Chevy Volt vs. Toyota Prime vs. Toyota Prius: And the winner is…………..

000_0014We’ve reported on the Chevy Volt — our favorite EV-hybrid — and the Toyota Prius.  However, this year, Toyota is taking on the Chevy Volt with its Prius Prime.    Like the Volt,  the Prime is a plug-in hybrid.  It competes with the Sonata Plug-In, Optima Plug-In, and Fusion Energi. On the horizon is the Hyundai Ioniq hybrid, plug-in, and EV, not to mention the Honda Clarity plug-in and EV.

However, our favorite EV-hybrid continues to be the Chevrolet Volt.  It is the best of its kind being manufactured today and is a legitimate claimant to the car of the future;  the bridge to the next generation of green cars that I expect will be powered by fuel cells.  So how does the Volt compare to the top-selling hybrid in the world, the Toyota Prius and the new Prius Prime?    You may be surprised by the answer.

First, let’s talk the Chevy Volt.  In the six years that we’ve driven the Volt it has performed admirably.  A supermajority of Volt owners agree.   Consumer Reports indicates that 92% of owners would definitely purchase the same vehicle again –  a satisfaction level higher than any other Hybrid/EV vehicle currently on the market.    Even though some experts fixation on its shortcomings  (limited passenger space,  visibility,  cold weather effects on battery range),   the Volt rocks its drivers’ socks off in terms of drivability, fuel economy and reliability.    Moreover, the 2017 Volt is getting rave reviews and for understandable reasons.   GM has learned a lot from its first-generation Volt, both in terms of how to market it as well as how to produce it.  The 2nd generation Volt is arguable an improved car and worth any car buyer’s attention.

The 2017 Prius Prime compares favorably to the Volt.   The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime will start at $27,965—that’s just over $6,000 less than the 2017 Chevrolet Volt, but it only has a $4500 tax credit available to it.   The Volt still enjoys the full $7500 tax credit  (based upon the size of the battery)   Although nothing comes close to the Volt’s EV range among plug-in hybrids, the Prius Prime’s 25 miles is a decent range, and the Toyota is just about loaded where the less spacious Volt starts. A Prius Prime in Advanced trim includes a color head-up display (which didn’t work well with my polarized sunglasses), blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert (helpful on a car with big blind spots), the 11.6-inch screen with navigation, a 10-speaker JBL sound system, LED headlights, and a hands-free keyless access system.  Prime punches back at these foibles with a double-sized, air-cooled lithium-ion battery (8.8 kW-hrs vs 4.4) and way more powerful, and uninterrupted, EV propulsion. Its charging rate remains 3.3 kW, but filling 8.8 kW-hrs still doesn’t take that long—5.5 hours from an ordinary wall plug, a little more than two from a 240-volt outlet.

In comparisons between the two cars,  Motor Trend and Car and Driver still prefer the Volt.  They report that the Volt has better electric mileage and handles far better than the Prime.  Kelley Blue Book gave the nod to the Prime due to its lower cost and ease of use.   Ultimately, you have to choose which car feels best to you  (although the Volt in Sport mode is an absolute hoot to drive if you like sporty-feeling cars).

Now to the Toyota Prius.  We’ve owned two models of Prius since 2001.   The 2001 model was its “beta” model.   In 2005,  Toyota released the Prius that most of the world drives today.   It is an outstanding car; perhaps one of the best value propositions offered by any car manufacturer, combining style, outstanding fuel economy, reliability and reasonable price.  I’ve always enjoyed driving the Prius and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it until this year.  2014 changed everything.   This year,  Chevrolet finally dropped the price of the Volt to where it needed to be;  close to $35,000.   Some of their models have prices at closer to $32,000.   Combine that MSRP price with the $7500 Federal tax credit and the $15000 California state incentive, you have a car that is priced at closer to $23,000 before taxes and fees!

Let’s compare that to the Prius.   The Plug-In version of the Prius (PIP) is priced at over $35,000.   But it only qualifies for a $2500 Federal tax credit and, combined with the $1,500 California rebate,  still comes out to over $30,000 before taxes and fees.    Not as good a deal as the Volt.   Moreover, the PIP is still a gasoline car whose battery range is limited and performance comes nowhere close to the Volt.   The base model of the Prius gas hybrid starts at about $25,000 MSRP, which still is about $2,000 higher than the Volt, after factoring in the Federal tax credit.    Until this year, the Volt was an appreciably more expensive car, but Chevy decided to drop the price to compete with the Prius and it is succeeding in spades.  I no longer recommend the Prius, if someone is interested in the Volt.   Moreover, if you have a PV (photovoltaic) solar array on your roof,  you have to choose the Volt over the Prius.

Chevrolet has done a really wonderful job designing and manufacturing the car. The car drives solidly and, in sport mode, it feels like a bona fide sports car with g-force acceleration and road-hugging handling. Thanks to the electric motor, the car is very quiet when running off the battery. When the gasoline-driven electric generator is running (after you’ve exhausted the 40-mile battery charge) you can hear some engine noise, but you really have to listen for it. This car is a 21st century car, designed to work in an Internet-based, wireless world. So you can access and even start the car using a wireless phone or Net-based computer. Other highlights: the car  According to Motor Trend and other web-based engineering sites, the car is an engineering marvel. For the lay-person the highest compliment one can offer is that you can’t see the technologically complexities.  For the driver, it feels like a typical hybrid automobile. It’s a bit smaller than the Prius, but a heckuva a lot more fun to drive.

Now, here’s the real kicker. If you keep your trips to below 40 miles, you can probably drive the car forever without ever using a drop of gasoline. BUT, if your trip exceeds 40 miles, you have the gasoline engine that allegedly provides about 350 total miles on a full tank (10 gallons of gasoline). So this car CAN go the distance, but if it is used for local city driving, it will literally never need a drop of gasoline. And if you use a solar photovoltaic array to produce the electricity that charges the batteries, then your car is effectively being propelled by the sun. It doesn’t get a lot more elegant than that.

We have been driving the Volt for almost seven years now.   We’ve racked up 76,000 miles and have used a grand total of 440 gallons of gasoline — in other words,  We’ve filled up the car about thirty times in over seven years.   During that time,  we’ve driven throughout Southern California, Arizona and Nevada.    It performs as beautifully on long excursions as it does on short-haul trips.  After the federal $7500 tax credit, it is selling in the mid-$20,000s.  The fuel savings alone might fully offset the  premium you pay over hybrid cars If you produce your own electricity  (as we do) , the fuel savings I reaped from the Volt cut my payback for our PV to 8 years and with the lower prices, the payback is even quicker!    Second,  the Volt is one of the more affordable sports cars on the market.  This car is a lot of fun to drive and might appeal to the sports-car enthusiasts for whom no green cars currently exist.   If you are looking for a great sports car for under $30,000 (out of pocket),  the Volt is your car.    We’ll not take away anything from the solidly reliable Prius, but it simply doesn’t have the Volt’s styling, performance, handling or EV-economics.  Plus, the 2016 Volt is getting rave reviews and for understandable reasons.   The 2nd generation Volt is arguable an improved car and worth any car buyer’s attention.   It also has undergone a substantial redesign under the hood that has improved its performance.

Chevrolet has finally came through with a groundbreaking, solidly engineered automobile for consumers who want to do right by the Earth and still have some fun.    The automaker took the plunge and delivered.  Later in 2015, it will be offering an upgraded 2016 Volt that will boast a 18.4-kWh battery packthat stores enough electricity for 50 miles of gas-free driving. Combine the battery pack with the car’s new 1.5-liter gasoline engine, which gets 41 miles per gallon, and the Volt can now go more than 420 miles on a road trip before needing a fill-up.  The interior has also been improved to allow a fifth person to sit in the car and the styling changed.   The price is expected to be unchanged.

You won’t find many better cars on the market in the near future, with the possible exception of the Toyota Fuel Cell car rumored to be available for sale in California by 2016.     In 2014,  we had six friends purchase Volts.   Each of them figured out what features they needed and colors they wanted and then scoped out the local dealer ads on the Internet.    They visited at least two dealers in the area and then chose — one purchased a car for as low as $25,000, after taxes, fees and various tax credits and state rebates.   Another one reports getting one for $26,000, out of pocket after all of the credits and rebates.   These prices are competitive, if not lower, than the Prius!   And the Volt is a FAR better car.

If you’re interested in going 1,000 miles between visits to the gas station or have a round-trip commute of around 50 miles, the Volt might be the best bet if that’s within the price range. Or there’s the more spacious, way cheaper, and less EV-capable Prius Prime. We’re fans of the Fusion Energi, which has attractive sedan looks and a respectable EV range but lacks the functionality of the hatchback body style.

3 thoughts on “Chevy Volt vs. Toyota Prime vs. Toyota Prius: And the winner is…………..”

  1. Great write-up, but like most car reviews, you’ve spent little time on reliability!

    Both Consumer Reports and True Delta have panned the Chevy Bolt’s reliability.

    The Volt has a whoppingly low score of only 1 out of 5 at CR and only an average rating at TD.

    With those stats, it’s hard to justify buying it, no matter what its mileage is or how it handles!

    Many of us want a reliable car, that is easy to use, has high safety ratings, and gets good gas mileage or, rather, runs on electric power for most common local commutes. For that, the Prius or Prius Prime sound much better!

    • Actually, we are very aware of the CR score, which has us pretty boggled. As recently as last year, the Chevy Volt ranked close to Tesla for customer satisfaction. And even Consumer Reports acknowledged last year that the Volt’s owner satisfaction rates had climbed to 90%, up there with the Miata and Corvette. Plus, the high rate of Volt owners buying new Volts suggests that drivers who own the car don’t want to switch to another car. So we continue to scratch our heads at CRs ratings.


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