Insight versus Prius

Posted by: David Welch on March 18, 2009

Honda_Insight_2010_08.jpg

In this corner, the challenger, weighing 2,700 pounds, the Honda Insight. Honda is taking aim at Toyota’s hybrid crown with its new Insight, a five-passenger gasoline-electric hybrid that will get more than 40 miles per gallon. That’s a shout less than the 50 mpg Toyota’s new Prius can get. But Honda’s boast is that the Insight will be far cheaper. You can get the joy of hybrid technology for under $20,000.

Well barely under $20,000. The Insight starts at $19,800 and tops out at $23,100. By comparison, the Prius starts around $23,000 and the touring model can sell for more than $25,000. It’s hard to say what the hybrid premium is for an Insight. There’s no gasoline-only version. It costs about $4,000 more than a Honda Fit, but it’s a little bigger than a Fit.

Honda will find buyers even with gasoline selling for less than $2 a gallon. But good luck unseating the Prius. Jim Hall, principal of 2953 Analytics, makes a great point. Toyota’s hybrid system drives only in the refined silence of electric drive when you first hit the accelerator. The gasoline engine kicks in later. There are times when a Prius driver is green as can be. Honda’s hybrid system is almost always burning gas. It can’t launch off the line in electric mode and it’s tough to drive it without burning gasoline. So the techies and green buyers will think the Prius is a better hybrid. In that sense, Hall says, Toyota has defined what a true hybrid is.

The other problem is that the Insight actually looks like a Prius. To get the aerodynamics needed to boost fuel economy, Honda created the same silhouette. So basically, it’s a budget Prius. Honda will have to sell it on price. That, too, has a booby trap. If Toyota wants to take aim at Honda, they could slap a $1,000 or $2,000 rebate on the Prius and the difference in the monthly payment would be negligible to all but the most thrifty buyers. Plenty of Hondaphiles will go for the Insight. But Prius owners will piously stick with Toyota.

Reader Comments

Paul Rogers

March 20, 2009 4:27 AM

I think you might be a little short on the facts. The new Insight under certain conditions can drive upto 29mph on electric only. and yes the Prius can drive off in silence but when the batteries soon start to discharge the "cold" prius engine starts and runs at a near fixed high rpm consuming lots of fuel whilst it charges the batter. The parallel design of the Honda insight is far more efficient than the Parallel/Series design of the Prius. And lets not forget that if you should have a problem with the main batteries on either car, the Prius is going nowhere but the Honda can still be driven as a conventional ICE powered vehicle....
Signed Paul (owner of a MKI Insight 103K miles)

Paul Rogers

March 20, 2009 4:43 AM

On a recent trip to the States, my host took me out in his Jeep and I was shocked to see the fuel returns he was getting under normal driving conditions. His Jeep was a few years old and was typical of so many old "gas guzzles" also still in circulation. Under the bonnet the fuel linkage was a simple design and also linked to the Auto box to determine the gear change point. I made a simple adjustment to the linkage so that the auto box change-up speeds happened earlier. This 5 minute adjustment over the following week returned an improvement in fuel economy of nearly 20% so lets forget all the new technology for a while and replect on simple ways to get more returns for your hard earned Buck.

sbk

March 20, 2009 10:09 AM

A couple of points:

The Insight has an electric only mode though it probably switches to the ICE sooner than the Prius. This probably has more to do with the storage capacity of the onboard battery than the hybrid design.
If the Insight can achieve good mileage with a smaller battery and simpler drive train, I would argue that it is better from an environmental and reliability point of view.
Another thing to consider is the driving experience on both cars. Lastly, the Insight design cues are borrowed from the CRX and the original Insight both of which pre-date the Prius.

David Welch

March 20, 2009 10:42 AM

David Welch here. I’m the magazine’s Detroit bureau chief and writer of this blog post. Let me clarify one thing readers have pointed out. The Insight can drive in electric-only mode, but it cannot launch off the line using just the electric motor. That’s a subtle difference but a key for hybrid drivers. The Prius also drives longer in electric mode. Like I said, a subtle difference, but it’s the kind of thing that hybrid nerds will debate in the same way that sports car geeks brag about their zero-to-60 times.

Antony

March 20, 2009 11:56 AM

Does Mr Welch even own a Prius? I doubt it from his descriptions here. Having owned a Prius for almost 2 year and 30K miles, I must say that it is the worst quality vehicle for the price I have ever owned. It is the first Toyota I have ever owned, and will be the last. I could write a book on it's many flaws.

I have yet to have the Prius launch in electric only mode, unless I'm not even thinking about touching the accelerator pedal. It can't even back out of my driveway without the engine running, and gravity should be doing all the work. The engine runs at stoplights until just before the light turns green. The heater kills the mileage worst than the A/C.

But the worst of all is the traction control. If the road is the least bit slick, it will not move. If you accelerate moderately while turning it looses power. And merging into traffic can be a hair raising experience.

Hopefully the Volt will actually see the light of day.

J

March 20, 2009 12:47 PM

You clearly have a lemon then.
I have a prius for almost 2 years as well but I am up to 50K miles. I have had 1 problem with the HID lights (fixed free of charge by the dealer) on my touring edition but thats all.

Prius always launches in electric only mode but after about 5-10 seconds will jump into a warmup period regardless of weather you are moving or not.

Once this warm up period is over you are able to drive in electric only mode but you have to be real careful about acceleration. Time for this warm up period subject to how warm the car is upon start.

So if its been sitting out in 100 degree weather all day this warm up period will be more then negligble and WILL get you out of your driveway on electric only.

I agree with the comment about traction control. It does suck. However, I got through 2 winters in Boston without dying so its not a reason to not buy the car.

Merging into traffic is not a hair raising experience. Maybe for someone who is used to driving a porche but compared to other 4 cylinder cars the prius is superb. This is aided by the hybrid motor.

Why do you still own the car if you think its so bad?

AA

March 20, 2009 2:00 PM

Businessweek, please stick to what you guys do best: business analysis and impacts and leave car comparisons to the car mags.

You have provided no real world test driving perspectives for either car, so how do you even know that the Insight wont be a hit before its released. Now if you had said that based on your "testing" you felt the Insight to be a slouch with terrible interior materials, cramped space, and shoddy workmanship, then you would have an argument. But basing success/failure entirely on EPA's SUBJECTIVE numbers is just plain naive and disingenuous. You forget to mention that Honda's innovative driver education software actually makes people more efficient drivers or the fact that the Insight is more fun than the sedate Prius. Take a note from edmunds.com (http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/Drives/Comparos/articleId=139686) on how to do proper reviews, or better yet, focus on something else because autos are not your key strength.

Keith

March 20, 2009 2:27 PM

Antony, I think you need to take your Prius in for some work... or do you live somewhere really, really REALLY cold?

My Prius has, for the last 18 months, been flawless. I bought mine because a friend bought the previous version new and absolutely loved it (she still does). I can get my Prius to run on just battery easily (not to mention the sweet spot where it freewheels at around 39, running on neither battery nor engine).

Even though I live less than 2 miles from work, and neither the engine or the battery get a chance to warm up, I STILL get at least 38 during those runs (it goes much higher when I drive farther).

And to your comments about merging into traffic? I live in Los Angeles, and have no problems at all. Are you pulling a trailer with it?!?!

David Welch

March 20, 2009 5:04 PM

David Welch here again. We always appreciate when our readers post comments, even if you take exception to something we have written. But now, I must take exception to the comments of AA. Nowhere does this post claim that I am giving drive impressions or a recommendation to consumers. This item is, in fact, a business analysis that looks at the value proposition of the two hybrids. On one side, the Prius is a larger hybrid with better fuel economy versus the less expensive, smaller and less-efficient Insight. The Prius costs more, but not much more. The item is fair and it’s accurate. As for drive impressions, I asked Automobile magazine Executive Editor Joe DeMatio for his feedback of the Insight. He told me he liked it pretty well. But on the Insight’s ability to run in pure electric drive, he wrote, “They claim it can for a bit under certain conditions but those conditions are so rare as to make it a moot point.” (Very level road, low speed, light acceleration, etc.)

Larry

March 20, 2009 9:57 PM

The fuel efficiency difference between 40 mpg and 50 mpg sounds substantial, but is actually less than meets the eye. I only recently realized this from a newsletter post from Cartelligent (search for newsletter on their website), in which it is pointed out that the fuel consumption gain is not linear with mpg. For example, if you drive a Hummer that gets 10 mpg, you would use 10 gallons of gas to drive 100 miles. If you drove, say, a midsize sedan at 20 mpg, you would use 5 gallons of gas to go the same distance, for a substantial savings of 5 gallons of gas. Similarly, the 2010 Honda Insight at 40 mpg would use 2.5 gallons of gas, while the 2010 Prius at 50 mpg would use 2 gallons over the same 100 miles. This is a gain of only 0.5 gallons of gas, even though the improvement in fuel efficiency from 40 to 50 mpg "seems" the same as an improvement from 10 to 20 mpg. So, while it's important to maximize fuel economy, the gains are substantially less the higher your mpg ratings go.

In addition, Hondas are generally more fun to drive than comparable Toyotas (not that Toyotas aren't great vehicles). I especially enjoyed the comments from Dan Neil, a reviewer of the Insight for the LA Times (1/16/2009): "Despite all the electronic nannying ... the Insight has one thing over the current Prius: The Insight is actually pretty fun to drive. ... It has the directness and agility and tossable nature that most Hondas have. It's awake at the wheel. It's not quick or fast, but it's well-planted, willing, and buttoned to the road. The Prius drives like a microwave oven."

Jack Richards

March 21, 2009 12:17 AM

My wife owns a 2006 Prius. I own a 2007 Honda Civic Hybrid. Here's our take after 40K on the Prius and 20K on the Civic:
Mileage...Prius beats the Civic Hybrid Design Hands Down (50+ vs. 40Maybe) We hope the Insight would be closer to the original 2000 Model Insight, but it doesn't sound like it will.

Handling...The Civic wins here. There is a better Sedan feel and traction. Will the Insight be more like the Civic or the marginal Prius?

Best Value...It depends...for long trips of uneven terrain, we like the Civic. For everyday 14 miles to Seattle commutes, the Prius. Maybe someone will come out with a model that combines the best of both, but it doesn't sound like it will be the new Insight.

James Beren

March 21, 2009 10:50 AM

Mr. Welch, I think you are giving the Insight so little credit. I for one love our planet but I also love my wallet. I can not, for the life of me, buy the Prius because I think it is very expensive for what it is. I really do not care much about when the electric engine kicks in yada yada yada. All I know is that as a car (hybrid or non-hybrid) the insight delivers pretty darn good mileage and it's not too expensive.

Based on the Insight's sales experience in Japan during its first few weeks, I think it will do just fine in the US.

Mark

March 21, 2009 8:35 PM

The Honda isn't nearly as stupid looking as a Prius. The frond end on the prius is terrible. Sorry, it's a pretty sad design.

A. Z. K. Sanders

March 21, 2009 10:25 PM

If the Insight is based on the same philosophy as the Prius, it is not intended for any substantial amount of all-electric driving. For this you need the future GM Volt which has a battery large enough to go 40 miles all-electric. This design consideration was based on the statistic that 80% of all US driving is at the rate of 40 miles daily or less.

This has several important consequences. For the individual, if part of the 80%, his miles per gallon of gasoline is INFINITE. (He uses no gasoline at all.) For the nation, it pretty much ends our dependence on unreliable, ever-more-costly foreign oil since the balance can be supplied domestically. Also it ends sending overseas up to a trillion dollars yearly (depending on the price of oil) which makes oil exporting countries richer and makes us poorer by that amount.

Hybrid cars like the Prius and Insight have only enough battery capacity to improve gas mileage to 40 to 50 mpg by making possible savings from features like regenerative braking, etc. Nothing to sneeze at, but nothing like INFINITE.

A. Z. K. Sanders

March 21, 2009 10:25 PM

If the Insight is based on the same philosophy as the Prius, it is not intended for any substantial amount of all-electric driving. For this you need the future GM Volt which has a battery large enough to go 40 miles all-electric. This design consideration was based on the statistic that 80% of all US driving is at the rate of 40 miles daily or less.

This has several important consequences. For the individual, if part of the 80%, his miles per gallon of gasoline is INFINITE. (He uses no gasoline at all.) For the nation, it pretty much ends our dependence on unreliable, ever-more-costly foreign oil since the balance can be supplied domestically. Also it ends sending overseas up to a trillion dollars yearly (depending on the price of oil) which makes oil exporting countries richer and makes us poorer by that amount.

Hybrid cars like the Prius and Insight have only enough battery capacity to improve gas mileage to 40 to 50 mpg by making possible savings from features like regenerative braking, etc. Nothing to sneeze at, but nothing like INFINITE.

Jim Bailey

March 22, 2009 6:43 AM

I've driven the Prius T3 Sprint for a year, 17k miles through a very cold Scottish winter. I liked the car's core functionality. The engine/hybrid system was excellent and saved me a signficant amount on petrol. I would agree that handling could be slightly "interesting", the A/C would destroy performance but the thing that really upset me was the build quality on the the non core components. In the UK the T3 costs circa £22k. Equivalent of a base model Series 5 BMW.

The Prius internal and external fascias are just not in that league (Cost of the hybrid system?). In a year I've had to replace the front and rear underpanels which just clip on like a push together model. The internal fascias just popped off a couple of times. That's not a problem but it does undermine driver confidence and value perception.

The Insight II was released in the UK yesterday. Unintentionally I ended up test driving it. Yes - its smaller inside, but its quieter, it holds the road more solidly, its much more conventional than the Prius (a fact that distresses other drivers when they have to drive the Prius)

The optional Econ mode makes a real difference to the driving and tools like the coaching mode do much more to educate the driver about how to improve their style than the pages of system configurations do on the Prius.

Overall my impression was this is significantly better (although I really think it needs a spare wheel) than the Prius and like for like its £5k cheaper.

I bought one, I had said earlier that day there was no way I'd buy anything else but a Prius, but the whole Insight drive is much more refined.

Yourcast

March 22, 2009 5:04 PM

I just can'r wait to get my hands on the new Insight.

Albert Forsyth

March 22, 2009 8:29 PM

So, how much IS Toyota paying you?

mr

March 23, 2009 9:44 AM

"Even though I live less than 2 miles from work...I live in Los Angeles"

Ever think about commuting by bike? Or even walking?!

gnatman

March 24, 2009 9:23 AM

Insight cost $20K, Prius cost $23K for a $3000 difference. How many miles will it take for the two vehicles to have equal ownership costs? Answer - at $2.00 cost of gas = 300,000 miles
Prior to that point the Insight will be cheaper, after the Prius.

Nuf sed

Joannah

March 25, 2009 2:11 AM

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Joannah

Lam

March 25, 2009 8:48 AM

You as well as the rest of the media keep saying the new Insight is a copycat Prius in design. Have you looked at the outgoing Insight? It's the same shape, including that rear window on the lift up rear hatch. In fact, Honda's had that rear window in a previous car way before the Insight. It was called the Honda CR-X.

F Kovalak

March 25, 2009 9:48 AM

I hope the new Honda Insight sells well. I plan to drive one someday. Competition is good for consumers. We have had a Toyota Prius for 3 1/2 years and have over 50,000 miles on it and never had any maintenance problems. It averages 50 MPG except during the cold winter months and then it averages 47 MPG. My wife and I both love to drive it and love the hatch-back feature. With all the money I saved on gasoline during this period, I was able to keep my 2001 Toyota Avalon as well as my 13-year old Toyota Landcruiser which only averages 15 MPG for going fishing and hunting.

F Kovalak

March 25, 2009 9:48 AM

I hope the new Honda Insight sells well. I plan to drive one someday. Competition is good for consumers. We have had a Toyota Prius for 3 1/2 years and have over 50,000 miles on it and never had any maintenance problems. It averages 50 MPG except during the cold winter months and then it averages 47 MPG. My wife and I both love to drive it and love the hatch-back feature. With all the money I saved on gasoline during this period, I was able to keep my 2001 Toyota Avalon as well as my 13-year old Toyota Landcruiser which only averages 15 MPG for going fishing and hunting.

FairMed

March 25, 2009 11:29 AM

Just what are we going to do with all those used batteries?? I put the new California econ-bulbs in my house, only to learn if I break one, I have to call 911 for hazmat to come over to remove the mercury from my floors/carpets (est. cost $5,000 each time). Break 4 bulbs & I could buy either one; Prius or Insight...

Tim Stone

March 26, 2009 11:15 AM

The Prius doesnt hold a flame to the new honda insight. First of all I dont even know why you call that space bubble a car, the prius is one of the most confusing cars i have ever seen. Try explaining to a 60 or 70 year old person how to drive one. Second of all no on mentioned the econ button on the insight. The epa wont let honda use that when putting the mpg on the sticker. With the eco button on customers are averaging 65 mpg which is way better then the prius and for a much better sticker price. Not to mention you can still qualify for the tax break (unlike toyota who has used theres up). Also it looks drives and feels like a car!!!!No instructions needed just turn the key and go. Toyota went to far with there space buggy 3 motors and a solor panal on the sunroof for the 2010 models? Come on whats that solar panal gonna look like after a new england winter? The prius is a great car if you like looking like looking like a futuristic tard who payed too much for his car.

The Mad Hedge Fund Trader, San Francisco, CA

March 27, 2009 12:06 PM

Toyota launched its Prius 2010 model today, to much fanfare. The 3G model, which boosts gas mileage from 46 to 50 mpg, carries solar panels on the roof, and offers more elegant styling, will cost around $23,000, stripped down. To date, the Japanese car maker has sold one million of the snub nosed, high backed vehicles, which account for 50% of the global hybrid market. Toyota hopes this 3G model will fight off competition from Honda’s Insight and the Ford Fusion, but it won’t be easy. Hybrid sales fell 31% in 2008, and the US car market is now thought to be running at an 8.8 million run rate, down precipitously from the 19 million peak. This will be the last Prius model before Toyota brings out its plug in version next year, which will run on batteries only for the first 40 miles of every trip. A 3G win would give Toyota’s US traded ADR’s, which have recently plunged from $138 to $58, some much needed life support.

Matt

March 27, 2009 10:52 PM

Tim, I imagine the solar panel will look like a solar panel regardless of winter weather. Do you know anything about solar technology?
I just test drove and was quoted on a 2010 insight and the grand total was $24,486 after taxes and dealer fees for the EX Insight. I then went to a Toyota dealership and for a 2009 Prius, was quoted only $400 more for an out the door.
The insight is tiny inside, think small 2-door coupe size in the front and back. I'm 6'3" and had less then 1" of headroom in the front, In the Prius I had nearly 3" headroom in the back seat.
Also the Prius drives like any other car if you dont care about maximizing your MPG, just like the Prius does.

Rob

March 30, 2009 12:44 PM

Well I have been driving a rental 2009 Prius for the past few days and I must say that I like the car. Obviously it has made me do more research on it and find this blog. In reading the comments here, it almost reminds me of the old Ford vs Chevy arguements.

I drove the car a total of 200 miles so far and have averaged 50.2 mpg. I have never heard of the "glide" technique until reading a website (hybridcars.com) this morning. Some people were consistantly getting 70mpg or more, and one of them claiming 100mpg. Of course when I read about that the image of grandma driving at 25 mph down the road comes to mind. The title was Better Gas Milage In A Toyota Prius. You Prius owners owe it to yourself to check it out.

I work 37 miles round trip, and the thought of running a vehicle on pure electric power for the first 40 miles is very appealing to me.

Reading an article from the New York Times, the article states that ther will be a Prius 3, 4, and 5. If the current 2010 model is in the range of 25,000 those other models will be VERY steep for me. (To include radar cruise control, self parallel parking, pre collision braking, etc.)That would mean prices over 30.000??? Who wants to pay that much for a Hybrid?

Basically for me it comes down to milage and how far I can stretch my dollar to get me to where I need to go. The Prius in not gutless nor is it a horrible car to drive. If I had one I would certainly find the best ways to consistantly achieve the best mpg I could get...after all isn't that what these cars are all about?

honda600

May 16, 2009 1:51 PM

for those of you waiting for the VOLT,
you have a long wait!(may never happen)
remember that you need HEAT when its cold.You also need A/C when its hot.
They both suck up a LOT of energy.
My prius averages 47 miles to a gal.
It only has one little belt for the waterpump that i have to replace soon.
I have 94k and had NO PROBLEM.
The next gen has NO belts to service (electric waterpump).
I LOVE MY PRIUS!!!!!!!!!!!
ED

Tony Montana

May 21, 2009 11:13 PM

I hate it when British people say "Whilst."

ok ... prius is pretty good

June 12, 2009 9:59 PM

The Insight LX doesn't have stability control but the EX does. I drive a car with out stability control & would not ever buy another car without stability control. The Prius II has stability control standard. The Honda charges extra for a cargo cover. The prius has the cargo cover included in the base package. The Insight EX with a cargo cover & floor mats comes to $22,309 destination and handling. The Prius II with floor mats comes to $22,950 after destination and handling. I have been following the Insight for about 2.5 years. Spy shots, rumors, facts, reviews & test drove one the day it was released in the USA. I really liked it the first time I drove it because I was driving a car I had been waiting for for a long time! Not to mention that it put Toyota in a position to think carefully about what price the 3rd gen Prius was going to be sold at. I was never a fan of Toyota & the 2nd gen Prius was a joke. I could not understand how Toyota had sold so many of these cars. If Honda would have come out with the Insight at the same time as the 2nd gen Prius Honda would be # 1. The Insight is superior to the older Prius. But the difference in the 2 cars price with similar features is not a lot ... at least I don't think it is. Test drive the 3rd gen Prius before you buy an Insight. You will be amazed at the new Prius! I was so impressed I placed an order for a 2010 Prius after driving it for 20 minutes. I am not a fan of the hybrid shape but the 2010 Prius is undeniably amazing.

Lady

September 25, 2009 10:14 PM

On the annoyances of Brits, there are many, where shall we begin?

DW

September 29, 2009 8:16 PM

I disagree with the notion that "Honda created the same silhouette" as the Prius. The original Prius was built on an Echo platform, however, Toyota decided to change the design to mimic the original Insight, which Honda released in 1999. In fact, Toyota created the same silhouette of the Insight five years ago when they redesigned the Prius... but with one major/obvious flaw, as Mark points out "The front end on the prius is terrible...it's a pretty sad design."

Dukie

March 27, 2010 6:55 AM

Guys,
I don't own either of Prius nor Insight, I'm looking to get one but have no idea which one i should get, I'm going back and forth on this, doing lots of research but it's very much 50/50. Can anyone of you give me an non-bias opinion.
I live in the upper mid west, so the winter is extremely cold. Between work and taking the kids to extra curriculum after school, I drive around 18k miles a year.
Thanks.

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Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Our man in Detroit David Welch, brings keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business.

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