Green Car Roundup: The Chevrolet Volt, Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Prius

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By Chad Haire

Consumers shopping for a super economy car usually have two basic choices. First, there are the electric vehicles. They run on a charged battery only, and after a certain number of miles logged, they must be recharged from an electrical outlet. This limits long distance trips. The second more common are the hybrid cars. Like conventional cars, they are powered by a gasoline engine, but have a powerful battery drive attached to lessen the strain on the motor. This improves fuel economy as well as acceleration.

Chevrolet Volt

2016 Chevrolet Volt

The Chevy Volt is different from the aforementioned electric and hybrid vehicles. You charge the battery, and this car runs on electric only for up to 53 miles. After the battery is depleted, the gas motor kicks in. This does not directly move the car, but creates energy to propel the electric drive. In other words: a generator. In this mode, fuel economy is rated at 42 mpg. In theory, this means if you don’t drive more than 50 miles a day, you would never use any gasoline. Then again, if you drove 53 miles to work on electric, then 53 home on gas, your fuel mileage would be 88 mpg combined. But drive from Arizona to New York, and it would drop to 42 mpg.

In the real world, I never got to complete a full 53 miles on battery only, not with the 100 degree heat causing me to blow the air conditioner full blast, and passing in heavy city traffic. In fact, I never recharged the battery because I wanted to see the real gas engine fuel economy. It turned out to be 35 mpg in the city, and 38 mpg on a long highway trip. I also clocked a 0-60 mph time of 7.6 seconds, rather quick for a 3,600 pound car with only 149 total horsepower. Add to this a low center of gravity which allows great cornering ability, and we have a car that is really fun to drive.

The price tag is not so fun, starting at a steep $33K. Mine was more at $38K. There are government tax credits that will drop the final cost, but these have a way of changing. Get on the web to grab the latest figures and information.

Hyundai Sonata

2016 Sonata Hybrid

Most hybrid shoppers are expecting great fuel economy, but why not include peppy acceleration and comfort? This is what we will find in the Hyundai Sonata. Under the hood there are plenty of non-hybrid offerings. Examples include a 1.6 liter turbo at 178 horsepower, a 185 hp 2.4 liter, and a potent 2.0 turbo cranking 245 hp. The top fuel economy figure of this trio is 25/37 mpg. Then we have the fourth offering here, the Sonata Hybrid. With a 154 hp gas engine, and strong battery pack, the total combined output is 193 horsepower. Instead of the unpopular CVT transmission, they provide a conventional 6-speed automatic with ECO, NORMAL, and SPORT modes. Fuel economy is listed at 39/43 mpg.

As a daily driver, there is little to complain about. Hyundai has been copying interior designs from the best, so there are no flaws inside the cabin. All controls are easy to see and simple to use. The ride, handling, and brake performance rate very good. It is a great car for long trips.

This hybrid system has plenty of pulling ability on the street, reaching 0-40 mph in 5 seconds. Real world fuel economy varied. Hybrid systems don’t like to function in hot weather, and with outside temps of up to 110 degrees, and heavy city traffic, the mileage came to only 26 mpg. Later in the week, I took a freeway trip from Phoenix to Tucson, and then back. The mileage improved to 35 mpg. Then I did lots of city driving late at night when it was cooler. The best seen here was 39 mpg. Not bad for a large car that weighs 3,400 pounds.

So how much does the hybrid system add to the cost of this car? This is hard to say as the hybrid car has more standard equipment than the stripped conventional Sonata. The hybrid begins at $30k, but has a long list of standard features. With an expensive $4,500 luxury package and other minor items, the total comes to $35,765. This isn’t much more than a loaded Toyota Prius. So if you are shopping for great fuel economy but need a vehicle with plenty of room, this one is worth checking out.

Toyota Prius

2016_Toyota_Prius_Four_Touring_06

The Toyota Prius has been improved and redesigned over the years, and we decided to get the latest model to observe the latest real world fuel economy figures.

The new styling looks superior to the previous boring shapes, and this got lots of compliments on the street. That sharp looking bright red metallic paint helped too. The cabin appearance looks nicer as well. Gone are all of the goofy space ship controls, replaced with very simple knobs and buttons for quicker access. The steering wheel adjusts for tilt and extension, but only with limited movement. This is not an issue by adjusting the seat to improve proper driving posture.

Officially this car is listed as a 5 passenger. In reality, it is a four passenger, but comfortable enough. The rear cargo area has 25 cubic feet of space, but it does so by eliminating a spare tire. A tire repair kit is offered but not that encouraging. Don’t get a flat!

There have been plenty of engineering changes on the suspension and it shows. The cornering ability is very good and balanced. The ride is comfortable. The brakes have good feedback, and stop the car in a hurry.

Under the hood is a small gas engine connected to a strong battery pack listed at 121 horsepower total. Doesn’t sound like much, but it provides plenty of movement on the street. Fuel economy was rated at 54 mpg in the city and 50 mpg highway. In my week of driving, I averaged 47.5 mpg. This was a big improvement over the older models that always averaged 41. Also, the computer saved previous figures. The worst was a 962 mile trip at 38.9. The best was a 297 mile run at 51.9. The longest was 1,051 miles showing 49.5 mpg.

My only real complaint with this car revolved around the sun visors. They are too small and while they do fold, they do not slide back and forth. As a result, there is no way to block the sun from blasting through those 34 inch wide side windows. After 185 miles in hot Phoenix city traffic, my face was roasted. It was red as a lobster! An aftermarket window tint job can fix this issue.

Overall, the Prius is a pleasant car to drive. Starting price is about $25k. Mine was loaded up with options, so it reached $33k.

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