News Column

Go and Save Green with Either Prius or Insight

March 14, 2011

Russ Heaps


Determined to show your green beyond St. Patrick's Day? You might consider two fuelsipping hybrids that let you go green without spending a lot of it: the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius.

It shouldn't take getting rapped over the head with a shillelagh to convince you that gasoline prices are on the rise again. As pump prices skyrocket, cars that manage to eek out 40 miles per gallon or more in city driving will look better and better.

Regardless of the effects on global climate change, better fuel economy makes sense as prices at the pump head northward. As a savvy consumer, you want to maximize fuel efficiency while minimizing the cost of achieving it.

The $18,950 base Insight and the $22,410 Prius I do just that.

Although cleaner exhaust is a byproduct of the fuel-stingy propulsion systems on these cars, when the goal is saving you some green, fuel economy is the key. The EPA estimates the Prius will deliver 51 mpg in the city and 48 mpg on the highway, with 50 mpg in combined driving. It further estimates that the total cost of fuel for driving 15,000 miles in a year to be $927. Compare that to $1,784 for a four-cylinder Camry.

Doing a bit of math reveals the base Insight costs about $3,500 less than the Prius I to drive out of the showroom. Somewhat offsetting that difference in stickers is less robust savings at the pump. The EPA estimates the Insight's numbers at 40 mpg in the city and 43 mpg on the highway, for 41 mpg combined. This translates into a year's worth of fuel costing $1,131 compared to the four-cylinder Accord at $1,784.

One pricing drawback for both these hybrids is that increasing standard factory content requires making a significant step up the cost ladder to the next trim level.

For example, cruise control isn't included in the base price of either car, nor is it available as an option.

Adding cruise control requires spending another $1,400 to step up to the Prius II, and $1,700 to move up from the base Insight to the LX. Both base versions, however, deliver the same fuel economy as their more expensive trims, so they offer the same high-level of green for the least green.

Both are four-door hatchbacks and share an impressive list of standard features, such as full power accessories, automatic climate control, trip computer, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, height-adjustable driver's seat, 60/40 split-folding rear-seat back, six air bags, four-wheel antilock brakes, stability control, traction control, electronic brake force distribution, emergency braking assist and an audio system with CD player and auxiliary audio input jack. With the Prius I, the audio system includes four speakers, while the base Insight comes with two.

Colluding to power the front wheels of these cars are a gasoline engine and electric motor.

In the Prius, two electric motors work in tandem with its 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine to deliver a combined 134 horsepower. A 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motor in the Insight work together to generate 98 horsepower.

Both rely on a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) to usher output to the wheels. Although the hybrid system in the Prius makes more horsepower, the Insight's generates more torque. Because torque is what actually launches a car, most drivers won't notice much difference in performance, particularly in stop-and-go city driving.

By a couple of inches in each direction, the Prius is longer, wider and taller than Insight. All of the length advantage of the Prius winds up in extra rear-seat legroom, where it betters Insight's 33.5 inches by 2.5 inches.

Prius has significantly better cargo space, but is more than 300 pounds heavier than Insight. Both hatchbacks, though, have plenty of space for the driver and front-seat passenger.

Incorporating their advanced technology into their interior design, the instrument panels are awash in subdued lighting and digital readouts.

Insight claims the more traditional layout. Generally all of the components are where you expect them to be.

Prius, on the other hand, locates key driver information, such as miles per hour, in a display at the center-top of the instrument panel.

Attempting to hold down costs, Honda and Toyota haven't invested a lot of green in the cabin materials. Plastic abounds. Prius offers more storage solutions with additional cubbies. Included in its higher sales price, Prius has steering wheel-mounted, redundant audio controls.

Neither of these cars is terribly exciting to drive, but fun to drive isn't why anyone buys them. Both deliver decent ride quality based on a front wheel independent suspension with MacPherson struts and a torsion beam rear setup. A slightly more taut suspension gives the handling edge to the Insight, but most drivers of these cars won't notice or care.

You don't need the luck of the Irish to save some cash on fuel. If what you're looking for is a conveyance to get you from one place to another with a minimum of gasoline, Insight and Prius fill the bill. They're comfortable, efficient and, best of all, green.

Source: Copyright (c) 2011, New Haven Register, Conn.

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