With yesterday's 2010 Toyota Prius Review, we've now driven all three major competitors in the Greener-Than-Thou segment. Let's take a look at how the new Prius stacks up against the bigger, mid-size 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid sedan (which normally would play against Toyota's larger Camry Hybrid, but since the Fusion's already kicked it's tail in fuel economy, we thought we'd move it up from the JV Hybrid Car Wars to the Varsity level), the 2010 Honda Insight and, sort of like a control subject, a 1990 Geo Metro XFi. We'll take a look at how each plays against each other when it comes to fuel economy, size and space, performance, driving dynamics and price. So finally, we can answer the question: Which new hybrid car should you buy?
Adjusted for the new EPA standards, we're amazed that the 19-year old Geo Metro XFI turns in better highway fuel economy than any of the hybrids. Predictably, the Toyota Prius, with its stop/start engine and large battery pack manages to best it in the city cycle, but neither the Insight nor Fusion Hybrid can do the same.
We've tried hypermilling the three hybrids, managing 43.8 MPG in the Ford Fusion Hybrid in city driving, figures in the low 60 MPG range with the Insight and low 70s with the Prius, both in mixed driving. While specific comparisons shouldn't be drawn based on those numbers, they do indicate the ability of each to exceed their official EPA ratings by driving like a grandparent; the Fusion Hybrid can barely manage it, while both the Insight and Prius easily exceed them.
A quick Google search reveals tales of owners averaging 60-70 MPG in Metro XFis in realistic conditions.
The compact-class Honda Insight has 85.0 cubic feet of passenger space, considerably less than the mid-size Fusion and just-sub-mid-size Prius. They measure 99.8 and 93.7 cubic feet respectively. Since they're hatchbacks, both the Insight and Prius are more flexible for carrying cargo than the Fusion; the Ford only has 11.8 cubic feet of space in its trunk, while the Insight manages 15.8 with its seats up, the Prius measures 21.6. A larger car with more space in the rear seat, the Prius's storage room is noticeably larger than the Insight with the rear seats folded flat.
The Geo is absolutely tiny, at 146.1" it's over two feet shorter than the Insight.
All three hybrids have noted that the largest determining factor in fuel economy is the driver and taken steps to give them the tools to drive in the most fuel-efficient manner. The Honda Insight does this with both an "Econ" button that, like Prozac, removes the highs and lows from throttle inputs and an aggregate display of your fuel economy history, complete with Game Boy-worthy graphics and simulated medals for good performance. Supplementing that is a more immediate glowing surround for the speedometer, it turns bright green when you're driving economical, before fading to dark blue when you're not.
Honda's is a more effective system than the equally low-tech display in the Prius, which provides drivers with only a confusing bar graph that tracks from "Charge" to "Power" and a history of your recent fuel economy figures.
The Ford SmartGauge with EcoGuide, on the other hand, provides drivers with a myriad of tools "empowering" them to make full use of the hybridized drivetrain to achieve maximum fuel economy. In addition to a seriously useful sliding indicator of how much throttle opening you can use while remaining in EV mode, it features a section of nicely-animated leaves that whither and die, or bloom and grow depending on your driving habits. It also shows you when you're using regenerative braking and how much charge it's sending to the batteries. Seriously, it's a sexy-looking system that will have a real impact on your fuel economy.
The Metro has a five-speed manual gearbox.
The Insight's Raison d'être is to offer people who want a Prius a cheaper option. Unfortunately, at $19,800 (before $670 in destination, license and registration) it looks like it'll only be about $2,700 cheaper than the more fuel-efficient 2010 Prius. It's estimated that car will come in around $500 more expensive than the 2009 model, which starts at $22,00. The Fusion Hybrid is considerably more expensive at $27,270, but comes loaded with options.
Then there's the used Metro Xfi, they're hard to find (especially in good condition), but prices have come down from last summer's fuel-crisis high of $7-8,000; expect to pay less than $3,000 for a good one.
The Fusion Hybrid has a clear performance advantage, hitting 60 MPH a second faster than the 2nd place Prius. While none of these are what you'd consider true driver's cars, both the Ford and Toyota are perversely fun to drive. Sadly we can't say the same of the Insight, which is merely competent. The Insight is also far less refined than either the Prius or Fusion Hybrid; both of those cars ride and isolate noise like luxury cars.
The used Metro is ridiculously slow, unrefined and doesn't come with things like modern tires, suspension or brakes. At 19-years old, it's also likely to be suffering from mechanical problems.
There's no denying the pop culture resonance of the Toyota Prius. It's the choice of vacuous, eco-friendly image-seeking celebrities everywhere. Buy one and you'll instantly appear to be the greenest family on your block. The Insight, which adopts a similar look, will benefit from riding the Prius's coattails and from the name recognition its first-hybrid-vehicle-ever predecessor lends it. It's a hard case for the Ford, which needs to rely on all its leafy "hybrid" badges to make a case for itself.
Driving a crappy old Metro in front of anyone but an extremely savvy hypermilling enthusiast will simply make you look like you didn't get into Meth production until the market was already flooded.
You may be wondering which car you should buy as your first Hybrid, or which one makes the most convincing case for the current Hybrid owner to trade up to a better vehicle. What about people who don't want to sacrifice driving dynamics in the pursuit of economy or just want a cheap, practical, fuel-efficient vehicle for their commute? The answer for all those people is the 2010 Toyota Prius. Not only is it the most fuel-efficient new vehicle for sale in this country, but it's the most practical vehicle here, at a size larger than the Insight with plenty of room for both people and packages. Combine both those advantages with driving dynamics that are on par with the Ford Fusion Hybrid and what should be a very reasonable starting price and you have an incredibly complete package. Then there's the reputation; this new Prius finally lives up to it, we just wish it had Ford's SmartGauges.
- All numbers quoted have been provided by the manufacturers. Exceptions are clearly distinguished by "(Est)" which indicates an educated estimate has been made.
- Fuel economy figures quoted come from the Environmental Protection Agency and are in US gallons. 1 US gallon = 1.2 Imperial gallons.
- The EPA mileage test changed in 2008 to a much more stringent standard. Vehicles tested before the change typically returned xx% better economy than the do now. For example, the 2007 Toyota Prius was rated at 55 MPG combined before and 46 MPG combined after the change. This new standard is widely considered to be more accurate than European tests. For example, the Honda Insight is officially rated at 64.2 MPG combined in the United Kingdom. That's 53.5 MPG in US gallons, 12.5 MPG more than it's rated at here.