2012 Toyota Prius Vs. 2012 Chevrolet Volt: Which Is Right For You?

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Toyota Prius Vs. Chevrolet Volt

Toyota Prius Vs. Chevrolet Volt

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With gasoline prices on the increase, many consumers are looking to buy a hybrid or plug-in hybrid as their next car in order to save gas and money. 

If going whole hog and ditching gasoline entirely in favor of an all-electric car like the 2012 Nissan Leaf or 2012 Mitsubishi i isn’t an option, the 2012 Chevrolet Volt and 2012 Toyota Prius often top buyer’s test-drive lists. 

But which car should you choose, Prius or Volt? And why? 

Starting at $24,000 and topping out at $34,000 or so, the 2012 Toyota Prius hatchback is a five-seat mid-size car powered by a 1.8-liter Atkinson cycle, 4-cylinder engine and hybrid electric drivetrain through an electronic continuously-variable transmission. 

With a drag coefficient of just 0.25, its aerodynamic design and energy-saving wheels allow the 2012 Toyota Prius to return up to 51 mpg in the city and 48 mpg on the highway. 

Costing between $39,995 and $45,000, the 2012 Chevrolet Volt is a four-seat compact plug-in hybrid, or if you prefer, a range-extended electric car. 

2012 Toyota Prius

2012 Toyota Prius

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Capable of driving around 36 miles in electric-only mode thanks to a 111 kilowatt electric motor and 16 kilowatt-hour battery pack, the Volt can operate as a zero-emissions car with an EPA-approved rating of 94 miles-per-gallon equivalent.

Run out of electricity, and the Volt’s on-board, 1.4-liter gasoline engine kicks in, generating electricity from gasoline to move the car along. Drive the Volt far when this happens, and you’ll struggle to better a meagre 37mpg. 

And there’s the crux of the problem. While the Prius has one more seat than the Volt, not to mention a little more cabin and luggage space, it can’t compete against the Volt on fuel economy for short-distance commutes. 

Make regular mid- to long-distance trips, and the Volt’s short-distance all-electric capabilities are crippled by its poor gasoline gas mileage. 

For example, drive 600+ miles a week in a Volt, charging once a day and driving on mixed routes, and you should expect a fuel economy somewhere around 57 mpg. 

If you cover that kind of mileage every week without many charging oportunities and your most important goal is to save money on gasoline, you’ll want to think twice about buying a Volt. After all, the base-level Volt is $5,000 more expensive than the Prius, and you can buy a lot of gasoline for that. 

But Charge wherever possible and make most trips in all-electric mode, and your gas mileage will eclipse that of the Prius.

2012 Chevrolet Volt

2012 Chevrolet Volt

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In fact, even if you make the occasional family road-trip in your Volt, your average gas mileage will be better than a Prius as long as you spend most of the week running your car in electric-only mode. 

If you’re looking for your first green car and plug-in cars are still mysterious and scary, the 2012 Toyota Prius is the better choice. 

But if you live in a larger city, make lots of small-distance trips and want to reduce your gasoline habit on the way to total zero-emissions motoring, the Volt becomes the better car. 

Before buying either car, we recommend you work out your daily driving needs, and work out just how far you need to go.

As we often say, your mileage may vary. And in this case, we really mean it.


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Comments (22)
  1. Before tax adjustments, a loaded Prius plug-in is $39,525. A loaded Volt is $44,575. So when you adjust for the $5,000 tax difference, the price is almost identical. Prius gives 6 miles of all-electric range, compared to 35 miles in the Volt.

  2. I'm one of those people who want to go 'whole hog' and I do not want a gas bill and an electric bill too and I never want to stop at another gas station for the rest of my life. With Nissan coming out with the 6.6 charger that can fill you up in under 30 minutes, that is the car for me and I hope millions of other people who is sick and tired of these horrible gas prices, and Nissan will be lowering the price on the Leaf...can't beat it for savings.

  3. @James: To be clear, the upgrade on 2013 Leafs from a 3.3-kW to a 6.6-kW built-in charger applies to the Level 2 charging capacity--not the DC quick-charge, which is a separate plug using the CHAdeMO standard.

    That latter plug is the one that gives you *80 percent* of a complete battery refill in 30 to 60 minutes.

    The 6.6-kW Level 2 charger will simply cut the time for an overnight recharge from 7 to 10 hours to roughly half that time plus a little more. Hope this helps.

  4. Thanks, John. I wrote that comment before Mike explained it to me in another comment. All those point numbers are as confusing as hell. Why don't they just tell you that the 6.6 charger will allow you to charge in 3 hours instead of six hours?

  5. Actually, it's a little easier with a little math. You need to fill up the kWh, right? If your tank is 24kWh, you need ~four hours at 6.6kW to fill that. If you have L2 at 3.3kW then it takes 24/3.3 or ~7.2 hours. But that is before charge losses.

    Add in some charging losses of 20-30% and it gets easier. Round down a little bit and you can make it 28 (Leaf's full battery size)/6 and 28/3 = 4.5 hours of L2 3.3kW and 8.5 hours of L2 at 6.6kW. Makes it easier when you round the numbers being divided.

    Think "tank" (total kWh) and "fill speed" of the kW. You need about 1.25 hours per usable kWh / fill speed (the kW rating). And you can use rounding to make it easier. Becomes habbit once it's in the garage.

  6. John, Good Job Explaining. Sorry I accidentally clicked the thumbs down button.

  7. An article with unusual insight (no pun intended) on the future of hybrids that reflect actual decisions on what people are buying:


  8. Green car reports had a better article on the same survey.

    American Thinker articles show a biased conservative slant, and we know that the current crop of conservative leadership has a distinct hatred of green technology.

  9. Yes...that's why Texas, a strong conservative state, makes more green energy than the rest of the country combined. We HATE green energy!! Enlighten me as to where you think all of that electricity that powers the electric/plug in cars comes from (outside of Texas of course). IT ISN'T GREEN!!! Electric cars are a farce!! Here's more information about these "green" technologies that you aren't going to want to hear.


  10. Electricity produced by coal and natural gas by itself may not be clean but the process is cleaner than the the internal combustion engine.

    I will give you that not all conservatives are anti green tech but the vast majority are, especially those considered leaders in the modern conservative end of the political spectrum as well as those who have the loudest voices. There are smart folks in conservative land who see green tech and the push for lower oil use as a matter of national defense and economic security.

  11. Interesting conclusion, because I'd say it's the other way around!

    "But if you live in a larger city, make lots of small-distance trips and want to reduce your gasoline habit on the way to total zero-emissions motoring, the Volt becomes the better car."

    If you're in a city then speeds will be below the Prius' 62mph EV limit and most daily chores will be within 13 miles.

    However, if you live out in the suburbs or drive between cities, then surely the longer EV range and 70+ mph of the Volt makes sense? E.g. I commute on motorways between two cities, 31 miles each way. That's 14,000 EV miles a year with a few longer roadtrips that partly use petrol (< 1000 miles non-electric).

    YMMV but I also ran the spreadsheets before making my choice.

  12. The plug in prius has a stated 6-miles all-EV range because of the small battery. It will of course use stop/start in city life at stop-lights and other things like regen braking but that may not be enough to "win" over the Volt. The Pip has flaws intrinsic to it. First, it's a full import and doesn't support American jobs. Second, performance and luxury are less than a Volt. Third, it requires continuous plugging in to handle the 6-10 mile AER. If you have a 15 mile errand to run, you're burning gas unless you can opportunity charge. People in a Volt can do up to 40-50 miles of AER in summer months without plugging in and as Neil Cavuto says "forgetting to plug in leads to divorce" :)

  13. "After all, the base-level Volt is $5,000 more expensive than the Prius, and you can buy a lot of gasoline for that. "

    Not sure what you are referring to here with the $5000. The base Prius is $24,000 and the base Volt is $40,000, or $16,000 more (that is a 2/3 of a way toward a second Prius). Even considering the $7500 Fed tax credit, the Volt is $8,500 more.

    If my numbers are correct, I don't think that arguing about the cost of fueling either the Prius of the Volt makes much sense.

  14. Others have claimed the Plug-in-Prius MSRP is $32,000.

  15. Where is the benefit of the $7,500 rebate from Uncle Sam for a Volt in this analysis?

  16. If you look at the price of both vehicles and the gas mileage between both vehicles, it would be more cost effective to have a Prius verses a Volt, if you are the person to have a fairly new car all the time. A Volt brand new is about $40000 with tax incentive about $32500. A brand new Prius is about $24000 with no tax incentive. Price difference is $8500. By going an average of 15000 miles a year, the energy cost difference is about $550 based on EPA ratings on www.fueleconomy.gov. That is also if the Volt used only electricity! So by dividing $550 into $8500, it will take almost 15 yrs to make up the cost savings in fuel at today's average prices!!!! I think I will stick with a Prius any day!!! I love mine! :-)

  17. As a fellow Prius driver, I must agree with cost argument. On the other hand, if energy security, pollution, etc are a concern, the Volt is worth consideration.

  18. If you have a "fairly new car all the time", then why does cost matter at all? With those kind of funds, you're getting into a new car on a 3-4 year basis, right? That's not green at all. Buying a "green" car should include "green responsibility" and that is keeping said car for 8-10 years so you don't use up the hardware resources needed to keep you in a fairly new car all the time. And, buying a new car is not a good money decision anyway. Buy used Priuses or eventually used Volts to make good economic sense. The whole debate we have on "which new car is more cost effective" is pretty silly considering the MSRP prices argued over are way out of reach of most consumers to start with.

  19. OnStar notified me that last month I drove the equivalent of 153 mpg in my Volt. That was 40-50 mile trips avg 5 days a week plus two longer runs, one being being a 560 mile jaunt.

  20. That is great. But just to be clear, the 153 mpg number on the Volt is BS because it makes no accounting for the contribution of the electricity. The number could be a million mpg given the way it is computed. The mpge number cannot exceed 93 mpge.

    Still, excellent.

  21. I can exceed 93 mpge if the driving cycle is "mile" where the car sustains speeds of 35-40mph without much stop/go. The 93 mpge is based on the duty cycle imposed by the EPA. Same duty cycle that tanked the Fisker Karma to 50mpge and 20mpg while on generator. On gm-volt.com - a couple drivers have hit 60+ miles on a Volt charge (two over 70 in mild conditions). That is better than the EPA 93 mpge. Who wants to drive 40mph all day? Depends on the views.

  22. meant to say "mild" in 1st sentence.

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