Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Honda Insight vs. Toyota Prius

Our gas-guzzling Subaru Impreza is coming up for its shaken again this year, and the replacements get more expensive each time, so we're looking to get a new car. So last weekend we went to test drive the new Honda Insight hybrid.

A few years ago I test drove the Toyota Prius and was very impressed. Apart from the poor visibility out the back window, it felt like driving a normal car. Indeed, the quiet inside made it feel like a luxury car. The integration of the engine and motor is seamless, and if you don't look at the display which indicates which is in use, it's impossible to tell.

The body of the Honda Insight looks a lot like the Prius (which actually copied an earlier version of the Insight). Inside, it has a very 1970s space-age 'driving interface'. However, when I lowered the steering wheel to a relaxed position just above my knees, I couldn't see the speedometer at all. The engine and motor are not perfectly integrated. Indeed, there's a distinct jolt when the car switches between the two. This even happens when you have your foot on the brake waiting to turn -- the car just jolts on the spot of its own accord. This is disconcerting, and not what you want a car to do.

I took the car up a steep hill and it totally lacked poke. I wasn't able to put my foot right down to see if more power could be got from it because there was a kei-truck in front of me, but the Insight didn't feel as though it had power to spare.

When we got home, we calculated the likely economic benefit of buying an Insight, and unless the cost of petrol more than doubles, we'd be better off buying a cheaper car. Since we don't drive far or often, a normal car seems like a good choice. No electric vehicles appear ready for the market yet. The Insight has sufficiently obvious deficiencies in driving characteristics that buyers must convince themselves that they're doing some good in the world by driving it. I don't think the same thing applies to the Prius which offers grounds for smugness all round, albeit at a commensurate price.

On a side note, the difference between the Honda salesman and the Toyota salesman corresponds to the difference between the cars themselves. The Honda salesman was chatty and keen to sell. After a short while in our company, he felt sufficiently familiar to talk about his two-year old daughter. Somehow I don't think the sales gentleman from Toyota would have unwound himself so far.


stew said...

Smug Prius owner here... ;)

The Insight has worse economy, less power, and is smaller than the Civic Hybrid. However it "looks like a hybrid", which apparently does matter to buyers, and is cheaper. The Insight looks more like a marketing exercise by Honda than an attempt to make a better car. Its a pity because Honda make good cars. The Fit that the Insight is based on, for example, and all the sporty ones. The Fit gets better mileage than many kei cars.

You should be able to get a brand new current model Prius discounted to the same price as an Insight. Toyota are going to continue to make the current model for fleet sales at the same price as an "Insight destroyer". Toyota seem a bit Insight obsessed tbh. It should also mean that the price of second-hand Priuses should finally start to fall (sob sob). All the moaning about the battery replacement cost looks like a red herring, because very few hatch Priuses have needed one in actual use. There is an ample supply in scrapyards from wrecked cars.

In case no-one told you, the juryouzei has been drastically reduced for most modern cars with the pollution stickers on them. Its the biggest cost at shaken time for non-kei cars. There was also talk last August of the jidouzei you pay every year switching to a CO2 basis like in Europe, but we're now in April and nothing more has been heard of that. Again, the current regime is heavily biased towards kei cars. One in three of every cars sold in Japan is a kei, largely I reckon because of the taxes. Unlike kei cars, tens of thousands of Fits, Swifts, Marches etc get sold overseas. It would be better for the government to promote them instead. If you ever see the "yasuienv" Japanese green website, they are very hard on kei cars. They say the whole thing is just a trade barrier.

Rod said...

We also test drove the 1.3 l Fit, and that went up the hill better than the Insight, and of course feels like a real car. The missus doesn't like the look of the Fit nor the hardness of the Honda suspension in general. (While I notice these things, I personally don't care much about them.) I think the Fit is a much better buy than the Insight, and if the tax regime stays as it is, we may well end up getting one of those. We're also going to test drive the latest Impreza and the similar Mazda Axela.

However, the missus said she saw on the news last night that the govt. was considering paying people 100,000 yen for trading in a 13-year old car and buying an 'eco-car', whatever that is. There was also something about a 200,000 yen subsidy in some circumstances. That's a game changer if it actually comes about by the time our shaken expires in October.

What makes you say that the Prius will come down in price? The salesman we spoke to didn't drop any hints of that sort. Do you know anywhere that's offering a deal like that, because we'd be interested?

You're right about the Prius batteries. Even taxis haven't needed to change them.

stew said...

I think an "eco car" is one with the stickers on the back for the heisei 22 nen kijun or whatever it is. Its not all that strict, and there are different levels of compliance. Some big cars even qualify, so I'd imagine an Impreza gets something off, if only the new car shotokuzei.

Here's the list

The current Prius is being stripped down a little and continued as the "Prius EX" at 190 man for fleet sales. A few weeks ago, we got direct mail from both Aichi (where we bought ours) and Nagano (where we shakened it) Toyota with various offers on their cars. The Prius was 27 man off, so that's a line they're already conceding for negotiations. The basic S model is 230 man, and if you stick a Toyota navi/ETC in it, I think it'd be close to an Insight with the Honda navi/ETC. Honda supposedly aren't discounting at all yet.

Anyway, here is some info for you

Both Toyota and ToyoPet carry the Prius, so you can play them off each other.

If you want to make biodiesel in your new shed, there's a diesel X-Trail that looks pretty cool and passes all of the clean diesel rules. Its about 50 man more than the petrol version though.

Rod said...

Thanks for the info Stew. I'll have a good look at that. If petrol goes up again as plenty of sober analysts suggest it will, a Prius will be worth having. Just having a large Li-ion battery sitting in the drive brings me a step closer to having an electric vehicle.

I've lost all interest in biodiesel. I've come to the conclusion that it's a totally niche thing essentially, for people who live very near a source of waste oil and need a vehicle with a certain amount of power. Otherwise, nothing much justifies it. The missus likes the look of the X-trail, but I bet she'd hate driving it.

I'm glad to read that you passed a warm winter in your new gaff. The photos of your chilluns always seem to be in the midst of a Savannah-like space, so I did wonder. But our place in Yamanashi had south-facing windows, and it made a big difference.

stew said...

I don't think the current Prius is Li ion btw. Its nickel, as is the first version of the new model, if I remember correctly.

Either way, the main thing is to get the full low-down on the tax situation for cars. A lot of different ones seem to be changing. They are eco in name, but the obvious intent is to clear the carmakers' inventories. I'm sure you'll have seen photos of all the cars lined up in the papers.

For our place in winter, we're really happy with it, but have been a little blindsided by the rise in the offpeak rate for electricity. When we planned the house, it was 7.5 yen/kWh for the overnight power the underfloor heating and the eco cute use. Since then though, power has gone up about 1.8 yen regardless of time of day (i.e., a much higher percentage increase for offpeak), and the b'stards have been tacking on a nenryo supplement as well with a flat rate of 2.4 yen/kWh here last month. The net result is that overnight power is 50% more expensive that two years ago. I thought the underfloor heating would run to about 500 yen a day or 6 man a winter, but its been about 50% more than that. The house is t-shirt warm, so we can turn it down, burn more wood instead, and/or move our bedroom upstairs once its finished up there. Its not such a big deal or a big hit on the finances, but kind of vexing all the same. Maybe its just me, but you don't seem to see as many eco cute adverts on the tv anymore. Overnight power going up is also bad for those electric cars about to go on sale. The payback mileage compared to an ordinary car must be a fair bit longer now.

By the way, the government are also talking about feed in tariffs for pv generated power, so you may start getting a decent rate off your power company. There's also talk of a 200 year house law, which seems to be about reduced kotei shisanzei for well-built houses, but we'll have to see what they can come up with for that one. I'm sure the housebuilders will be pushing for some kind of stimulus that benefits them. That sector employs a lot of people and must be seriously depressed at the moment.

Rod said...

That's a bummer about the night leccy going up. I don't think we've had anything like that here. But then we have a nuclear power station just down the coast, which may be a factor.

This sudden increase in prices offers a potentially harsh lesson in planning purchases of anything that use energy. That's why I'd still like to get a hybrid, since we'll likely have our car for 10 years or so. (However, I saw today that Aso is planning to make Japan the world leader in introducing eco cars, with mass-production of electric cars in 3 years' time. The timing of this annoys me a bit.)

I've been keeping my eye on the PV rate increase story. It's about bloody time. I can't see why the government has left it so late, while scratching their heads about how to deal with global warming. If they just hurried up a bit and encouraged small wind power too, they could enjoy the environmental and economic benefits right away.