.S. gal.)11.9
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)2,932
Curb weight, as tested (lbs.)2,970
Weight distribution, as tested, f/r (%)59.8/40.2
Length (in.)175
Width (in.)67.9
Height (in.)58.7
Wheelbase (in.)106.3
Track, front (in.)59.3
Track, rear (in.)58.3
Turning circle (ft.)34.1
Legroom, front (in.)41.9
Legroom, rear (in.)38.6
Headroom, front (in.)39.1
Headroom, rear (in.)37.3
Shoulder room, front (in.)55
Shoulder room, rear (in.)52.9
Seating capacity5
Cargo volume (cu-ft)14.4
Warranty
Bumper-to-bumper3 years/36,000 miles
Powertrain5 years/60,000 miles
Corrosion5 years/Unlimited miles
Roadside assistanceNot available
Free scheduled maintenanceNot available
Safety
Front airbagsStandard
Side airbagsStandard dual front
Head airbagsStandard front and rear
Knee airbagsNot available
Antilock brakes4-wheel ABS
Electronic brake enhancementsBraking assist, electronic brakeforce distribution
Traction controlStandard
Stability controlOptional
Rollover protectionNot available
Tire-pressure monitoring systemTire-pressure monitoring
Emergency assistance systemNot available
NHTSA crash test, driver4 stars
NHTSA crash test, passenger4 stars
NHTSA crash test, side front5 stars
NHTSA crash test, side rear4 stars
NHTSA rollover resistance4 stars
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Edmunds Insurance Estimator

The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2009 Toyota Prius in WA is:

$131 per month*
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