Design Puzzle for New Honda Hybrid

It’s been five years since a hybrid-specific car was introduced to the market. That was the second-generation Toyota Prius. The Prius’s design—raking windshield, rounded roof line and swooping hatchback—has been emblazoned in the public consciousness as the very definition of what a hybrid is supposed to look like. That will present a difficult challenge for Honda, as it prepares to launch its new hybrid-only subcompact, a 2009 model with a purchase price below $20,000.

Some of the questions Honda designers faced in creating the look and feel of the new yet-to-be-named global hybrid: How do we achieve groundbreaking aerodynamics? How do we steal the Prius halo without stealing its design? What about design cues from the Honda FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle? How do we make it crystal clear that this new car is a hybrid?

We won’t know if Honda produced a winning design until the vehicle’s unveiling in a few months, but thanks to an “unofficial” illustration by Seth Gold, a 3d modeler and graphic designer, based on spy shots from KGP Photography, we can start to form an opinion. Compare the 2009 Global Honda hybrid with designs for the Toyota Prius, Honda FCX Clarity, Honda Civic Hybrid, and the discontinued Honda Insight. And then judge for yourself.

Unofficial illustration of 2009 Honda Subcompact Hybrid

Unofficial illustration of the 2009 Honda global subcompact hybrid. (Copyright Seth Gold. All rights reserved.)

Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius

Honda FCX Clarity

Honda FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle

Honda Civic Hybrid

Honda Civic Hybrid

Honda Insight

Honda Insight

More Hybrid News...

  • Black Ice

    Ugly design if you ask me. Why can’t that make hybrids that look like regular cars?!?

  • Charles Hall

    Why don’t they make a wagon? What’s shown here looks just like a Prius.

  • CardInAustin

    I think it is fine, but I agree about the wagon. If they really really want to differentiate themselves in the market, they should make the vehicle a wagon (or have a wagon option). It should flow very naturally from that design.

  • uktiger

    I like it. The insight which i though looked strange at the time has grown on me.

  • Old Man Crowder

    The CR-V and the RAV-4 already look very similar, and to a lesser extent, the new Accord and Camry, so this wouldn’t be anything new if Honda had a Prius look-alike.

    To Black-Ice — I think one of the problems with “regular cars” is that they can be pretty boxy and not very aerodynamic. To maximize the fuel efficiency, the cars have to be swoopy and a little odd looking.

  • Insightman

    This drawing doesn’t show the continuation of the A-pillar crease into the front fender (see the Clarity FCX and the GSH spy photos). I hope Honda offers optional fender skirts. The Prius that beat Wayne Gerdes’ Insight in the recent Hybrid Fest in Madison, WI had add-on fender skirts. Now driving my second Insight, the fender skirts now look perfectly normal.

  • Bryce

    Honda is on the heels of Toyota, and they are feeling the heat. Toyota already knows how to tango with the big American 3, but Honda is another story. Their Accord was only 200 vehicles off from passing the Camry this month and there sales were up more at a higher rate than Toyota’s. Even GM with all its new redesigns and product releases has come out with a bunch of hits with the Malibu, CTS, and Enclave. Toyota may have awakened something in its competitors finally. I say watch out Toyota cuz Honda is coming with the car onslaught and GM is rethinking itself all over. We will see the end of the year totals to see how the 3 mid size sedans faired. Camry was up about 3 percent this month, Accord up about 15 I think, and Malibu up about 80%, so it seems that Camry has some new found competition.

  • A.H.S.

    I think the FCX Clarity looks the best from all of them. The unoficial drawing at the top looks like almost like the prius. I agree that having a wagon option would be good because they need to make a more original design then that. Also, by the time this car comes out the new prius will be out as well which will look a lot nicer and more futuristic. That means Honda’s design will still be a few year behind.

  • Bryce

    true true

  • Old Man Couch Potato

    If you ask me, from the begining of car manufacturing mostly all cars looked alike, for example the 1952 Chevy looked like theFord. Take out your old folks photos and compare. Today the Ford escape looks the same as the Murcury mountianeer and the Mazda SUV.

    Simularites shouldn’t constitute being copy-cats.

    The Insight was the first model to appear like a cough drop from Honda, so officially the Prius copied the Insight.


  • pendoctrjd

    Prius’s sales based upon style are higher than Honda Civic Hybrid because they are a stand-alone design verses the Honda using the same body design on the hybrid as the non-hybrid Civic. The same goes for the discontinued Honda Accord Hybrid; same body as the non-hybrid. It appears consumers want their hybrid to standout from non-hybrids… for now.

  • NPD

    The spyshots of the 2009 Honda global subcompact hybrid show the triangular “mini windows” that are in front of the side rear-view mirrors. Admittedly they are taped over, but still the unofficial illustration should show them – this illustration is missing those little windows.

    I am not surprised the global subcompact hybrid looks like a cross between a Prius and Honda’s current hybrids. The hatchback design and aerodynamic common sense don’t seem to leave a lot of room for other body shapes. The FCX headlights and front bumper wrap around are admittedly cool.

    Given many people think the Prius is the only hybrid car there is – one sad prediction is that the general public might start calling this car the Honda Prius.

  • Bryce

    It is true that cars do tend to take the same general shapes as their competitors, however, the Escape, Mountaineer, and Tribute comparison is bad becuz those are all rebadged Escapes. Ford owns Mercury and Mazda. A better example might be Accords and and Camrys in the 90s. Pretty similar. Even the old Malibu and the Saturn L200 sedan looked the same as the old Camry back in the day. Since they are competitors, they figure if they do the same thing as their rival, they will be safe. Same thing goes for Toyota as they copied the large truck and SUV segment in 2007. Then that market dived and they are now hurting, admittedly not as bad as the Big 3. Minivans would be another example. Chrysler created the segment from thin air, and then all of sudden, everyone had a van to offer to the public. Competition is a beautiful thing. : )

  • steved28

    If you feed certain criteria (aerodynamics, interior room, crumple zones, stability, C-Pillar design etc.) into a CAD systems, guess what? They spit out the same basic designs. There is only so much you can do to differentiate yourself and keep in spec.

  • Todd C

    I’m betting that Honda and anyone else who brings a new hybrid to market will not offer much differentiation from a visual standpoint, because as steved28 points out, aerodynamics has taken everyone to the same inevitable question: how ugly can we go before it becomes unsellable? At some point it will boil down to one thing: among the reliable hybrids available, whose will get the best mpg?

  • Benny B.

    I have a Civic Hybrid, and I feel envious when I see a Prius, because people know that it is an hybrid, and mine looks like the same and non hybrid Civic.
    I like very much the Clarity, but I was told that’s no chance that we will have it here in Israel.

  • PulSamsara

    The Clarity is a very nice design.
    Let’s start making these already !

  • PTice

    They do – The Honda Civic Hybrid has the same body as the regular Civic. Mine is the old style (2005), but the new models are the same as the gas only version.

  • I’m Ugly

    I didn’t know that Ford owns Mercury and Mazda. Thanks, for the heads up on that Bryce. I’ve heard once from my economics professor that Toyota branched out from Honda corporation to compete with major American car manufacturer back in the 80’s, which seems true now that China car makers are taking over the automotive market.

    Is this true Bryce?

  • tw8s

    NPD made me chuckle: Is your ‘Kleenex’ made by Scots Paper or Kimberly-Clark? Is your ‘Prius’ made by Honda or Toyota (or Great Wall Motor)? Mine is the real deal – a 2006 Seaside Pearl.

  • MissKayla

    the design is definatly not as manly as most men and quite a few women would like but its a step toward a better future and i am very confident ther will be differnent designs from the inside out when it becomes more popular and profitable.

  • Hal Howell

    They do, its called the Honda Civic. However, consider this. This is now the 21st century. Is it okay if we start having cars that at least look like they’re from the future? Who wants a boring looking car. If thats what you want then consider getting a used K-Car from Chrysler.

  • Anonymous

    I think there might be more design wiggle room. The Opel/Vauxhall/GM* Insignia supposedly has a drag coefficient of 2.6-2.7. The same as the current Prius and it doesn’t look like a Prius [1]. Maybe they have more design leeway because the Opel is longer? I don’t know. Or maybe the Opel has the lowest drag coefficient achievable through that design while the ‘Prius’ design has more room for improvement. We will just have to see if the Honda ‘Prius’ is more aerodynamic than the Toyota ‘Prius’.

    *damn that is really irritating GM. Pick no more than three GLOBAL brand names and get rid of the rest. Brand names only work if they have a good reputation or truly individual identity, most of yours don’t, time to thin the herd.


  • Anonymous

    Yeah i definitely messed up those drag coefficients should be .26-.27. The Opel and Prius are not boxes.

  • CT_Jake

    1st to “I’m Ugly”: Honda and Toyota have always been separate entities. They have been selling branded vehicles in the US since the 60s. If your professor said that, drop his class ’cause he is clueless. Regarding the design: Toyota shoudl be shouting with glee. They have done such a good job of etching the Prius image into our consciousness, that every time someone sees it they think it’s a Prius. Goodness, I hope Honda gets a handle on its design folks. Some of their recent designs have been weak or just plain bad. Examples: new Honda Pilot [the unfortunate offspring of a crv and a Jeep Commander], all the new Acruas which have the ugliest grills in world, and to some extent the new Civic. It is better to be bland than just plain ugly. I hope the rendition above is way off the mark

  • Shines

    Well now that I see the Honda design next to the current Prius I can see the differences. Yes they are similar – so were the Accord and Camry a few years back. I think the Honda looks better, but there are a lot of other issues. For example the Civic and Prius are not in the same class – the Prius is bigger. If the new Honda costs under $20K but is a smaller car than the next Prius then we’re still in the same boat as the Civic and Prius now.
    CT_Jake, I agree with you about the new Acuras having but ugly grills – reminds me (sorry for sounding sexist but) of a woman who is wearing too much lipstick. I do think the new Honda Accord is a beautiful car – too bad Honda didn’t make a good hybrid version of it. If Chevy can get the Volt produced and Ford were to come out with a hybrid Focus, then we might have some fair competition and hybrid prices might come down further. That would be nice.

  • NCyder

    Hey, look, a Honda Prius!

  • looksDontMatter

    Who cares about the looks as long it gets 60+ MPG?

  • Shines

    If you have a choice between 2 cars that both get 60 mpg and have similar price, capacity, reliability, comfort, features etc which one do you choose? The one that you think looks better…

  • mike r

    the ford escape, mercury mountaineer and mazda tribute are all made by ford, that’s why they look alike.

  • twos

    Wow Honda, that’s a nice Prius you’ve made there.

  • jb
  • ThumperD187

    It is a great design and ppl should stop hating on it! If it is $20k and does 50+ mpg thats all i am looking for. I hope the drag is even lower then .27, maybe .25 that will be sweet.

  • khooper

    “We can’t have small cars as the only way to go. We’re lucky to have all the technology out there” These Enviro Car will surely go all the way as long as it helps the people save.

  • Jeremy

    Hybrids don’t look like regular cars for two reasons, One is that people who own hybrids like to advertise that they own a hybrid. The other is that hybrids must be as aerodynamic as possible to aid in efficiency.

  • Tyrone

    I agree. It seems that car makers are trying to punish people who want to buy a hybrid, but designing them to look like a steaming hot pile of ****.

  • Bryce

    Mr. Ugly

    Toyota was formed from a bike company as I recall pre-WW2 and has been making cars since then. It was introduced in the 60s/70s to the North American market and is separate and altogether different (and an ardent competitor) with Honda. Maybe your professor was making a joke.

    If you look at automakers websites, on the bottom, it will often list their other companies or their parent company.

    (Ford, Mercury, Lincoln, Mazda)

    GM=Chevy, Pontiac, Saturn, GMC, Saab, Cadillac, Opel, Vauxhall, Daewoo, Buick, and maybe another one I am forgetting

    (Toyota, Scion, Lexus)

    (Nissan, Infiniti)

    (Honda, Acura)

  • John Tran

    Hello, If you want your life is safe, then buy Honda, toyota alway make a cheap tubs and very good to copy from Honda and orther American car. Honda is #1. Toyota is #10.


    Beween Honda & Toyota: The safety: Honda all have 5 star. Even Toyota copy from Honda but can not copy the safety, only 4or 3 star.
    Why I am saying that Toyota copy from Honda.
    1) Honda come to US the Honda Insight first and Toyota copy come out the prius.
    2) Honda come out the Honda Accord Hybrid, then Toyota copy to come the Camry Hybrid and then Hylander……
    3) May be in the future Toyota will copy the civic hybrid to become the corolla hybrid.
    4) Honda make the FCX Clarity (using Hydrogen) I am sure Toyota will copy and will be come out the car using the Hydrogen late.
    I am very fair, but I don’t like some one copy from some body and make more and better even not safety, don’t care, just work more. Just like China cheat us at Olympic.
    Are you argree with me?

  • Bryce

    I am pretty sure Honda copied the whole fuel cell thing from GM though. They have had some of those running around for a couple years now.

    Honda does have great crash safety ratings though. Now anyways, those old Civics…..well, watch some real life crashes of those things.


    Toyota had the Prius in Japan for three years before the Insight was created. They’ve had the Hydrogen FCHV for years before the FCX Clarity. I don’t know where your getting your information from, Toyotatrashcar, but you seem to be misinformed

  • RC

    In response to the design, why would you want a hybrid to look like a regular car for goodness sake! It looks the way it does because of the aerodynamic design to reduce air drag, primarily. The hatchback design also affords the car more capacity in contrast to the traditional design. Form should follow function in design and everything in general.

  • BOB3208

    These designs are A-E-R-O-D-Y-A-N-M-I-C. If they looked like ‘regular’ cars they would get regular gas mileage. Eventually these will be the “regular’ car…

  • BOB3208

    These designs are A-E-R-O-D-Y-A-N-M-I-C. If they looked like ‘regular’ cars they would get regular gas mileage. Eventually these will be the “regular’ car…

  • Anonymous


  • Skymaster

    Well I think the new Honda Insight looks great.
    Come the end of 2009 I’ll be trading in my 2007 CR-V for this new hybrid.
    Look, in the UK fuel is £5 odd a gallon thats nearly $10, so we’ve gotta do something to keep the bills down!
    Good on you Honda.

  • thomatt12

    Well at least the Toyota Prius has some serious competition now.

  • Anonymous

    there VERY ugly