Last month, Toyota said that it had 2,100 pre-orders for the 2012 Prius Plug-In Hybrid.

Now, with first sales of that car being logged this week and dozens of them delivered to dealers, we have a third viable, high-volume plug-in car available to U.S. buyers.

Consumers can now buy a pure battery electric vehicle (the Nissan Leaf), a range-extended electric (the Chevy Volt), or the first plug-in hybrid (the plug-in Prius).

Their EPA electric ranges are 73 miles for the Leaf, 35 miles for the Volt, and 11 miles for the Prius Plug-In. Each is priced between $32,500 and $40,000 before incentives.

Given all that, we'll be very curious to see what the sales mix of these three plug-ins turns out to be--and how buyers evaluate each car against the other two.

One reader and early buyer of a Prius Plug-In Advanced model, Jim Bradbury of Rowlett, Texas, agreed to share his thoughts with us:

I test drove a Nissan Leaf, which is a little small. The range anxiety kept me from buying one. I liked its dash and the futuristic sounds.

It's nice to know I can drive the Plug-In Prius across country, and where there IS a charging station along the way, I can charge up and save a little gas.

What helped make the decision against the Leaf is the fact that DFW Airport is 43 miles from my home. I can't make it there and back in a Leaf, even on a full charge, but I can in the Plug-In Prius.

As for the Chevrolet Volt, I test-drove it. It's only a four-seater; the Prius has five seats. And I'm a big guy, so it was harder for me to get in and out of the Volt. There's more headroom in a Prius than a Volt.

While the Volt will go up to 40 miles in electric mode, the engine doesn't drive the wheels, and the Volt only gets 36 miles per gallon when it runs out of battery--while the Prius Plug-In gets 50 MPG.

Finally, the Chevy Volt looks too much like an ordinary car. The Prius Plug-In and Leaf are both unique looking and make a statement about "Being Green". The Volt looks too much like a Chevy Cruze, and the average person doesn't notice the difference.

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid - production model

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid - production model

But the Leaf and the Volt are both good cars. I spent a lot of time looking at the cars and their features. I have test driven a Prius twice now, and it's a fun car to drive.

I wish the Prius had a bigger battery so it could go 20 miles or more in all-electric mode, but it's only 3 miles from my home to the grocery store, the bank, and the post office. 

So, the 11+ miles of electric range for the Plug-In Prius is adequate to run those errands in pure EV mode.

I teach at a community college 11 miles from the house. There are charging stations at a recreation center 2 miles from the college where I can charge my car on the way home while I exercise. I won't use much gas on those 23-mile round trips.

I'm a Digital Systems Engineer and I like the Prius from an engineering perspective. The regular hybrid Prius has been around for 13 years, and has a proven track record for quality and reliability.

And there you have it: one man's clearly articulated reasons for choosing the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid over a Leaf or a Volt.

What about you? How do your travel patterns and views of the three cars' relative merits differ?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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