Two Sedans to Charge Your Drive
by The Car Family
for more reviews go to http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/
Even after spending weeks in these two vehicles it isn’t easy to tell you which one is best because there isn’t a best. It just depends. If you travel 50 miles or less on a regular basis the Volt is the one to own. It is a great drive and comfortable at speed. If you travel 12 miles of less the Prius is the one to own. The difference is what happens after you travel your electric-only distance in each car. At that time the Chevrolet Volt’s engine returns 34 mpg while the Prius tops 50 with ease. As for cost, the Volt is priced around $40,000 and Toyota has yet to price its plug-in version of the Prius. Regardless, it will come in under the Chevrolet due to the fact that uses many of the same parts as the existing Prius while Chevrolet’s Volt is new and uses far more expensive batteries to achieve its longer electric-only mileage.
Just in, the plug in version will be priced from $32,000 to nearly $40, depending on the amount of electronic goodies you want. Look for better range for the added battery pack and the government has an incentive that could take off a couple of grand from the total. Meanwhile. Chevrolet has lowered the price of the Volt.
In our case, the Prius is the better fit and with the new models said to have the ability to control when that 13 miles of electric only extra battery pack will come into use it makes it even more desirable. Why? Because when you are at freeway speeds that Prius gives you 50 miles per gallon and when you hit traffic you simple hit the electric power only button and you aren’t going to use any fuel for over ten miles. Indeed, on our recent 200 mile venture the Prius gave us 62.3 mpg. The Volt does not have that feature, but does offer superior interior design and better highway ride.
Driving each vehicle is easy and hassle free. At night, when electric rates go down, you plug them into a 110 outlet. It takes three hours for the Prius and about eight or nine for the Volt as it has a far larger battery pack. Both cars have the ability to charge more quickly with a special 220/240 volt outlet connection.
If you like to drive fast the Volt is very responsive and highly underrated as a handling car. The weight of the large battery pack that sits low in the frame makes cornering a breeze. The Prius has its extra battery pack in the area below the rear hatch. This location means that the car does not have a spare tire. We would buy a space saver and sacrifice the trunk space if we were traveling away from services. The Prius and Volt both brake well and you hardly notice when the gas engines turn start. The Volt is the better performer overall. However, when you hit the power button on the Prius you are going to find yourself pleased with the added acceleration. It can become addicting.
There is one variable here that needs to be addressed and that is whether or not the extra cost of the additional battery pack in the Prius is going to be worth the few extra miles per gallon over the standard Prius. After all, the plug in version only gets you a few extra miles of electric only travel and it may costs several thousand dollars more. In our case it would be worth the extra. If we remembered to plug it in after six when the electric rates were lower and unplug it three hours later we would not have to buy any gas for months. This did not prove a problem for us. We also didn’t have to worry about range anxiety in either of thee vehicles because if you want to take a longer trip the gas engines fire up. Finally, there is another consideration and that is the fact the Volt is made in America and the Prius in Japan. We are not being xenophobic here, but with the recent nuclear power plant problems in Japan and its impact on both parts and vehicles one might consider availability for granted. On the other hand, we have noted a few Chevrolet dealers were asking a premium price for the Volt.
Mom’s view: The Volt is a better family sedan. It is easier to get in and out of and has the features that we have been accustomed to over the years such as more passing power and passenger comfort. That being said, I like the maneuverability of the Prius more, although it takes a longer time to get used to its handling and braking characteristics whereas the Volt felt more handy. I would note here, that if you drive more than 50 miles a day and take frequent long trips the Chevrolet Cruze may be a better choice. It is a refined sedan with a huge trunk, priced at half of the Volt’s cost, and gets 40 miles per gallon on the highway. I found the Cruze the best compact car Chevrolet has ever built and well worth a test drive.
Chevrolet's new Cruze
In terms of design, the Volt is a winner, Everything is very well thought out with easy to read gauges and comfortable seating. The Prius is more basic. The rear seats offer less room and there is less useful cargo space. The dash layouts on both are simple, but the Prius offers more information once you learn to manipulate the screen buttons. Neither car has a good GPS with the Toyota locking you out when the car is in motion and the Volt’s being difficult to navigate. The Volt also has a center stack that is difficult to read and requires a longer learning curve.
Safety wise the Prius has driver and front passenger Advanced Airbag System, driver and front passenger seat-mounted side airbags, driver knee airbags and front and rear side curtain airbags. Toyota’s Star Safety System features Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, Anti-lock Brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Brake Assist. Crash tests for the regular model have been good. Since we were testing a prototype we can only surmise that the same scores would apply to the 2012 version. We always recommend ordering all the extra safety equipment which includes a Pre-collision System and Lane Keep Assist. The Volt gets nearly identical crash scores and such features as a StabiliTrak electronic stability control system, front, side, and knee air bags in addition to a roof-mounted head-curtain air bags. Our test Volt had the optional rearview camera and it worked well. Overall, I liked the Volt best except for the center stack and visibility concerns.
Dad’s view: So alike and yet so different, these two plug-in sedans are the future for those who can abide by their restrictions. For example, batteries don’t do well in extreme cold weather and there isn’t a lot of cargo room in these two. But for the majority of people, they are a perfect fit. Research has shown that the average commute is 16 miles. Now that means that half of the people travel less, which would make the Prius an excellent fit. And for the other half, the Volt would be ideal. Add to that the fact that many commutes are in heavy traffic. In that case, both are ideal because the engines shut down when traffic is stopped.
Engine wise, the Prius has a 1.8 liter engine that easily produces 98 horsepower and with the regular battery pack you can expect even more power, especially since the electric motors offer immediate torque. The Chevrolet Volt has a smaller engine with is its 1.4 liter seeking premium fuel, and with help from the battery powered motors provides a similar thrust, but with less engine noise. The Volt feels faster and reacts quicker to inputs. Advantage here to the Volt. As for my choice, I would go with Prius for two reasons. It is well proven and will undoubtably cost less.
Young working woman’s view: Of note is the recharge time for these two. Since the Volt has a larger battery pack it uses more household electricity. You do go further with that charge, but it takes longer. Special fast charging stations that use a 220/240-volt set-up are going to cost you a reported $2000 more. To me that isn’t worth it. However, if I had such a devise at work and could plug in my hybrid there it would be a real plus. The battery packs are said to last for at least a decade, but that really does not seem to be an issue as many Prius models have never had a battery failure in hundreds of thousands of miles.
For appeal it is all Volt. It comes standard with a lot of features such as 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, remote ignition, cruise control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth, a limited free OnStar subscription, a touchscreen navigation system, voice controls and a six-speaker Bose stereo with CD/DVD player, audio jack, iPod/USB interface and more. There is also a Premium Trim package and The Rear Camera and Park Assist package adds a rearview camera and front and rear parking sensors. I recommend the latter as the visibility outside the Volt is more restricted than the Prius. So Volt is the winner for me even though I much prefer the maneuverability of the Prius. It is just more trendy and up to date.
Young working male’s view: The Prius PHV is interesting in that you need to control your demand for forward thrust or else the gasoline engine fires up. I learned to feather the throttle is for no other reason than to avoid listening to the groan of the 1.8 engine. The Volt also has an exhaust note that isn’t very pleasing, but you don’t have to be so gentle with the accelerator pedal. The reason that some people complain about getting gas mileage in the 40s with the Prius is that they drive it like a gasoline or diesel only powered vehicle. These vehicles require a different driving style. Momentum is everything and taking advantage of there high mileage tires and the vehicles low rolling resistance is a must. You can easily pick-up speed going down the smallest incline in these sedans without having to use an throttle input. In mountain driving both cars have a lower gear to use to help slow the vehicle as they can pick up speed quickly on steep grades.
I had a difficult time trying to tell the Prius PHV from the its trimmer, unplugged sister. The only clue was the cutout in the left front fender that houses the electric input adapter. There were extensive decals annoucning that this was the new plug in, but basically that was it. I was somewhat concerned that the small door that covers the Toyota’s plug in connection does not lock with the central locking system. The Volt’s does. The Prius and the Volt both come with a kit that enables you to plug it into any 110 outlet. Toyota provides 22 feet of cord and be well warned that you must not use any other extension. The same goes for the Volt. I felt that Toyota should have followed the Volt in having the Prius receptacle lighted for night use. I also thought that the Volt had a better system of tracking the time left for a complete charge. It should be noted that we were in a prototype and that Toyota retail version will surely have many tweaks that will make it more user friendly.
The PHV’s cargo floor is a bit higher than in the regular Prius to allow for the added battery pack. The Prius PHV battery pack is a potent lithium-ion pack. Since I work making open software computers and servers at http://www.eracks.com I am familiar with these and find them reliable. The Prius uses a parallel-hybrid powertrain that is seamless and when you use the power button, almost frisky. I did say , almost. The 15-inch wheels are not nearly as nice as the Volt’s and the brakes and steering are vague and unfeeling. For my use the Volt would be the choice. Sexier and not so bland.
Family conference: No clear winner, but the one the fits our needs best is the Prius. The plug in model should be ready by 2012 and we have placed our name on the waiting list. Why? Simple, it is going to have a proven track record of reliability, high resale, and fits our driving needs. We dearly loved the Volt, but the pricing and fuel mileage once the batteries are depleted are a concern. If your daily driving needs are more aligned with the Volt it is worth the price, but if you drive further the Chevrolet Cruze is a strong consideration. The Cruze is our pick for the best of the compact gasoline powered vehicles at this time.
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