Not that gas prices are making any kinds of headlines these days, but emissions have certainly been in the news over the last several months.
Buyers interested in fuel economy no longer have Volkswagen’s TDI diesels to turn to, and the biggest names in town as far as mainstream, four-door ultra fuel-efficient cars are the 2016 Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius. Both are newly redesigned for 2016. And both have their respective pluses and minuses.
Chevy Volt: Great Electric Range, Refined Performance
The Chevy Volt continues to be the best of both worlds for buyers who want to live an electric lifestyle but fear being caught short on a charge. The 2016 Volt’s electric-only range is now up to an EPA-estimated 53 miles, something that was easy to replicate in real-world situations. And 53 miles is a generous distance for many commutes or trips around town. But if you need to go a significantly longer distance, the 1.5-liter “generator” provides motivation to the wheels to get you hundreds of more miles. Expect 42 mpg when on this mode, too, which is also commendable.
The Volt also drives like a regular compact hatch, with steering that’s predictable, a lack of wind noise and a generally solid feel that’s likely a result of the heavy battery pack you’re lugging around. But few will notice because the 2016 Volt looks like a car, not a futuristic science project like the old one. That’s a good thing if you didn’t like it before, not so good if you’re trying to make a statement.
Inside, the Volt also lost a lot of the daring design choices of the old car in favor of a layout that wouldn’t look out of place in a mainstream Chevrolet. In fact, apart from the LCD display in front of the driver to show speed and vehicle information, the main controls are pretty much lifted out of recent Chevys, with an easy-to-use touchscreen and real knobs and buttons for commonly used controls. That’s good news if you just want to get in and drive.
However, it’s easy to make a Volt cost more than $40,000 with leather upholstery and advanced safety features, even if it starts out at around $34,000. Federal tax credits still apply, but state incentives vary widely and the Volt is still too expensive to have such hard plastic interior panels and no power driver’s seat. With the Volt, you’re still paying more to make an electric statement.
Toyota Prius: Sensible Pricing, Spacious Interior
The Prius, meanwhile, dares to be different. Like it or not, it stands out on the road. Its 2016 redo made it edgier than the Volt’s wedge shape, with lights and a face that pretty much everyone can agree are … distinctive.
But the Prius’ main story is efficiency and that’s where it continues to shine. It’s hard to do much less than 50 mpg in it, whether you’re threading through city traffic or out on the open highway. It’s rated at 54 mpg city, 50 highway by the EPA – or 58 and 53 if you go for the Eco model. Unlike the Volt, there is no plugging in involved, even if an EV mode allows you to travel in electric-only mode for short bursts of time or to sneak up on unsuspecting neighbors.
Right away, the Prius is noticeably more spacious and airy feeling inside than the Volt, which will appeal to those who carry four people on a regular basis or don’t care for the darker, more cave-like cabin on the Chevy. Materials, while greatly improved over the previous model, are nothing to brag about.
And the Prius still drives a bit like a digital simulation of a car, rather than a real one. The steering is video game-like in feel and inputs, while the powertrain groans when you put your right foot down hard, such as when entering highways or making quick passing maneuvers. A Power mode helps a bit, but even most compact cars don’t complain much when asked for bursts of acceleration anymore.
Still, with a Prius starting at just over $25,000 and topping out at no more than $33,000 with radar-guided cruise control and a decent sound system, it’s competitive with conventional sedans and hatchbacks with the added bonus of great fuel economy that you can achieve on a regular basis.
Volt and Prius Buying Considerations
Between these two, the Prius is likely a more practical and cost-efficient way of getting the most miles per gallon for most people. If getting 50 mpg in the most hassle-free way possible is the goal, the Prius is probably for you. As a car, the Volt is mostly superior. It feels surprisingly less like a digital remastering of a car than the Prius, even in EV-only mode, and is therefore more confident in everyday driving situations.
Never mind the gas prices. These two cars continue to represent that you don’t have to sacrifice much if you want four seats and good fuel economy. Which is why anyone looking for a compact hatchback should consider these two electrified cars.