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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.