TOKYO — Few cars better embody the wide divergence in the corporate cultures of Toyota and Honda than these two hybrids.
In one corner is the Honda Insight — a case study in utilitarian expedience. It's powered by a simplified four-banger with an electric motor adding just enough oomph to cut down on trips to the pump. It sports a plasticky, no-frills interior and poaches parts from sister models.
In the other corner is the redesigned Toyota Prius — a paragon of engineering excellence. It pushes the envelope with an ingenious planetary gear transmission, outstanding fuel economy and snazzy options such as solar panels. The car that made hybrids famous carries a first-class sticker price to match.
For better and worse, the redesigned Prius and Insight exude the distinct corporate identities that gave them birth. The result is as much a battle of the automakers' business philosophies as a two-car rivalry.
Faultless Toyota Motor Corp. reached new technological heights but drifted into cost creep, a risky trend in a recession. Penny-pinching Honda Motor Co. did a lot with a little, churning out a low-budget hybrid that can't match its rival's specs.