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The Daily Drivers | By Peter Couture and Lyra Solochek, Times staff

The Daily Drivers: Honda Insight, Toyota Prius take different approaches to being green

The bottom line: Honda says it isn't going head-to-head with the Prius, but aiming for buyers at a lower price point (its base price is $2,200 less than that of Toyota). Prius may be for gadget lovers who like all the bells and whistles. The Insight may be for conventional drivers who appreciate simplicity. Either way, you're going green — and not with envy.

The introduction of the 2010 Honda Insight has fueled much hype in the automotive media about a hybrid showdown with Toyota's Prius, which has had the playing field pretty much to itself. We don't see it that way. These cars may look alike, but they take fundamentally different approaches to going green.

Appearance: Time for a double-take. The cars, with their sleek air-cutting front ends and high-backed hatches, resemble each other. Some have criticized Honda, saying it copied the Prius, but really, aerodynamics drive the design. The third-generation Prius has updated its look with arrowheadlike headlights that cut into the hood and integrated foglights. Peter found it to be a more aggressive look, while Lyra thought it was cute. Go figure. The Prius' tail lamps are LED, with an angular sweep at the top that follows the body line. The Insight, with its familiar three-bar Honda grille, looks more like a hatchback version of the Civic. Peter found it a bit sleeker than the Prius.

Performance: Let's get right to the magic numbers. The Prius gets 51 mpg in the city and 48 on the highway compared with the Insight's 40/43. Why such a difference? The Insight is a "mild" hybrid that uses Honda's Integrated Motor Assist system. The electric motor helps the gas engine — which shuts off when you come to a stop — when you need more oomph, such as merging into traffic. In the Prius, the electric motor powers the car up to 25 mph. The Prius also has a power button on the console for when you need extra boost. Both cars accelerate moderately, and handle and corner well with responsive steering.

Interior: Toyota takes a cockpit approach. The controls surround you, and the armrest is integrated with the console. The digital gauges are centered high on the dash instead of in front of the driver. Honda is more minimalist. The gauges are simple and clear. The best is the ECO Assist display that borders the speedometer and glows green when you drive efficiently and blue for when you don't. The digital displays in the Prius, such as the "energy monitor" with its iconic car, are fun to look at, but Peter was never quite sure what to do with the information. The Prius also has an unconventional shifter and a push button for "park," which Lyra found awkward. We both liked the Prius' interior details, even the dash plastic, and seat fabrics are textured. And the center console has a two-tiered design with a lower shelf to hold your gadgets. The glove box also has two compartments. Still, the Insight doesn't suffer in comparison. Peter liked the thick, comfortable steering wheel, and we both liked the paddle shifters. One thing both have in common is a hatchback with a horizontal window bar that splits your view. It's distracting. (Our spouses referred to it as a "deal-breaker.") Peter found generous headroom up front in both cars. The rear, not so much. You pay a price for aerodynamics.

The bottom line: Honda says it isn't going head-to-head with the Prius, but aiming for buyers at a lower price point (its base price is $2,200 less than that of Toyota). The Prius may be for gadget lovers who like all the bells and whistles. The Insight may be for conventional drivers who appreciate simplicity. Either way, you're going green — and not with envy.

2010 Honda Insight EX

Price: $19,800 base, $23,100 as tested (not including destination charge)

Powertrain: 1.3-liter SOHC eight-valve i-VTEC four-

cylinder with Integrated Motor Assist

Horsepower combined: 98

Torque: 123 pound-feet

Curb weight: 2,734 pounds

Dimensions in inches:

Wheelbase, 100.4; length, 172.3; width, 66.7

Fuel economy: 40 miles per gallon city, 43 mpg highway

Safety features: Air bags, vehicle stability assist, electronic brake distribution

Options worth considering: Navigation, Bluetooth

Web site: automobiles.honda.com/insight-hybrid

2010 Toyota

Prius II

Price: $22,000 base, $22,788 as tested (not including destination charge)

Powertrain: 1.8-liter four-cylinder DOHC 16-valve VVT-i with Hybrid Synergy Drive System.

Horsepower combined: 134

Torque: 153 pound-feet

Curb weight: 3,042 pounds

Dimensions in inches:

Wheelbase, 106.3; length, 175.6; width, 68.7

Fuel economy: 51 miles per gallon city, 48 mpg highway.

Safety features: Vehicle stability control, air bags (including driver knee), antilock brakes.

Options worth considering: Solar-powered ventilation system, navigation

Web site: www.toyota.com/prius-hybrid

The Daily Drivers: Honda Insight, Toyota Prius take different approaches to being green 08/21/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 27, 2009 10:43am]
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