Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

The 2010 Toyota Prius is tops in fuel economy. But what if that's not your only motivating factor? Maybe the 2010 Honda Insight or the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid's what you're looking for. But which is better? Let's find out.

Seriously, we've driven all three and the new Prius makes these two cars look bad when it comes to fuel economy. Now a mid-size, it rivals the Fusion for space, practicality and driving dynamics, and starting at $21,000 it even gets close to the Insight on price. It does this all while boasting a 50 MPG combined fuel efficiency figure, something both its two main competitors can't get anywhere near. Having said that, we realize not everyone wants to risk looking like a whiny eco-celeb just to save some money on gas. So what about the other two choices? Let's find out. Yes friends, it's time for the Hybrid Car Wars.

As with our Muscle Car Wars comparison last week, we'll keep the game simple — add up the stars and the car at the end wins. Let's play.

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

Exterior Design


Insight: ***
Captures mainstream America's idea of a "hybrid" in a compact, appealing, well-detailed package. Unfortunately, this grey looks terrible in photos next to the Fusion's bright blue. View the Insight in person and the dumpiness in the rear 3/4 view isn't as apparent as it is in photos, mostly because the whole thing's just 4 1/2 feet tall.

Fusion Hybrid: ****
The 2010 Ford Fusion is probably the most handsome mid-size sedan on sale and the Hybrid's no different. Solid proportions, neat details and a shiny grille make it look more expensive than its $27,270 price tag.

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

Interior Design

Insight: ***
The interior doesn't feel as tight as it actually is thanks to a high ceiling and airy glass house. All the materials are cheap, but pull off the traditional Honda trick of looking good, being easy to use and feeling as if they'll last a long time. The sloping rear limits your ability to haul large items and the back seat is cramped. Not as practical as the cheaper Honda Fit.

Fusion Hybrid: ***
Very spec-sensitive. Check the box for leather and Nav and things are positively fancy, the fabric seats and Nav-less dash much less so. The rest is utterly conventional, if relatively roomy.

Acceleration

Insight: *
With a 0-60 time of 11-ish seconds, acceleration isn't the Insight's strong point. You can keep up with traffic, but you have to work hard to do so. The raucous sound and the CVT's constant revs makes the Insight feel slower than it is.

Fusion Hybrid: ***
Strong acceleration adds to the Fusion Hybrid's conventional driving experience. 0-60 MPH takes about 8.5 seconds, meaning you can actually overtake other cars, especially Honda Insights.

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

Braking

Honda Insight: ***
Where earlier hybrids had wooden brake pedals thanks to undeveloped regenerative braking systems, the Insight's is totally conventional to use. The soft suspension dives significantly, which can be a bit alarming since the brakes aren't immensely powerful.

Fusion Hybrid ****
What all hybrid brakes should be like, strong but easily modulated. That enables delicate brake use for batter charging at all possible opportunities.

Ride

Insight: *
Very harsh, yet also wobbly. It's like normal suspension in reverse; small bumps are met with harsh response, while large ones send the Insight bouncing along like a Jello mold.

Fusion Hybrid: ****
Feels like a much more expensive car, the ride is cushy yet controlled, isolating occupants from all sorts of bad surfaces.

Handling

Insight: **
This, more than anything else, defines the Insight's character. Objectively, the handling is pathetic, feeling overwhelmed as it yaws alarmingly through everyday challenges like highway off ramps and around minor corners. Having said that, it's fun, involving and challenging to try and hustle something with such low limits, turning every commute into an adventure. Think worn out ‘80s hatchback, but with stability control and you won't be far off.

Fusion Hybrid: ***
Like the regular Fusion, the Hybrid is a competent handler, if not all that involving. Try pushing things and you're met with terminal understeer, but its limits of adhesion, unlike the Insight, lie beyond the realm of the everyday.

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

Gearbox

Insight: *
As intrusive and annoying as a CVT could possibly be, it's strangely fitted with a "Sport" mode and wheel-mounted paddles that don't do an awful lot beyond raising the cabin's already loud noise level.

Fusion Hybrid: ***
In contrast, the Fusion's CVT is utterly unremarkable. You'll never notice it once you put it in "Drive."

Audio

Insight: **
The optional 6-speaker 160-watt audio system incorporated into the Nav unit is easy to use, but sounds tinny. It adds to all the noise coming from the road and engine rather than drowning those out.

Fusion Hybrid: ***
The base stereo is weak and the LCD interface isn't great. Start ticking options and you can get a really good Sony 12-speaker system and Sirius radio.

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

Toys

Insight: ****
Well, the whole car kind of feels like a toy, but is also comes with a seriously informative set of gauges that enable drivers to understand how to drive efficiently. The speedometer, which hovers in your peripheral vision, glows dark green when you're behaving and fades to dark blue when you're not. That's much more immediate than Ford's system. Add to that the Gameboy graphics that give you ridiculous medals for fuel-efficient driving and an "Eco" button that smooths out the peaks and troughs of power input to boost efficiency and frugal drivers have all the tools they need to save money.

Fusion Hybrid: *****
If you think the Insight's got some cool gauges, you'll be floored by the slick graphics and massive level of information available in the Fusion. Easily the best-looking gauges in the industry, Ford's SmartGauge with EcoGuide system redefines a driver's interaction with the car by showing you how to maximize energy recovery during regenerative braking, enabling you to maintain EV mode up to 47mph with a display showing the amount of throttle available in that mode. There's so much here it can be overwhelming and very distracting, but Ford's thought of that too, allowing you to switch through four levels of information.

Fuel Economy

Honda Insight: ***
Hit or miss. The EPA numbers are 40 MPG city, 43 MPG highway, 41 MPG combined. We averaged 37 MPG over a week of mostly city driving. Hypermilers can get figures exceeding 60 MPG over mixed routes. So which is it? Sadly, in our hands, the fuel economy just isn't impressive for such a compromised car. Your results may vary.

Fusion Hybrid: ****
We averaged 38.5 MPG over a week of mixed highway and city driving in the Fusion Hybrid. For a relatively large car that's pretty fast and pretty luxurious, that's really good. Official EPA numbers are nearly identical to the Insight's: 41 MPG city, 36 MPG highway, 39 MPG combined, but the record-breaking fuel economy we achieved when we hypermiled the Fusion Hybrid in LA was only 43.8 MPG.

Value

Honda Insight: ****
It depends on how you look at it. The Insight offers decent fuel economy in an unpractical package resulting in a fairly unimpressive value proposition. At $19,800 it is, however, the cheapest hybrid car on the market, meaning it lowers the barrier of entry into the exciting world of hybrid ownership. Believe it or not, that actually matters to some people. Although we'd stick with the much more practical, better-to-drive 2009 Honda Fit, which starts at $14,750 and manages 27 MPG city and 33 MPG highway, we do have to admit, as far as Hybrids go, this one's got the win.

Fusion Hybrid: **
An impressive car for a reasonable price, but the base-spec Fusion S starts at $19,270 and returns 25 MPG combined. Even though the Fusion Hybrid brings with it all the SEL options, $27,270 creates an $8,000 premium that you'll never make up in fuel savings.

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS

Overall

Honda Insight
Average score: 2.5
Living up to every negative hybrid stereotype ever, the Insight asks you to make enormous sacrifices in the driving experience and practicality to achieve fuel mileage that just isn't all that impressive for a car this small. It'd make a pretty decent first car or first new car, but the Fit would make a much better one.

Ford Fusion Hybrid
Average score: 3.5
Ford's Fusion hybrid delivers a spacious, technologically-advanced car asking you to make no sacrifices to achieve similar fuel economy to the Insight. Well, except the price, which is understandably a bit more than its no-batteries brethren. The most complete hybrid we'd driven, well, until we drove the 50 MPG 2010 Toyota Prius, that is.

Hybrid Car Wars: Honda Insight Vs. Ford Fusion HybridS