Car Comparison: 2010 Honda Insight vs 2010 Toyota Prius vs 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Last Updated: May 20, 2010

The Competitors
The 2010 Honda Insight is an aerodynamically styled compact four-door gas-electric hybrid hatchback. It’s new for model-year 2010. The 2010 Toyota Prius hybrid four-door hatchback is redesigned for model-year 2010. It has an evolution of the 2004-2009 model’s ultra-sleek styling inside and out, but is larger inside and has more power. The hybrid version of the 2010 Ford Fusion sedan is new this year and follows the conventionally powered Fusions in size and styling.

The Prius is America’s best-selling hybrid car and has retained that ranking (albeit in what only recently became a growing segment) since its original introduction to the U.S. in 2000. The Insight carries the name of Honda’s first hybrid, which sold stateside from 1999-2006 as a two-seat hatchback. Ford’s Fusion Hybrid is identical except for appearance trim to its corporate cousin, the Mercury Milan Hybrid. They are Ford’s second hybrid models, the first being the Ford Escape Hybrid and Mercury Mariner Hybrid crossover SUVs.

The Similarities

  • All these cars team a conventional four-cylinder gasoline engine with an electric motor-generator and a self-charging battery pack to combine impressive fuel economy with acceptable overall performance.
  • All shut down their gasoline engines during deceleration and at idle to save gas, and reclaim electrical energy during deceleration via regenerative braking.
  • All these cars have a CVT (continuously variable transmission), which acts like an automatic transmission but without the gear changes of a conventional transmission. All these cars are front-wheel drive.
  • Each delivers impressive fuel economy. The Prius in fact is the most fuel-efficient car sold in the U.S. with ratings of 51/48 mpg (city/highway). The Insight is No. 2 at 40/43. The Fusion Hybrid is the least efficient of the three, but it’s also the largest and most-powerful, making its 41/36-mpg rating all the more impressive.
  • These hybrids are costlier by at least $4,000 over comparable autos with conventional powertrains.
  • All come with LED dashboard displays that coach drivers on techniques that maximize fuel economy. All also offer a good selection tech gadgets, including navigation systems.
  • Each is new or redesigned for the 2010 model year.

The Differences

  • The Insight is the least powerful of the three, with just 98 horsepower, and is also the smallest, with a cabin limited to four passengers. At $20,510, Insight has the lowest starting price of any hybrid in the U.S. (all prices in this comparison include the manufacturer’s destination fee.) The Prius has 134 horsepower and a large enough interior to be classified as a midsize car. It’s a five-passenger model, though only a small child really fits in the back seat’s center position. The Prius starts at $21,750. The Fusion is the priciest of the bunch at $28,350, but has 191 horsepower and is large enough to carry five adults in reasonable comfort.
  • Insight and the Prius are distinctly styled, with futuristic aerodynamic lines that broadcast their owners’ environmental awareness. The Fusion Hybrid is differentiated from a conventionally powered Fusion mainly by specific badging and a unique dashboard design. It takes a sharp eye to identify it as a hybrid.
  • The Insight relies on the electric motor primarily to augment the gasoline engine. It can run only briefly on electric power alone. This accounts for its lower city fuel economy relative to the Toyota and Ford.
  • The Prius and Fusion Hybrid can drive on electric power alone, gas power alone, or any combination of the two, as computers judge how to apply available power levels most efficiently. In low-demand conditions with a healthy battery charge, they can drive for several minutes at low- to moderate speeds on electric power alone.
  • From behind the wheel, the Insight and Prius feel a lot like budget-grade compact cars, with relatively unrefined ride and handling. Prius has mediocre acceleration, Insight is slow. By contrast, the Fusion Hybrid accelerates as if it has a V-6 engine under the hood and delivers a smoother ride and more secure cornering. It also feels more solid and substantial than the Insight and Prius.
  • Fusion sports the best instrumentation, but the Prius combines “green” and “high tech” themes best. Exhibit A: the Prius offers a moonroof with a solar-powered panel that runs an electric fan to help keep the vehicle cabin cooler when sitting in the sun with the engine off. It can also use sensors to back itself into a parallel parking space.

The Winner
The 2010 Toyota Prius. The top-selling hybrid offers acceptable overall value and unmatched fuel economy. Its distinctive styling tells the world its owner is driving a hybrid. For about $1,000 over the price of an Insight, the Prius delivers a larger interior, a welcome bit of additional power, and 25 percent better city fuel economy. However, the Prius can get quite pricey as you pile on the options, most of which are offered only in costly packages. In many ways the Fusion Hybrid is the most amenable member of this trio, though it’s also the most expensive and visually indistinguishable from a garden-variety version of this midsize Ford.