What Makes More Sense – 2016 Prius or 2016 Volt?

The 2016 Chevy Volt and 2016 Toyota Prius are alike in some ways, unalike in others, but which one would make the most sense for you?

To answer that question, stop and ask what are you trying to accomplish? Both cars in this East-meets-West matchup are presented as solutions that approach a problem from very different angles, while really overlapping, if not even copying aspects of each other.

SEE ALSO: Toyota Unveils 2016 Prius – Video

Both stand to save gas and reduce emissions, while providing effective transportation. The Prius is a mid-size, Volt is a compact. Both are variations on hybrid powertrains with the Volt being the one that can plug in and travel as a part-time electric vehicle.

Fans of the Volt have been known to say the Volt beats the Prius where it counts, and within certain criteria, this argument can be made, but both cars have their merits and present respective pros and cons.

The Prius is the fourth generation of a regular non-plug-in hybrid, fully revised, and due to go on sale early next year. The extended-range electric Volt is entering its second generation and Chevrolet is now accepting orders for fulfillment in California and states following California emission rules. Most of the country – 39 non-California-rules states – will not get the Volt until early spring 2016 as a 2017 model year.

There are many factors to consider when buying a car and even more when buying an eco car. While this is far from a comprehensive analysis, here are some thoughts to get you started.

Save Gas

Fuel prices are presently down, but both cars are an answer to a pre-existing need, and assuming prices later rise, the Prius and Volt stand to increasingly save on operating costs. And, it’s always nice to use less gas in any case.

The Volt’s biggest claim to fame is it can run without using any gas for 53 miles by EPA estimation, and it returns 42 mpg in gas-only operation when the battery is out of charge. Chevrolet says on average 90 percent of trips will be within battery range, so the engine might rarely come on. During cold weather, the engine may run briefly in a mode called “Engine Running Due To Temperature” (ERDTT), and the engine might kick on to burn aging gas before it can become stale, but for the most part, this is an EV with gas backup. Cold weather also diminishes battery range, and careful driving may exceed rated range.

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The Prius may get 55 mpg in base trim, though prior to EPA certification, Toyota has only said “10 percent” improvement over 50 mpg. An as-yet un-revealed Eco version will get better but also not specified mpg. The Prius may run all-electrically for a mile or so with sufficient battery charge, and unknown is whether the Eco will go much farther electrically, but mainly, it needs gas to get anywhere.

For driving below 100 miles per trip or maybe a bit more, depending on conditions, the Volt will save more gas, even if its gas engine is needed for the last 50 because after its battery depletes it will transition to 42 mpg, approximately 13 mpg less than the Prius. Unknown is how much the Volt’s range will diminish in severe cold. The 2013-2014 38-mile range Volt could be trimmed to 25 miles in severe cold, a 35-percent reduction, which could correlate to maybe 35 miles frigid-weather range for the second generation, though this is just an estimate.

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The trick with the Volt is staying in EV mode which is possible given three quarters of all drivers travel under 40 miles daily.

A site called Voltstats.net shows how Volt fans make it a game and claim hundreds and even thousands of “miles per gallon” by averaging in gas-free-electric driving with gas driving, and while not cost-free, electricity is typically a fraction of gas costs.

The Prius is much simpler to grasp. It gets closer to consistent mpg being a regular hybrid. Longer trips will see the Prius catch up with superior fuel economy. This is a factor for frequent high-mileage drivers to consider but most drivers may burn less gas with the plug-in Volt.

Save Emissions

The EPA rates the 2016 Volt at just 51 grams tailpipe CO2 per mile considering its electric propulsion which radically reduces the average on the government’s test cycle.

Toyota has not released 2016 Prius greenhouse gas scores yet, but the 2015 was rated 178 grams per mile so if we arbitrarily say 90 percent of that, it would be 160 grams per mile, or triple the Volt’s greenhouse gases.

Of course here too, in gas-only mode, a 55 mpg Prius would be marginally cleaner than the Volt rated 42 on gas alone.

Domestic Energy Security

Above and beyond environmental justifications for the Volt’s existence is it gives drivers potential to cut the umbilical cord of oil – foreign or domestic. And, the Volt has the extra added bonus for Americans in that it supports domestic manufacturing in a growing technology sector in a time of off-shoring. It’s assembled in the U.S. of increasingly U.S. content.

“The next-generation Volt will feature approximately 70 percent U.S. and Canadian components within its first year of production, a nearly 20 percent increase from the first-generation,” says GM.

As for “energy security,” it’s been linked also with “national security.” Even the no-nonsense U.S. Department of Defense recognizes alternative energy as being of strategic importance, and is underway developing advanced tech to reduce oil dependence.

Also true is you will never see a load of electricity pulling up in a supertanker to port, and the U.S. presently says it must involve itself in regions of geopolitical instability to help secure oil rights for the American way of life.

Electricity, be it grid or renewable on site, is produced in the country in which the vehicle will be driven, and is not subject to global pricing like oil, which is a global, fungible commodity. That is, the U.S. does not control oil prices even with newfound hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling tapping shale oil.

The Prius however is reliant on oil, and is shipped from Japan. Unlike Nissan which has built a plant in Tennessee to produce its electric Leaf closer to point of consumption, Toyota still builds them domestically for export.

Economics get tricky here, and we won’t venture onto a shaky limb estimating well-to-wheel costs also, but the Volt can claim benefits the Prius cannot. This may be only an intangible benefit to some consumers, and a small one, as each Volt only saves so much oil and to date the entire imported and exported Voltec fleet has saved only millions of gallons of gas, but it’s adding up.

GM has sold just 100,000 Volt and Opel/Vauxhalls to date worldwide next to 3.5 million Prii so it has some catching up to do, but these are some facts for your consideration.

Functionality

The Prius is a bonafide five-passenger car, and the Volt is technically a five-passenger car. In fact, the new Volt’s middle back seat is atop a battery hump running down the centerline. It’s best for kids or small adults, and less comfortable than the right and left rear buckets.

2016 Volt.

2016 Volt.

Leg room in back also goes to the mid-sized Prius versus the compact Volt.

And cargo room as well is greater for the Prius. The 2016 Volt has 90 cubic feet passenger volume, 19 cubic feet in the hatchback – it’s designed like a sedan, but is a hatch.

2016 Prius.

2016 Prius.

The 2016 Prius specs were not released but it’s 2.4 inches longer, 0.6 inches wider and 0.8 inches lower than the 2015 which had 94 cubic feet passenger space, and 22 cubic feet volume.

Interior room is believed better, and in real life, more stuff will pack into the Prius, and it’s roomier for people in back.

Fun to Drive

Here’s a mystery because drive reviews have not been done for the Prius, though Toyota is talking up its sporting prowess for its New Toyota Global Architecture platform, new rear double wishbone suspension, and chassis tuning to improve driving dynamics.

Going into this comparison, the generation-one Volt was known to be peppier and a better handler. The new Volt’s 0-30 mph time is just 2.6 seconds – and Motor Trend managed to push it on gas-plus-electric to 2.2, beating a 2013 Tesla Model S 85 by 0.1 second, though after that the S runs away.

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Unknown is the Prius’ speed, but it might have 10-percent more horsepower and formerly did 0-60 in the 10-second range versus the Volt’s 8-9, depending on who’s timing.

The quick-off-the-line and nimble 2016 Volt is supposed to be more fun to drive than the 2015, according to preliminary first Volt drive reports, and it appears it may hold this edge but both Prius and Volt make claims to being more engaging than before.

Quality of Build

If you are one of those with a sour taste in your mouth over General Motors in recent decades, forget what you ever thought when it comes to the Volt.

First Pre-Production Chevy Volt Rolls Off The Assembly Line

We already know Toyota trades on a generally perceived reputation for quality – though certain dealer repairs have be known to make people do a double take.

Whenever you buy a car you do take a chance, but the Volt topped Consumer Reports’ owner satisfaction scores twice before Tesla Model S superseded it. Further, GM assigns a Volt Advisor as a sort of personal customer service rep to treat Volt buyers with kid-glove care.

The Volt has been on the market since December 2010 and that’s a decade less than the Prius launched early 2000, but so far, so good for this halo Chevy.

Cost To Own

By standard boilerplate reckoning, it could be a toss up on an averaged five-year analysis, but really it will depend also on trim level, how you drive, how much you drive, and other factors.

As for boilerplate, this has been the case for 2015 model years according to Edmunds’ True Cost To Own calculator, which factors depreciation, interest on financing, taxes and fees, insurance premiums, fuel, maintenance, repairs and any available federal tax credit.

2015 Volt.

2015 Volt.

The calculator does not have numbers for the 2016 model year, but 2015 Volt versus a fully equipped 2015 Prius in Long Beach, Calif. has both within $14 of each other net-net after five years. A base Volt is nicely equipped though options are available. Lower Prius trim levels than the top level Five compared will net a couple thousand dollars less according to Edmunds.

That said – and here’s been a challenge for people contemplating the Volt – it can radically beat its boilerplate estimates.

All bets are off depending on if you 1) drive less or more than the 15,000 miles annually estimated, 2) can stay in the all-electric range most of the time in the Volt, 3) Have access to intra-day charging for the Volt.

As indicated in the “save gas” section above, Volt operating costs will vary depending on how you drive, how much is all-electric, and what you pay for electricity. The Volt may be dirt cheap to run if you have inexpensive enough electricity. It’s possibly a no-brainer for those with solar or other renewable energy.

Prius level 5. Level 4 is $37,605, level 3 is $35,560.

Prius level 5. Level 4 is $37,605, level 3 is $35,560.

As for other variables, it will also matter whether you qualify for the full federal tax credit, can afford to front the money, and if other perks including state credits are available. The Prius is not subsidized at all, and the Volt can qualify for $10,000 and more depending on state plus $7,500 federal credit. Some states offer zero.

As for resale value, that may be a different matter. Leasing will change that concern as well, but the Prius appears to hold a higher percentage of its value. With generation two, the Volt may hold its value better in the real world, but this cannot be reliably predicted.

Two Kinds of ‘Mainstream’

Whether you like it or not, stylistically the Prius is more original and builds on cues from the new Mirai up front, and exaggerates already big tail lights and form in back. People have been vocal expressing their distaste, but some say they think it looks “snappy,” and at least true is few will mistake it for some other car.

The Volt is a well-executed design on most fronts though again, not everyone loves it. Chevrolet ironically did make the Volt more mainstream and it nearly mimics the 2016 Cruze – or a 2013 Civic or 2015 Kia Forte.

Kia Forte on left, Volt on right.

Kia Forte on left, Volt on right.

GM aspires for mainstream status for its pinnacle green product and makes it look more so, while Toyota’s design clashes with the sensibility of many yet manages to be mainstream where it counts — in market acceptance.

By virtue of its head start, the Prius is now firmly established and is the best-selling alternative energy car in the world, and in the U.S.

Last year Prius sold 122,776 in the U.S., down from 2012, its best year for this generation with 147,503 sales. By contrast, the Volt sold 18,805 last year, down from its best year, 2012, in which it sold 23,461.

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But numbers here too can be deceiving. The Volt suffered enormous obfuscation by outspoken critics even into the presidential election. And, there’s been a huge comprehension disconnect in the general public as to what the plug-in Volt is, what it can do, and we’ve even heard from plenty who say they do not even know it exists. Chevrolet’s dealers have also not all been on board, though some have, but they are not compensated to make a complicated Volt sale versus a Cruze sale, for example. And, there are other reasons beyond these for why the Volt for some has been hidden in plain sight.

SEE ALSO: 6 Ways the 2016 Chevy Volt Has Been Improved

But while “Prius” is to hybrid as “Kleenex” is to tissues, the under-appreciated Volt is gaining traction having paid dues just like the Prius did earlier on.

If you’re not already inclined to do so, the Volt does deserve a closer look. Its EV range that’s double any comparably priced plug-in hybrid, short of a BMW i3 REx which has limited utility on gas, puts the Volt in a class of one.

In sum, Prius and Volt are two approaches to the same challenges; neither is a complete slam dunk in all categories, and so each is a measured trade-off.

Which one do you like better?