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by Tim Beissmann

Honda Insight VTi-L vs Toyota Prius

Model overview

  • Honda Insight VTi-L – $33,490
  • Toyota Prius – $39,900

Around 11 years after the global launch of the first generation Honda Insight, the all-new second generation has arrived in Australia. The two-variant range includes the entry-level VTi for $29,990, and the top-spec VTi-L at $33,490. The sharp pricing makes it by far the most affordable driveaway hybrid on the market, undercutting the base model Toyota Prius by $9910 and $6410 respectively.

The third-generation Prius was introduced to Australia July 2009. Sales have halved since 2008, due largely to the introduction of the more affordable locally built Camry Hybrid in January. Like the Insight, the Prius range features the entry-level model and the range-topping i-Tech, which starts at $53,500.


Despite the price difference, Toyota’s current 2.9 percent financing offer – which applies to vehicles purchased and delivered before January 31 (see below for a breakdown) – means, in certain circumstances, the Prius can be the more affordable choice from a total cost perspective.

Engine and performance

Honda Insight VTi-L Toyota Prius
Engine 1339cc SOHC inline four-cylinder 1798cc DOHC inline four-cylinder
Hybrid system Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) AC synchronous permanent magnet electric motor
High-voltage battery Nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) – 100.8 volts Nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) – 201.6 volts
Maximum power 72kW @ 5800rpm 100kW @ 5200rpm
Maximum torque 167Nm @ 1000-1700rpm 142Nm @ 4000rpm
Transmission Continuously variable transmission Continuously variable transmission
Acceleration 0-100km/h Not provided 10.4 seconds

Although the two vehicles are called hybrids, there are some key differences under the bonnets and floors of both cars. The Insight’s hybrid system is referred to as a ‘parallel hybrid’ system. This means the petrol engine is used as the main power source to drive the car. The hybrid system in the Prius is known as a ‘series parallel hybrid’ or ‘combined hybrid’ system. It features two electric motors that can operate independently of each other. Honda’s IMA is smaller, lighter and cheaper than Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system, but is less efficient.

At the heart of the Insight’s powertrain is a lightweight, low-friction 1.3-litre i-VTEC engine. The 10kW electric motor assists acceleration and cruising at low-to-mid vehicle speeds, but unlike the Prius, the Insight can never be solely powered by the electric motor. The motor is located between the engine and CVT, and acts as a generator during braking. The ‘automatic idle stop’ function autonomously stops and restarts the engine when the vehicle comes to a complete stop. The transmission also features an ‘L mode’ setting to deliver more power when travelling uphill and maximise engine braking on descent.

In the Prius, the first electric motor acts as a starter motor and a generator, allowing it to use surplus petrol engine energy to recharge its battery. The second, 60kW electric motor acts as the drive motor and a generator during braking.

The Prius can be driven in three modes: EV, ECO and Power. In EV mode, it can operate for between one and two kilometres (depending on the level of charge available) at speeds of up to 50km/h without assistance from the petrol engine. In ECO mode, the throttle is managed and the air-conditioning is strictly controlled to optimise fuel economy. Power mode provides the vehicle’s maximum acceleration response.

Fuel consumption and emissions

Honda Insight VTi-L Toyota Prius
Fuel tank capacity 40 litres 45 litres
Theoretical range (based on combined cycle fuel consumption) 870km 1154km
Fuel type Unleaded (91RN) Premium Unleaded (95RN)
Combined cycle fuel consumption 4.6 litres/100km 3.9 litres/100km
Urban fuel consumption 4.9 litres/100km 3.9 litres/100km
Extra urban fuel consumption 4.5 litres/100km 3.7 litres/100km
Carbon dioxide emissions 109g/km 89g/km

When it comes to fuel economy and emissions, the Prius wins hands down. Its combined cycle fuel consumption is better than any other petrol-fueled car in the country, and is narrowly beaten by only a couple of much smaller, diesel-powered hatches. Its CO2 emissions are unmatched across the market.

At 4.6 litres/100km, the Insight is almost matched for economy by the similarly sized Hyundai i30 SX CRDi diesel manual, which achieves 4.7 litres/100km combined. The Hyundai is also considerably cheaper, starting at just $22,890, and as such is a serious contender for those focused on saving fuel. But if diesel is out of the equation, the Prius and the Civic Hybrid are the only petrol-powered vehicles to match or better it.

Before purchasing a new vehicle, it is important to think about the kinds of conditions you drive in. If you do mostly highway kilometres, the efficiency of a hybrid will be similar to a standard petrol- or diesel-powered vehicle. The real advantages come in city traffic, where systems like brake regeneration and engine shut-off are used to a greater degree and have a more significant impact on efficiency.

The Honda features an ‘ECON’ button, which optimises the vehicle’s fuel efficiency. When economy mode is selected: power and torque are capped, the CVT shifts in a smoother pattern, throttle control is modified, more energy is captured from regenerative braking and the air-conditioning system operates in a more efficient mode.

The Insight also includes ‘Eco Assist’, which helps the driver contribute to further efficiency gains. To help motivate drivers on each trip, the Insight’s Multi Info Display grows animated trees and flowers. If the driver shows progress, the trees grow more leaves, but if the efficiency of their driving decreases, the trees become less healthy. The speedometer display also strobes from dark blue to green depending on the driver’s smoothness and efficiency.

Like the Insight, the Toyota features an ECO indicator to help drivers achieve the lowest possible fuel consumption. The ECO area illuminates when energy consumption is low, and gives a guide to the amount of throttle required for optimum economy. Conversely, the Power area indicates when energy consumption is high and the hybrid system is under high load. Numerous instant and progressive fuel consumption measures are displayed, along with a comprehensive display of the hybrid system’s energy use status.

 

Exterior and dimensions

Honda Insight VTi-L Toyota Prius
Length 4405mm 4460mm
Width 1695mm 1745mm
Height 1435mm 1490mm
Weight 1215kg 1370kg

The Prius is 55mm longer, 50mm wider and 55mm taller than the Insight, and has a 150mm longer wheelbase. Given the size difference, the Prius is not surprisingly the heavier of the two by 155kg. The Prius boasts a larger luggage capacity (446 litres vs 408 litres), and both feature 60/40 split fold rear seats to create even more rear storage space.

The Prius comes standard with 15in alloy wheels but can be optioned with a package that includes 17in alloys, satellite navigation, a seven-inch display screen and Intelligent Parking Assist for $5600. The Insight VTi-L comes with 16in alloy wheels. Both have a space-saver spare wheel and LED taillights. The Insight features automatic rain-sensing windscreen wipers and dusk-sensing headlights, while the Prius’ are manually controlled.

Interior and equipment

The Prius includes a number of features designed to keep your eyes on the road, including Touch Tracer Display, which relocates all the usual dashboard/audio/air-conditioning/phone controls to the steering wheel, and Head Up Display, which projects vehicle speed and hybrid system information onto the windscreen. The Prius’ audio system gets eight speakers and Bluetooth phone connectivity but a misses out on a standard USB port. Both vehicles have keyless entry and the Prius adds keyless start functionality.

The Honda has its own two-tier instrument panel, with the vehicle speed located closer to the driver’s eye line. The Insight’s audio system has just six speakers but includes USB and Bluetooth phone connectivity, as well as a speed-sensitive volume control and search-by-genre radio. The VTi-L’s standard satellite navigation system is voice-activated and incorporates a traffic information system. The Insight’s steering wheel buttons are simpler than the Prius’, controlling audio and cruise settings only. ‘Gear’-selecting paddle shifters behind the steering wheel add a sporting flavour to the Insight’s cockpit.

 

Safety

Both vehicles were awarded five stars in Euro NCAP crash testing this year. The Prius scored 35.24 out of 37, while the Insight managed a near-perfect 36.39 – making it the highest scoring small car available in Australia according to ANCAP.

Both are fitted with electronic stability and traction control, ABS with EBD and brake assist, and cater for child safety seats in all three second-row positions. Both are equipped with front, side and curtain airbags, although the Prius also comes with a driver’s knee airbag, taking its airbag total to seven.

The base model Prius misses out on the i-Tech’s driver assist safety features like Dynamic Radar Cruise Control System and Pre-Collision Safety System. Intelligent Parking Assist, which steers the vehicle into parallel and perpendicular parking spaces, is optional (the Insight VTi-L includes rear parking sensors and is available with a reversing camera). The Prius also comes standard with emergency flashing brake lights, which are activated under hard braking to alert drivers following behind.

Warranty, servicing and finance

Honda Insight VTi-L Toyota Prius
Vehicle warranty Three years/100,000km Three years/100,000km
Battery warranty Eight years/Unlimited km Eight years/160,000km
Service intervals Six months/10,000km Six months/10,000km
Manufacturer finance 60 months at 8.9 percent 48 months at 2.9 percent

Based on the manufacturer’s financing plans with a 20 percent balloon payment at the end of the contract:

Prius: 47 monthly repayments of $732.72 and a final balloon payment of $7980. Total cost of the vehicle is $42,417, or $2517 more than the manufacturer’s list price.

Insight: 59 monthly repayments of $693.57 and a final balloon payment of $6698. Total cost of the vehicle is $47,618, or $14,128 more than the manufacturer’s list price.

Therefore, financed according to the current offers from the manufacturers, the Insight would end up costing $5201 more than the Prius at the end of the contract, despite its starting price being $6410 less than the Toyota. This effectively represents an $11,611 turn-around.

Honda Insight Review
Toyota Prius Review

Conclusion

The 2011 Honda Insight VTi-L is the car for you if:

  • You want a safe compact car with an impressive standard features list
  • You don’t have a burning desire to drive in fully electric mode
  • You think you’ll get a kick out of driving efficiently and growing digital dashboard trees
  • You want to pay for the vehicle now and are not considering financing it

The 2011 Toyota Prius is the car for you if:

  • You have fuel efficiency and low emissions among your top priorities
  • You would prefer a little extra space and performance
  • You can live without satellite navigation, a USB port and other practical gadgets
  • You are planning to finance it



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