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 PriusEnlarge Photo
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 VoltEnlarge Photo
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.