Hybrid Fight! Honda Fit vs. Toyota Prius

By dancurranjr On February 9th, 2009

toyota_priusI must admit I was amazed by the fuel efficiency of the Toyota Prius: After nearly 600 kilometres of mostly city driving, I averaged an incredible 4.1 litres per 100 km, just less fuel efficient than the 4.0 L/100 km city fuel economy Transport Canada lists for the hybrid.

It’s not that I doubted the numbers; I just didn’t think I could manage such a feat based on my conversations with my colleagues — and my inability to drive very, ahem, fuel efficiently. One colleague warned me that I would have to stay at a speed limit of around 50 kilometres an hour, necessary, he said, to keep the engine from switching from electric to gas. Another bet I couldn’t do it –and he was right for the most part.

My hypermiling ways lasted all of one day. I hate being the slowest person on the road (although, believe me, in Toronto, I wasn’t the slowest –but that’s another story). It’s just not in my nature to drive conservatively. So, I was quite surprised that, after more than 100 km of lead-footing it around the city, I still managed to keep all the little white squares on the fuel gauge intact. Same thing at 200. It wasn’t until I was well past the 300-km mark that the squares started disappearing. Still, after driving the Prius for close to 600 km at my normal speed (translation: just fast enough not to get caught), I managed to use only half a tank of gas.

I thought I could get decent fuel economy with the Honda Fit, since it, too, has a 1.5-litre, four-cylinder gas engine, and I did. Of course, it wasn’t even close to the Prius’s numbers, given that the Fit does not have an additional electric motor, but I still got a respectable 7.5 L/100 km.

The thing is I enjoyed driving the Fit a lot more than the Prius. I have nothing against the Prius — it’s an extremely fuel-efficient car and perfect for my mostly city driving requirements. Like the Fit, it’s a roomy hatch with tons of storage space — the Prius has 16.1 cubic feet; the Fit 21 cu. ft. Unlike the Fit, the Prius has a backup camera, which made it very easy to park on narrow city streets and crowded parking lots. With a combined output of 110 horsepower, it’s not a rocket — but neither is the 117-hp Fit. But the Prius lacked a certain fun factor compared with the Fit. Like yet another colleague said to me: “You don’t drive the Prius; the Prius drives you.” It’s a very apt description of my experience.

Granted, I’m sure some of the clunkiness in the handling and cornering departments was due to the Prius’s electric motor and battery, which make the hybrid almost 200 kilograms heavier than the Fit Sport (1,335 kg compared with 1,147 kg).

I admit I may also have driven a little slower in the Prius not because I was hypermiling but because I was transfixed by the fuel economy/ engine usage gauge. I enjoyed watching the electric motor in action and I used the regenerative braking on hills and, perhaps, as a result, I did stay within the speed limit, if not intentionally. That nifty gauge spoiled me for other hybrids because I expected the same thing in the Honda Civic Hybrid I drove next; I was disappointed when it wasn’t there.

I was also a little more relaxed in the Prius than in the Fit, which may have contributed to the softer pressure on the accelerator. The cynic in me might say it was the lack of excitement in the Prius compared with the Fit that led to my calmness. The tree hugger in me would say it was the self-satisfaction I felt from doing my part to help save the planet that contributed to my docile demean-our. But the realist in me admits it was simply the peace and quiet that soothed me, even when some idiot cut me off or proceeded to drive directly beside me to get a better look at the hybrid.

Even when running on gas, the Prius is completely silent. For the first few days after I picked it up, I had to keep checking to make sure I had turned off the engine because I couldn’t tell the difference between when it was on or off. And because I used the push-button start (which comes standard), I remained unconvinced even with the keys in my hand. It was a little disconcerting at first, but I learned to enjoy the silence and even drove with the radio off, which was even more relaxing.

So, on the Prius’s plus side, we have incredible fuel economy, a silent ride, a small carbon footprint (a reduction in smog-forming emissions of up to 70% compared with a conventionally powered vehicle, according to Toyota), plenty of room for the driver, passengers and cargo, a fun-to-look-at fuel economy and gas/electric motor usage display, a backup camera, a comfortable ride and a long list of safety features. On the downside, it still looks a little funny, even though it’s not as weird-looking as when it first came out in 1997. It also feels a little heavy when cornering and isn’t sporty at all. At a base price of $29,500, it’s also on the expensive side, as most hybrids tend to be.

On the Fit’s plus side, we have respectable fuel economy, a smallish carbon footprint, a lot of room for the driver, passengers and cargo, a comfortable ride, a long list of safety features and an attractive design, which I like better than the original Fit’s boxy look. It also feels sporty and is a lot of fun to drive. And, of course, there’s the price–$14,980. One could buy two Fits for the price of one Prius. And, considering the tough economic times and the cheapest gas prices we’ve seen in a while, the Fit makes a lot of sense.

If you’re looking for outstanding fuel economy, the Prius wins hands down. If you want a fun ride at a cheap price, the Fit is your top choice. It was mine.

Source: National Post

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