Jen Smith with her new 2016 Toyota Prius FourEnlarge Photo
The opening photo tells the story: when Jen Smith needed to replace her faithful 2006 Toyota Prius, she ended up buying the new fourth-generation Prius that debuted this year.
But before making this decision, she reached out to Green Car Reports to ask about her options.
This article has been adapted from a number of e-mails back and forth offering suggestions and responding to them during her evaluation and shopping process.
It started in late April with this note:
Would you mind giving me your opinion regarding the best fuel efficient cars in 2016? My Prius battery is dying, and I am looking to get a new car. I have loved the Prius for 10 years and have about 160,000 miles on it.
My inclination is to just get another one but I have read that there may be big changes in the 2017 hybrids and so I am also wondering if I should wait? I don't really know what I would do in the interim but I could probably figure something out.
The Tesla Model 3 that was just released looks like a fun car but I don't particularly want to wait two years for it or whatever crazy timeframe is expected. My priorities are: good gas mileage, heated seats, a sunroof (if possible), and safety.
2017 Chevrolet VoltEnlarge Photo
Working for a open-spaces organization, Jen is aware of green issues, so we thought there should be a plug-in car in the mix.
We also knew she was comfortable with compact to mid-size cars and with hatchbacks, didn't require all-wheel drive, and occasionally needed to drive long distances on short notice.
We responded as follows:
"First, have you had a competent hybrid shop look at the battery in your Prius? It may be possible to replace a few cells or modules. Failing that, a used battery pack may let you get a few more years out of the car at far lower cost than a new model.
"Second, assuming you need or would like a new car, the 2016 Prius is all new and a much better vehicle than the previous incarnation.
"It's nicer to drive by far and you can often forget that you're in a hybrid—which I found almost impossible in its predecessors given their performance characteristics.
"So replacing your current Prius with the new fourth-generation model is a safe bet, and you'll get a nicer car out of it. Also, given cheap gas, hybrids aren't exactly flying off the shelves these days, so your dealer may be willing to bargain a bit more than usual, even on a brand-new Prius model.
"However, there are two plug-in hybrid options you should seriously consider. The Prius Prime is the plug-in hybrid version of the new Prius, with an EPA-rated electric range of 22 miles.
2017 Toyota Prius Prime, 2016 New York Auto ShowEnlarge Photo
"It'll arrive at dealers by the end of this year, and lets you do a substantial amount of driving solely on electricity—though we haven't driven it yet, so we don't know how strong the traction motor is and how often the engine has to kick on.
"And, if you don't need to carry five people, we highly recommend considering the current Chevrolet Volt, with a 53-mile all-electric range.
"It's a fantastic car, with a quiet cabin, good power and handling, and in my eyes, a very crisp and stylish exterior design—whereas the new Prius looks are definitely in the eye of the beholder.
"The Volt beat the (conventional) Prius for our Green Car Reports 2016 Best Car To Buy award. And we compared the two cars in a video as well."