Plug-In Hybrid Specs: Advice On How To Read 'Em (From A Volt Owner)

Toyota's web page for its Prius Plug-In hybrid

Toyota's web page for its Prius Plug-In hybrid

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We’re going to let you in on a little insider’s secret: when manufacturers are shilling their wares, they tend to favor statistics that illustrate their own version of the truth.

As any politician (or car company) will tell you, you can always find a set of numbers to work in your favor.

Take the figures used by Toyota’s webpage to compare its Prius Plug-In against the Chevy Volt, for example. On the page, the Prius Plug-In is $7,200 cheaper, has more front headroom, more front leg room and features active head restraints unavailable on the 2012 Volt.

These decisive victories are even marked by blue dots, lest the consumer remain unaware of the Prius Plug-In’s triumph over the Volt.

As My Chevy Volt points out, the facts aren't quite as cut and dried as Toyota would have you believe. The difference in price between the cars isn’t as significant as shown, since the Volt qualifies for a $7,500 tax credit, compared to the Prius Plug-In’s $2,500 credit.

Put another way, when tax credits are applied, the price difference between the cars is just $2,200. That money buys you 38 miles of battery range on the Volt, compared to around 11 miles on the Prius Plug-In.

Even with a fully-charged battery, the Prius Plug-In needs to be driven as if you were hauling nitroglycerin. Accelerate with anything other than detached disinterest, and the Prius Plug-In fires up its gasoline engine, which also kicks in above 62 mph.

The Volt, on the other hand, can be driven like a conventional automobile on battery power, adding (in our opinion) to its appeal.

In between these extremes likes the Ford CMAX Energi. It’s priced similarly to the Prius Plug-In, but it’s eligible for a $3,750 tax credit, making its list price the most attractive of the group.

It’s electric-only range of 21 miles (likely blended) bridges the gap between the Volt and Prius Plug-In as well, but like the Toyota the Ford’s engine will kick in under hard acceleration (or at speeds above 85 mph).

My Chevy Volt says the Ford CMAX Energi will cost 4.1 cents per mile (based on electricity priced at $0.12 per kWh), compared to 3.5 cents per mile on the Prius Plug-In and 4.2 cents per mile on the Chevy Volt.

Put another way, the Volt uses 35 kilowatt-hours per hundred miles, compared to 34 kW-hrs/100 miles on the Ford and 29 kW-hrs/100 miles on the Toyota.

Perhaps the most significant number to those saddled with long commutes is the extended-range mpg of each. Here, the Volt falls short, returning just 37 mpg to the Ford’s 43 mpg and the Toyota’s 50 mpg.

What does it all mean? Ultimately, the right choice of plug-in vehicle is dependent upon  your needs and driving style. If your round-trip daily commute is under 30 miles, the Volt will generally allow you to make the drive on battery power alone.

If you’re faced with a 110 mile daily drive like some of us here used to tackle, the Prius Plug-In or the Ford CMAX Energi would likely make a more economical choice. On the other hand, the Volt is the only one of the trio to use a liquid battery thermal management system.

As with any other major purchase, the key to happiness is doing your homework ahead of time, then basing your decision on the facts most relevant to you. Facts, that is, that you’ve obtained on your own, not from a manufacturer’s advertorial.


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Comments (14)
  1. Advertorial, love it!

  2. An unmentioned factor is how much fun a car is to drive. The Volt is a blast to drive (especially in "sport" mode). If the plugin Prius is as gutless as our 2010 and our 2005 Prii were (compared to the Volt), then the Prius loses out on that dimension.

  3. Reid, I own neither but have driven both. I'm a huge fan of the Volt, and one of the reasons is its entertainment value and long-distance comfort.

    The Prius Plug-In is neither entertaining (in my opinion) nor comfortable to drive on long road trips.

    I've driven a Volt from NYC to Detroit, and it was no big deal. After driving a Prius Plug-In from Jacksonville to Miami, I was glad to get out of the car.

  4. And, when you buy a Prius, most of the money goes to Japan since it is 100% imported. Only "some" of the Volt money goes to foreign countries. CMax is highest in North American content.

  5. "Here, the Volt falls short, returning just 37 mpg to the Ford’s 43 mpg and the Toyota’s 50 mpg"

    Also keep in mind that with recent questionable MPG claim of Ford's hybrid, I am NOT sure if that 43MPG is really all that achievable.

    Volt's 37 MPG is pretty reasonable. Between 4 Volts at work, we have seen as slow as 33 MPG and as high as 46 mpg on the hwy. 36 to 40mpg is pretty typical of what Volt owner get.

    I am NOT sure if the Energi is really getting that 43mpg based on its nonplugin version of low report. Pip also is questionable to get high 50s since it is heavier than the regular Prius.

    Volt is definitely the fastest one on Electric.

    PIP doesn't even get any EV only miles if heat is used.

  6. "PIP doesn't even get any EV only miles if heat is used."

    Who told you that? It certainly wasn't an owner.

    -6F on this morning's commute was a great example. Despite using the heater in my PIP this morning, I drove in EV... 4 miles with the engine off, to be precise.

    The engine stops once coolant temperature reaches 130F, then stays off until hitting until hitting the low threshold... typically 114F, but sometimes lower if speed is really slow.

    Also, let's not overlook the reality that the plug-supplied electricity is used even when the engine runs. That is referred to as EV-BOOST. It pushes MPG above 100, which you routinely see while traveling faster than 62 mph.

  7. Well, I said "EV only miles" didn't I?

    Of course, PIP owners like to "twist" their version as "combined" EV only miles with "hybrid" miles.

    I meant the entire commute with electricity ONLY and NO gas used at all for heat usage regardless of outside temperature.

    "Despite using the heater in my PIP this morning, I drove in EV... 4 miles with the engine off, to be precise."

    So, what is your total trip length? miles with engine off can be achieved with "non-plugin" hybrids also. That is how the regular hybrids to achieve great MPG too since they average the total gas usaged for a entire trip...

    "It pushes MPG above 100"

    If John Biggs (Prius Fan) saw this, he would have called it "mpgBS" just to be clear.

  8. Since the absolute of "EV only miles" isn't always the case for Volt either in low temps, that was an unexpected perspective. Why bring it up? Electricity from the plug is used regardless of the engine. It's a hybrid, not an EV.

  9. Well, the "absolute" part is the key. Volt's engine comes up to warm the battery, NOT b/c you turn on the heat. That is key difference.

    Also, PIP can't stay in EV mode at all regardless of temperature like the Volt within its battery range.

    I don't argue about being "EV" anymore. You probably meant BEV.

    Volt's engine can NOT drive the car alone without its Electric motor. In fact, its electric motor is the main drive, thus the EV.

    Prius's engine can drive the car directly without any of the electric motor input at all. That is why it is a hybrid.

  10. Info. only the prius plug in achieves 60MPG plus on the highway doing 65 or better, as well as local in Hybrid ONLY mode it easily gets 60 or better but only Hybrid mode again....u r 100 % correct on the heat factor if you set the temp auto on the lowest 65 degrees yes the engine kicks in to give you heat but it only runs until the temp.needed is achieved...I use the manual method usually so it only runs when necessary....o purchase heated warm and safe gear from a motorcyclists type works well if you really want to achieve the bestout of these electrics...highly recommended....a bit extreme but why spend ALL that Xtra cash to save gas and blow on old man winter...lovin the 60 to 90 days filling the 10.6 gallon plug in tank...

  11. I doubt your 60 mpg at 65 mph claim is true.

  12. "a bit extreme but why spend ALL that Xtra cash to save gas and blow on old man winter"

    Change your lifestyle so you can drive your PIP without heat on is more than extreme... It is "cult" like.

  13. "..the Volt uses 35 kilowatt-hours per hundred miles, compared to 34 kW-hrs/100 miles on the Ford and 29 kW-hrs/100 miles on the Toyota."

    You might come to the mistaken conclusion that the Volt is less efficient that the C-Max EV or the PiP. In fact this only illustrates that it takes more energy to combat wind and rolling resistance at higher speeds. The Pip only uses its EV only mode at low speeds, if you drive your Volt at only low speeds you will find that it has much higher kwr/mi figures.

  14. I should proof-read before posting. ...much lower kwhr/mi figures.

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