Skip to main content

Toyota Prius Plug-in versus the Chevy Volt, which wins?

The other day we noted that some are comparing sales between the Toyota Prius V vs Chevy Volt, and deciding the Volt is coming up short even though there are a ream of differences between the Prius V and the Volt. The Prius that's most similar to the Volt is the Toyota Prius Plug-in, but that car has yet to go on sale meaning we don't know how it will fare in the public versus the Volt.

Join us...    

Both cars are plug-in hybrid vehicles made by major automobile manufacturers. A plug-in hybrid car is one where there is both a gasoline engine and electric motor on-board, and that you can plug-in to recharge the battery pack separately from the gasoline engine. Plug-in hybrids also carry a larger battery pack than on regular (non-plug-in) hybrids, and the larger pack makes for a longer range of electric-only driving. For those of us who want to ease gasoline out of our lives, plugging in the car to recharge the battery pack is the way to go.

While we can now go with pure electric cars from Nissan, Mitsubishi and soon Ford, having a gasoline engine on-board, acting as a generator, is a pragmatic solution to the range consideration due to the 100 mile or so range of pure electric cars. In around-town driving the plug-in hybrid owner will plug in, recharge the battery pack, and drive on electric power until the pack is depleted, at which time, the car fires up the gasoline engine to recharge the battery pack, and if done well the switch-over is seamless. The plug-in hybrid concept is old, and is fairly obvious to any electric car owner who wants more range and is willing to burn fuel to get that range. The first plug-in hybrid was built by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche over 100 years ago, it had four hub motors (motors embedded in the wheels), used the gasoline engine purely to recharge the battery pack, and set speed records in its time.

With that background information let's now turn to a couple modern cars, the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in and 2012 Chevy Volt.

The Chevy Volt has a 15 kilowatt-hour battery pack that gives a 35-50 mile electric-only driving range depending on conditions (the EPA rating is 36 miles electric-only range). The 149 horsepower electric motor can power the Volt at up to 100 miles/hr. The 1.4 liter 83 horsepower gasoline engine acts primarily as a generator, but the transmission is configured so the engine kicks in at high speed to help drive the car. The gasoline engine requires premium fuel, and with the 9.3 gallon gas tank you have a 325 mile cruising range in gasoline mode, and a 35-40 miles/gallon fuel efficiency. The total cruising range is 407 miles and in electric mode the Volt gets 93-95 miles/gallon (equivalent) fuel efficiency.

Toyota's Prius V outselling Chevy Volt, so what?

The Prius Plug-in has a 4.4 kilowatt-hour battery pack that gives 12-15 miles electric-only driving range. The 80 horsepower electric motor is used at speeds below 62 miles/hr, and at higher speeds both work together. The 1.8 liter 98 horsepower gasoline engine acts as both electric generator and drive motor, with a transmission allowing a blending of both power plants to drive the wheels, with a net system 134 horsepower. With a 10.6 gallon gasoline tank, in gasoline/hybrid mode the Prius Plug-in is rated for 49 miles/gallon, and a combined electric-hybrid 87 miles/gallon (equivalent) fuel efficiency. The Prius Plug-in has not been EPA certified, so these numbers are based on Toyota's estimate.

The more powerful drive train on the Chevy Volt (149 horsepower electric) is a clear advantage over that in the Prius Plugin (98hp gas, 40hp electric, 134 hp combined).

Repeated studies in the U.S. including US Department of Transportation shows the majority of drivers go 40 miles or less per day. This tells us a Chevy Volt owner will spend more days without burning gasoline, than will the Prius Plug-in owner. GM knew these figures and designed the Chevy Volt to give enough electric-only range to satisfy the majority of daily driving needs. Toyota on the other hand wanted to hit a more affordable price point, to reach more car buyers many of whom are price sensitive. This means the Prius Plug-in has a smaller battery pack, and a smaller MSRP, but has only a 12-15 mile electric-only range. This means the Prius Plug-in owner will be seeing their gasoline engine turn on more often than will the Chevy Volt owner.

Whether the Volt or the Prius Plug-in has the advantage here depends on your point of view. If your interest is the highest miles/gallon at the best price, and you don't care much about electric-only range, then the Prius Plug-in has the advantage. If your interest is longest electric-only range with the gas engine to cover longer trips, and you're able to swing the extra dollars, then the Volt has the advantage.

The Chevy Volt battery pack is a T-shape that creates a central tunnel going down the passenger cabin. The battery tunnel is tall enough that the back seat can only hold two people, meaning the Volt can hold four people total. The Prius family all will hold five people like most other sedans. In this case the Prius Plug-in and most other sedans have an advantage over the Volt, because they can seat an additional person.

The Prius Plug-in has a 21.6 cubic foot cargo area, while the Chevy Volt has a 10.6 cubic foot cargo area. Both use a "liftback" arrangement giving good access to the trunk area, however clearly the Prius has the advantage in cargo volume.

Because the Prius Plug-in battery pack is so much smaller than the Chevy Volt, charging time is very fast. For the Prius, charging time is 1 1/2 hrs at a charging station, or three hours on a 120 volt outlet. The Volt, on the other hand, takes 10 hours to charge on a 120 volt circuit, or four hours at a charging station. The larger battery pack gives a longer electric range, but also takes longer to recharge. Clearly the shorter charging time of the Prius is an advantage, but it's also a trade-off for a shorter electric range which may be a disadvantage depending on your needs.

The Prius Plug-in, as part of the Prius family, has over 10 years of history and consumer awareness. This should give it an advantage over the Chevy Volt, when it goes on sale, because the public is already looking to the Prius line for high fuel efficiency. GM, on the other hand, has a task ahead of it to educate the public what the Volt is, what the advantage of a plug-in hybrid is over a regular hybrid, and even the advantage of a longer electric-only range over a short electric-only range.

The two largest differences between the Prius Plug-in and the Chevy Volt is the price and the electric-only range. The Volt gives you a longer electric range, at a bigger price. That bigger battery pack is the key to both these attributes. The price premium paid for a Chevy Volt over the Prius Plug-in may be worth it to you, depending on your interests and situation, but if you don't understand the advantages of each will you understand why you should pay the higher price for the Volt? Suppose your daily commute is 33 miles round trip. With the Prius Plug-in you'll drive some of your miles each day using the gasoline engine, even if you have a charging station at your office. Contrarily, the Volt could do that on electric drive, even if you do not have a charging station at the office. The Volt owner will end up saving a lot of money because electricity is a cheaper "fuel" than gasoline. If GM cannot convey the tradeoffs between range, utility and cost, GM may end up losing to Toyota's Pruis Plug-in.

The Chevy Volt has been on sale for well over a year, and is now available nationwide, and its MSRP is $39,500. The Prius Plug-in goes on sale in March, and initially will be available in a limited number of states, and its MSRP is $32,000. As we just said, whether the Prius or the Volt has the price advantage depends on your situation and needs. However, the Chevy Volt qualifies for government incentives that do not apply to the Prius Plug-in, and the $7500 tax credit erases the price difference.

Which of these cars wins over the other? It depends. The Prius Plug-in has clear advantages in brand awareness and price, except the $7500 tax credit for the Volt makes up for the price difference. The Chevy Volt has a clear advantage in electric range, and with the more powerful drivetrain. That longer electric range could make up for the price premium depending on how much gasoline you end up burning with the Prius.

Join us...    


Anonymous (not verified)    February 12, 2012 - 8:41PM

This article does not mention that the $7500 tax credit is not available on the Prius.. and also that you can use GM card $3500 discount to bring the Volt to more than $3,000 less than the inferior Prius.

The Volt 150 HP motor will out perform the 80 hp Prius motor by a large margin.

Most commuters will be able to drive all electric with much better performance and at much less cost.

Needless to say the Volt is much better looking than the Prius.

Anonymous (not verified)    February 14, 2012 - 7:30AM

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

The above poster is in dreamland. So the taxpayers should subsidize the Volt for buyers? The average income of Volt buyers is $175K meaning taxpayers are subsidizing the Volt for rather wealthy people. The Prius will be worth far more in 5 years than the Volt and total cost of ownership is a definite win for the Prius. Toyota quality is far better than GM.

Mark (not verified)    February 14, 2012 - 10:26AM

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Stop living in the past , GM quality is now first rate, the volt drives like a caddie vs the Prius Eco box feel... Can you say leap frog? GM has a world winning car on its hands, and everyone else is peddling hard to get caught up... The only thing in GMs way are the right-wing nuts who have sold their souls to a Saudi Prince!

Anonymous (not verified)    February 25, 2012 - 10:01AM

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

OK, I like the Chevy Volt WAY better and I'd BUY IT over the Toyota Prius, But YOU authored THIS:

"This article does not mention that the $7500 tax credit is not available on the Prius.. and also that you can use GM card $3500 discount to bring the Volt to more than $3,000 less than the inferior Prius. "

"The Prius Plug-in has clear advantages in brand awareness and price, except the $7500 tax credit for the Volt makes up for the price difference. "

C'mon man, it DID say you'd get a $7500 tax credit...!


Sandman (not verified)    April 7, 2012 - 11:07AM

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Prius qualifies for a $2500 tax credit. I drove my plug-in prius home from Scottsdale, AZ, to south texas, a distance of roughly 1250 miles on the hybrid with fuel efficiency numbers better than this article cites (roughly 54 mpg). Since I've been home (about 3 weeks), 25% of my miles have used the hybrid engine, 75% of my commuting has used electricity. I've used a single gallon of gasoline to go my 316 miles and 50 KwH of electricity.

Most important in my buying decision was the simple fact, toyota has been building hybrids for a decade. My prior car was a regular 2004 prius going strong some 8 years later. GM is brand new trying to build these things & right away there are problems with fires in their battery packs. How anybody in his right mind could say "Volt is much better looking than the Prius" boggles the mind. Maybe the author thinks the battery pack fires will get people to their destinations faster? Maybe he/she thinks it should be an honor to be a human roman candle and it's worth paying for the privilege. Incredible!

Anonymous (not verified)    June 1, 2012 - 3:32PM

In reply to by Sandman (not verified)

Please people if you havent noticed GM was the King in EV's Before toyota....EV1...Bush crushed them all because he didn't want Gas to go away,second of all the Tec Toyota has they or purchased from ford "Pattens" Because ford didn't believe hybrid tec would take off as it did!! Toyota can't and has never developed anything on there own ,always stole it from others just like the Chinees do now!!! Why would I purchase a Plug in " prius EV " when the regular Prius out performs it...If I want to fill my car with Gas Ill buy a Hybrid..Volt is NOT A HYBRID!!! And safty 101 if you own a Hybrid or any other EV and you get into a crash...The fire dept is obligated to call the nearest dealer to deplete the batteries...Thats been on the books since the The first Hybrid was introduced!!! Volt is and will change the Automobile Industie forever so please if the world has chosen it EV 2years running I think you should too!!

Scott (not verified)    July 24, 2012 - 8:38AM

In reply to by Sandman (not verified)

People rant about things the do not know. The Volt fires are post crash test fires where the testers did not remove/ disconnect the battery and stored the car improperly. The LG Cells used in the Volt pack are very safe with a cermic layer on the seperator, and these cells are very good performers. The system is actually way over designed. Pull your head out of your () and research a little bit before you spread gossip!

Anonymous (not verified)    November 4, 2012 - 8:35PM

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Not mentoined was that the Prius is made in Japan and the Volt is made in the US. Clear advantage to the Prius. The Prius will last forever the volt will be lucky to make it past its 5 th birthday. The
Volt was made by a company that stole from the Us taxpayer the volt was not. also theprius is a nicer looking car. Facts not opinions

Thomas J. Thias (not verified)    February 12, 2012 - 10:56PM


The Best way to drive The Amazing Chevy Volt EREV IMHO is through a lease through either Ally Bank or US Bank, both now lending arms of GM Financial.

Here is why.

1) With Leasing in most states you only pay the sales tax, now known as a use tax on the lease payment, not the MSPR or sale price.

2) With leasing, the Federal $7,500.00 is captured by the lease company as an enhansement to the lease residual thus lowering the payment to you. No fancy tax fileing later, no bridge loans or other, this is a flat out price reduction to the lessee.

3) With leasing you are not locked into more then a 3 year arangement. No 5,6,7,8 year loans.

4) With leasing, term will end most likely in 2015 as Volt 2.0 rolls onto dealer lots. 3 years and new, like your smart phone platform.

5) With leasing, the actual lease obligation shows up on your credit report as a total of lease payments due thus dropping your debt to income position.

-------------Watch This..........Beat this Net Cost To Drive this Amazing machine!..........................

Works best if you normally drive 25-40 miles a day average......

Check Out The Chevrolet Website /Volt

Ready? 1) FROM- $349.00 a month With 7% or so up front plus use tax.

2) 3yr/ 36,000 mile lease!

3) Save maybe $40.00 -$60.00 dollars a week-GAS @ $4.00 Gal

4) Not spending $180.00 to $240.00 a month on gas!

5) Cost to charge Bout a Buck a Day! National Average=$1.50 Day

6) In Theory........$349.00 Net a month minus $200.00 not spent on GAS..

7) Net Cost to Drive equals $149.00 a month or $37.50 a Week!

Love my math! Does this make sense?

MrEnergyCzar (not verified)    February 12, 2012 - 11:41PM

Good article. I don't believe you can compare the two. The Volt engine doesn't come on at high speeds unless the initial battery charge is depleted. The battery pack is also 16 KW not 15 KW. The Plug-in Prius, Ford Plug-in and the Accord Plug-in have the issue of small battery range and the engine's coming on at highway speeds. The Volt is an EREV while the other's are Plug-in Hybrids. I've driven 4,400 miles in my Volt on 7.7 gallons, 95% in pure EV mode. You can't do that in these plug-ins.


Anonymous (not verified)    February 13, 2012 - 2:18AM

A few things should have been explained in further detail: There's is actually a $2500 tax credit for the Prius Plug-in. Many people don't understand what a tax credit is. They don't just take off $7500 from the price of the Volt. You have to have that much in deductions for you to even include it on your taxes. The latest mileage testing on the Prius Plug-in is actually 95mpge, which is more than the Volt's 94mpge. This means that when your EV mode is fully depleted the Prius Plug-in will get almost 15 miles more per gallon than the Volt. With the infrastructure of public charging stations at this time, this is the most practical application of a plug-in. Let's not forget the cases of Volt batteries that caught on fire, which were quickly swept under the rug after a few days. Toyota is still fighting in court about unintended acceleration AFTER it was proven by NASA scientists that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the Toyota electric systems. As a journalist, you should attempt to disguise your bias a little better.

Dave (not verified)    February 13, 2012 - 3:51AM

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

While the Plug-in-Prius gets better gas mileage when you deplete the battery, that totally misses the point. The Volt gets way higher average mileage as owners are showing.

The crossover point for when a journey becomes more efficient in a Plug-in-Prius compared to a Volt is 97 miles. So if you are driving over 97 miles every time you get behind the wheel, buy the Prius, otherwise the Volt is the better bet.

The Plug-in-Prius claims to go 13 miles on electric power but the reality is that for anything more than light acceleration, the engine still comes on. That is not the case in the Volt: You can drive up to 50 miles gas free. Government stats from both the US and UK show that 98% of journeys are under 50 miles. For the other 2% you still have the backup gas engine.

Anonymous (not verified)    February 13, 2012 - 7:30PM

In reply to by Dave (not verified)

Have you actually driven the Volt and seen the numbers for yourself or are you just basing your facts on articles and reports via third partie?. My uncle has the 5th Volt sold to the general public, which I drove for two weeks. Not one time did I ever reach 50 miles gas free. Not once. The longest trip I was able to run on pure EV mode was 36.4 miles. Guess I'm part of that 2%, huh?

bob (not verified)    February 14, 2012 - 5:31AM

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

As a matter of fact I commonly get over 50 miles on a charge. Check my stats at ser# 2012-06165 also I've got over 3700 miles on it so far and used only 7 gallons. Currently I'm over 520 mpg and I haven't made a payment to OPEC since the first week in Nov 2011.

Got anything more to say?

limp (not verified)    February 13, 2012 - 3:11AM

Ok, let's cut to the chase. If the volt was so great all this banter wouldn't have to take place. We see a few owners get together and slap each other on the back congratulating each other for being an innovator. The sales speak for themselves - no one wants them. They haven't built any for a month (holiday plant shutdown which seems crazy if the car is in such high demand). Bearing this in mind, there are still some 4400 in stock. If we use the best sales month that is still a 90 day supply.

Anonymous (not verified)    February 13, 2012 - 6:56AM

love the unbiased tone of this article David! each car put in the right driving scenario could be exponentially better than the other pending the owners needs. i have no ill will towards toyota or their prius line, just as i have no major affinity for GM. I really do applaud you for your use of facts and leaving the decision (and it seems slandering) to the readers.

People are all too often negligent of facts when they plagiarize their local eight o'clock news on online articles then assuming the news has any factual credibility. just like our anonymous buddy who quipped about the volt fire. given the choice between standing by a gas pump with a match, or a charging volt with a hose, i figure washing you're car may be the safer bet. Not saying the volt is superior, just saying i would find it no more dangerous than any new car available, especially given their 5 safety crash test rating. thank you again for the honest report. i'm sure both cars will help wean us off our dependence on foreign energy! drive whichever fits you the best.

Rick (not verified)    February 13, 2012 - 8:19AM

The paragraph header "Toyota's Prius V outselling Chevy Volt, so what?" is misleading, as it suggest that the plug-in Prius (which is what the article talks about) is outselling the volt. That is not true, as the Prius V hasn't sold a single unit yet. Any regular car or regular hybrid is outselling the Volt, it's a new car that has only been out nationally for 3 months.

John Tamplin (not verified)    February 13, 2012 - 10:15AM

Two other factors:
- there is still a lot of negative feeling about Government Motors and the whole bailout. I know several people who say they will never buy another GM car because of it.
- GM has a reputation for poor quality, particularly with first-gen technology. They have been getting better overall with quality, but personally I wouldn't buy the first of anything they did. Maybe the Volt is different and they have designed and built it perfectly, but I'm not willing to bet on it myself.

Richard G. (not verified)    February 13, 2012 - 10:52AM

Good article. It is hard to change people's minds. The best way to promote electric cars is to have people test drive them. The Volt is a hoot to drive. It has incredible pick-up at speeds up to 50 mph. So quiet and very well built. It could easily have had a Cadillac name plate on it.

I know no one else with a Volt and except for a few questions at the local post office or market we talk to no one about it. My wife loves the car and drives it every day as do I. We have just past 12,000 miles and have used 60.7 gallons of gasoline. 200 mpg is a good thing. We have solar at our house and have not paid for electricity in four years. This is true even after purchasing the Volt. We have a charging station that the state of California paid for.

Two notes: GM claims that the use of premium gasoline is so that it does not go stale ( we put 5 gallons in about once a month). Also, one does not have to charge the Volt fully...we sometimes charge for an hour and off we go on short errands.

Anonymous bob (not verified)    February 16, 2012 - 1:58PM

In reply to by Richard G. (not verified)


Mark (not verified)    February 16, 2012 - 4:03PM

In reply to by Anonymous bob (not verified)

No need to shout... They are both good cars, but the volts real comp is a BMW, or a Lexus, not the Prius . In terms of drive and quality, the volt wins hands down, which is a real first for GM!

In my case it also wins easily in terms of monthly op costs. My numbers are clear with my 2012 volt, it cost me between 90 cents to about 1.10 a day to charge my volt over the last 2 months up here in Toronto( 6 to 9 cents a kwh, up to 16 cents for prime time, but i normally just plug it in overnight into a normal 120v outlet). As gas is 4.50 + a gallon ( 1.30 a litre ) that s a real incentive.

But the Prius is a good car too, and if you have to drive for more that two hours a day, depending on your local gas an electricity rates it might make sense.

Both are hand down better than any of the old tech cars still being pushed by the rest of the industry. This is the real news, Ford is getting into the game ASAP, but Chrysler may be DOA.

Richard G. (not verified)    February 16, 2012 - 8:42PM

In reply to by Anonymous bob (not verified)

In our case we do not pay for electricity and in many parts of North America electricity costs are far less than you used in your calculations. Also, 70 percent of Americans drive less than 40 miles per day so for those drivers the Volt makes more sense. Final point, at the moment the Volt qualifies for a $7,500 tax credit which certainly helps narrow the gap. Still, any vehicle that reduces gasoline consumption is a huge step in the right direction.

Victor D. (not verified)    February 13, 2012 - 3:50PM

"The 1.4 liter 83 horsepower gasoline engine acts primarily as a generator, but the transmission is configured so the engine kicks in at high speed to help drive the car."

That part about the engine "kicking in" to help drive the car at higher speed is incorrect. While in *range extended mode* when the engine is *already running,* some of the torque goes to the wheels at higher speeds, simply because it's there and it adds to the efficiency of the car.

When the battery has energy in it, all driving functions up to maximum speed are 100% electric.

Chris (not verified)    August 25, 2012 - 2:35PM

Volt or Prius is a matter of what you want from the car. I chose the Volt. American made, american electricity :). Besides, I've driven the Prius before and it's nothing like the Volt. The Volt is really fun to drive. I last filled the tank 2 or 3 months ago when I went on a long trip. Close to 100% electric drive in the city. Got a great deal for it - $3200 off MSRP (thank you Limbaugh), 72 month 0% financing, $7500 tax credit, $2000 MD tax rebate. So, in summary - Prius was never considered.