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2012 Toyota Prius C Vs 2012 Honda Insight: Sub-$20K Hybrids Compared

 
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2012 Honda Insight EX with Navigation

2012 Honda Insight EX with Navigation

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If you're in the market for a brand new hybrid but want to save a few pennies on purchase price, you're really limited to two vehicles.

One is the 2012 Honda Insight, familiar not just for its Prius-like profile but also having been on sale for several years now. The other is the 2012 Toyota Prius c, taking everything the Prius badge stands for and making it smaller and cheaper.

But which of the two should you buy? The externally larger Insight, or the new kid on the block?

Read our full reviews of the 2012 Toyota Prius c and 2012 Honda Insight.

Economy

There are two sides to the gas mileage story. In the first, the new Prius c comes out on top.

It matches its bigger Prius brother with a 50 mpg combined gas mileage figure. At 53 mpg in the city, it's even better, though the smaller engine and squat body work against it on the freeway, where it gets a--still impressive--46 mpg.

The older Insight, despite a recent freshen-up, makes only 42 mpg combined in EPA testing, with 41 city and 44 highway, the closest it gets to the Prius c. If you do 15,000 miles per year with a 45/55 highway/city split, and pay an average of $3.75 a gallon for gas, the Prius c will cost you $200 per year less in gas. It'll pollute less, too.

2012 Toyota Prius C

2012 Toyota Prius C

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Or at least, that's the theory. Interestingly, buyers inputting their own gas mileage figures in the EPA's fueleconomy.gov website are averaging 55.6 mpg from the Insight, with a mix of highway and city driving.

Prius c drivers aren't far behind, averaging over 51 mpg, though the most impressive number comes from one driver in Florida, who is averaging 65 mpg in entirely stop-go driving. The moral here? Your mileage may vary, but both cars are capable of figures far in excess of EPA numbers, in the right conditions.

Features

Styling is quite subjective, but each car has its merits. The Insight either benefits or suffers from a stereotypical "hybrid shape". Honda engineers have clearly came to the same aerodynamic conclusions as their Toyota counterparts, as far as slipping passengers and their luggage through the air is concerned.

The Prius c, similar in size to the Toyota Yaris, is less overtly a hybrid than the Honda, though it does share a few Prius family cues. Inside, both cars look quite high-tech, befitting the technology under the hood.

2012 Honda Insight EX with Navigation

2012 Honda Insight EX with Navigation

Enlarge Photo

You may expect the Prius c to be more cramped than the Insight thanks to its smaller body, but its interior volume is slightly larger and the trunk space is a little greater too. Each is a reasonably comfortable place to spend time, though taller rear-seat passengers in the Insight may struggle for head room. You can thank the sloped roof for that.

Driving

Each is more fun to drive than its larger counterpart--the Prius c more nimble than its Prius brother, and the Insight is more fun to fling around than the larger Civic Hybrid--no doubt thanks to underpinnings shared with the Fit and CR-Z.

Both also ride pretty well, and the only time either car becomes a little too noisy is under heavy acceleration, when the continuously-variable transmission of each car allows the revs to remain high until you back off. Neither breaks the 100-horsepower mark, but if you can put up with the noise each has enough shove for highway on-ramps.

2012 Toyota Prius C

2012 Toyota Prius C

Enlarge Photo

Conclusion

Which should you buy?

Firstly, we'd advise test-driving both vehicles. The Prius c seems to sit well with many, but we've seen a mixture of "love it" and "hate it" comments on the Insight.

There's no doubt that each is capable of impressive economy figures, though if you do plenty of city driving you might find the Prius c's smaller exterior size and electric-only running returns higher MPG than the mild-hybrid Honda.

If budget is truly a concern, it's worth noting that at $18,500, the base Insight is cheaper to buy than the $19,900 base Prius c. The difference would comfortably cover a year's gas in either car.

And driven right, each car is potentially even greener than the EPA numbers suggest.

+++++++++++

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Comments (6)
  1. I've read consumer complaints about excessive noise in the Insight. When I got into one and shut the door, it sounded like a tin can. I guess there's a lack of sound deadening materials to keep weight down. Oh well.......
     
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  2. If you live in hot climates, the winner is the Prius c hands-down. Prius c uses an electrically-driven air-conditioning unit, which means the A/C still runs even if the gasoline engine is shut off (such as at a stop light).

    The Insight A/C is driven by the gasoline engine. So if the gas engine is stopped when the car isn't moving, you get no A/C.
     
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  3. While it is true the AC shuts off with the engine, there's a simple fix. You just don't use the econ button and the car won't shut off at red lights (BTW EPA numbers are given without use of econ mode). I bought a 2012 Insight several months ago and have no problem beating the 100 degree New Orleans heat. I've also never had a problem with excessive noise and as far as materials used, it feels very comparable to the Altima it replaced. But to each his own, I know many on here will swear on the Prius until the day they die. Also Consumer Reports called the Prius c "a cheap car with an expensive drivetraun".
     
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  4. At similar trim levels, the "cheap car with an expensive drivetrain" costs about $300 more than the Insight, which is a cheap car with a cheap drivetrain (and worse fuel economy).

    I think just $300 more for an "expensive drivetrain" and better fuel economy is a great deal. :-)
     
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  5. I test drove both, I preferred the Insight. Much better driving experience overall, quite responsive and I liked the interior better, and the cabin noise was much quieter too. The road noise is pretty in the Prius C, I'm getting an average of 50mpg.
     
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  6. One reason the Insight sales are so low is Honda makes no effort to sell this car. You never see it in the showroom, there are no ads on tv or newspapers, and it doesn't appear in any of their sales promotions. On a dealer's lot there are scads of every other model Honda but maybe two or three Insights somewhere. Another reason the Insight's sales are so low is they have a ridiculous choice of colors. Except for the white and silver, most are boring shades of black. Where are those easy to see pastels of bygone days?
     
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