CR has since had a bit more time behind the wheel of their 2011 Chevy Volt, and the organization will release a full report on the series hybrid in its October magazine. The good news is that CR is nowhere near as critical of the Volt as they were back in March; the bad news is that the Volt’s purchase price is still $3,000 more than a fully loaded Prius, and that’s assuming that you qualify for the $7,500 federal tax credit.
CR found that the Volt’s battery-only range varied from 21 miles in the middle of winter (with the heater on, of course) to a high of 51 miles under ideal driving conditions (secondary roads, A/C off, speed under 45 miles per hour). In real-world driving, CR managed to average 35 miles per charge, which is exactly what the EPA tells us to expect.
In testing, CR has averaged 2.9 miles per kilowatt hour, and they’ve discovered that a full charge uses 12.7 kw/h worth of electricity. Whether that’s more or less cost-effective than a Toyota Prius depends on the cost of electricity where you live: if you pay 22 cents per kwh, the Volt will cost the same to operate as a Toyota Prius. Pay less than that, as most of us do, and the Volt becomes a viable alternative.
At least under some operating conditions, that is. If your daily commute is 30 miles and you pay 11 cents per kw/h for electricity, commuting in the Volt will cost you $1.13, while driving the Prius will run you $2.59. Under these circumstances, it’s advantage: Volt, as long as you negate the difference in purchase price between the two vehicles.
If your commute is 70 miles per day, the numbers don’t quite work out in the Volt’s favor. You’ll get 35 miles on battery power, but then you’ll have to travel 35 miles using the gasoline-powered generator, which returns 29 mpg overall and 36 mpg on the highway. The Volt’s engine requires premium unleaded, and CR estimates the cost at $4.00 per gallon versus $3.80 per gallon for regular unleaded in the Prius. Your 70 mile commute will cost $6.14 in the Volt, but only $6.05 in the Prius.
The bottom line? The Volt isn’t for everyone, but neither is the Prius. If you drive less than 40 miles per day, or have access to charging at work, the Volt could save you money. At the very least it gives you the environmental benefits of an electric car for short trips, while returning the functionality of a gasoline-engine car for longer ones. Until someone builds a better mousetrap, the Volt is the most economical way to get the best of both worlds.