Electric cars vs. plug-in hybrids: Which gets better economy?
By David Booth, Postmedia News
The automobile industry’s Holy Grail, the search for the alternative to the traditional internal combustion engine, is proving much more elusive than even a full-blown skeptic might had imagined. Electric vehicle sales have been a disaster. Hybrid sales, despite being 15 years on the market and with tons of positive publicity, account for less than 3% of the North American vehicle market. Indeed, if you take Toyota’s immensely successful lineup of Prius models out of the equation, sales of all types of “electrified” vehicles have been incredibly disappointing.
Thankfully (OK, hopefully), we at Driving are in the illumination business and, in the interest of providing clarity, recently tested Chevrolet’s latest extended-range Volt versus the brand-new plug-in version of Toyota’s Prius. We also brought along a couple of conventional cars — Ford’s Fusion, with its much touted EcoBoost 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, and Audi’s A3, with its slightly less conventional 2.0L TDI turbodiesel — to provide a baseline for all our fuel economy measurements. And while we can’t guarantee our explanations and test results will be free of complication, we can promise that, if you manage to wade through all the fuel economy ratings contained herein, there will be some of that promised clarity.
In the final analysis, each of these cars will find their acolytes. The Chevrolet is by far the more elegant engineering solution. It is a true electric vehicle with the backup of a gas engine to quell one’s range anxiety. But, because it offers both full electric and gasoline powertrains, it is significantly heavier than the Prius (1,715 kilograms versus 1,435, thanks mostly to that humongous under-seat battery), hence its off-electricity fuel consumption disadvantage. For much the same reason, it’s also more expensive; the PHEV Prius is cheaper ($35,700 base MSRP versus $42,000) and offers more standard equipment.
On the other hand, the Prius’ interior is not as nicely finished as the Volt’s, nor is its highway comportment as refined. And frugal it may be, but for the first 50 kilometres or so it can’t match the Chevy’s emission-free motoring. Indeed, the most telling figure in this comparison of extended-range electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid technology is this:
The very best fuel economy we saw on the Prius’s readout — 1.8 L/100 km during one of its initial 22-km “EV” sessions — was what our test Volt has averaged in its lifetime.
Essentially, the Prius plug-in is the ultimate evolution of the hybrid technology that has been the primary “alternative” automotive solution of the last 15 years. It is everything the current leader in automotive “green” knows about making a hybrid. The Volt, on the other hand, is the industry’s first look at what is sure to be an even more electrified future.
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