The Toyota Prius hybrid remains the most fuel-efficient vehicle sold in the U.S. without a plug: 52 mpg combined for this year’s all-new model. Every facet of every Prius reflects the car’s designers and engineers striving for maximal efficiency from every drop of fuel.
But the smaller Honda Fit sits at the top of the subcompact economy car segment, with a combined fuel-efficiency rating of 36 mpg. It’s supremely flexible, with an interior that can be configured into what passes for a small moving van, and it’s also around $10,000 cheaper.
Both are highly efficient cars against the whole market, but which one fits you best?
MORE: Read our full reviews of the 2016 Honda Fit and 2016 Toyota Prius
Both are hatchbacks, but the Fit is a subcompact, while the Prius qualifies as a mid-size car based on its interior space. The Prius was entirely redesigned for this year, while the Fit was all-new just a year ago. And they take different approaches to fuel efficiency.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Prius is the lower and sleeker of the two cars. It’s still a hatchback with a tall tail, but the nose is low and deep sculpting makes it look racier. We don’t mind the front and sides of the car, but it all goes strangely wrong at the rear, with too many accent lines and bizarre taillights shaped like question marks. It pulls off the unusual trick of making its predecessor look sedate and conventional.
Inside, the new Prius uses higher-quality materials, with more soft-touch surfaces and a wide sweeping design that mixes intuitive and Space Age-y controls. Its full-color digital instruments sit in a low, wide in the center of the dash toward the base of the windshield.The seats are comfortable, supportive, and far better than the last generation’s. Four adults can fit comfortably, although the rear seat sits a bit on the low side, leaving adults in a knees-up position.
The Fit is a more conventional small, tall five-door car with body creases and other design tricks to hide its boxy, almost wagon-like shape. But it somehow comes across as cheerful, almost perky, while the Prius looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.
Despite its small size the Fit is capable of holding four adults in its surprisingly roomy passenger space. The front seats are particularly comfortable, but the real win for Honda is the aptly-named “Magic Seat” arrangement. The rear seats fold and flip to create a cargo area from the floor to the roof, while the front seats recline fully to create an almost-flat upholstered interior platform. The littlest Honda wins hands down for interior adaptability.
Toyota has engineered every component of the hybrid system in the 2016 Prius to increase efficiency and cut cost and weight. The combined output of the 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine and two electric motors is 121 horsepower. For the first time, the Prius has two different battery options. The least expensive model, the Prius Two, uses a 1.2-kilowatt-hour nickel-metal-hydride pack, while every other version adopts a 0.75-kwh lithium-ion battery. Each is located under the rear seat.
The Honda has a 130-horsepower 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with a 6-speed manual gearbox as standard, but most Fits will come with a continuously-variable transmission (CVT).
All that hybrid technology gives the Prius the clear edge on fuel efficiency: One model, the Prius Two Eco, comes in at 56 mpg combined, while all other versions of the 2016 Prius are rated at 52 mpg combined. The Fit’s combined EPA rating of 33/41/36 mpg with the CVT keeps the Honda at the head of its segment for EPA ratings.
The new Prius is no longer so noisy under high power, and engine noise is better insulated. It’s still present, but the Prius no longer has the desperate, strained howl of former generations, even under maximum acceleration. Toyota has made huge strides in road feel and ride quality; for the first time ever, the Prius drives very much like a regular car.
The Honda Fit rides with more maturity than it has in the past, and keeps the responsive steering and handling it’s known for. Still, the driving experience isn’t quite as tied to the driver’s seat as in earlier generations—which may be just fine for buyers interested in fuel economy at a reasonable cost. Among small and affordable hatchbacks, the new Fit is noticeably more refined than its predecessor; it suppresses most exterior noise fairly well.
The 2016 Toyota Prius gets a Top Safety Pick+ nod by the IIHS and a five-star overall rating by federal testers. It comes with a full suite of standard and optional active-safety systems. The 2016 Honda Fit has earned good safety scores from both the IIHS—a lone “Acceptable” rating in the small overlap crash test—and the NHTSA, which gives it five stars overall.
The starting price of a Toyota Prius Liftback stays below $26,000, though high-end models can easily approach prices nearing $35,000 if the buyer chooses options like the feature-rich Technology Package. The Honda Fit starts at roughly $10,000 less, and tops out in the low to mid 20s.
In the end, the Honda Fit gets the nod over the Toyota Prius, with a score of 8.0 out of 10 versus 7.6 for the Prius. The Honda wins for its design, the unparalleled flexibility of its interior, its good safety ratings, and overall value for money. But it really depends on the buyer: Do you want a larger, ultra-efficient car with unusual looks and the Prius aura? Or a smaller, less expensive, very flexible, and still highly efficient conventional car? The answers to those questions will settle the choice.
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