Automakers don’t often get caught under-promising when it comes to announcing new vehicles, but that’s apparently what happed with the newest member of the Toyota Prius family: Although initially projected to return 87 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent), the new 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid has actually been certified by the EPA to achieve 95 MPGe. That pleasant surprise comes as the vehicle is just now starting to arrive at select Toyota dealerships, and there’s more good news, too.
California also has announced that the 2012 Prius Plug-in qualifies for the state’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Program (CVRP). This effort, created to help boost ownership of zero-emissions vehicles along with cars and trucks with certain clean-vehicle technologies, offers rebates of $1,500 for Prius Plug-in owners. And remember, the vehicle also is eligible for both a $2,500 federal tax credit and a State of California “High Occupancy Vehicle” (HOV) sticker, the latter of which gives drivers access to the special HOV lanes on California highways. (Naturally, a variety of rules and restrictions apply to all these benefits, so be sure to check with the appropriate agencies for the details.)
Backed by this info, we can now get a better handle on how the Prius Plug-in fits in among its rivals in terms of efficiency. On the MPGe front, the Toyota’s mark compares fairly well to EPA ratings of 94 MPGe for the Chevrolet Volt and 99 MPGe for the Nissan LEAF, but the Blue Oval’s coming plug-in hybrids, including the Ford Fusion Energi and Ford C-MAX Energi, are projected to do even better. Ford is projecting 100 MPGe for the former, and while it didn’t put a number on the latter, the company did explicitly claim it would out-efficiency the Prius Plug-in.
The EPA also has rated the Prius Plug-in as capable of up to 11 miles of all-electric driving, supported by a charging time of 2.5 to 3 hours using a standard 120-volt outlet or just 1.5 hours with a 240-volt charging solution. Once the vehicle’s battery pack is depleted, though, the Prius Plug-in can achieve the exact same 50 mpg in combined driving as today’s Prius Liftback, and that extends the overall driving range to a significant 550 miles. The LEAF boasts an EPA-certified all-electric driving range of 73 miles, but that also happens to be the vehicle’s total driving range.
The Volt gets a 35-mile driving range under electric power, but requires significantly longer to recharge, and with a combined EPA mark of 37 mpg with its gasoline engine, its overall range is about 170 miles shorter than that of the Prius Plug-in. Ford hasn’t released further details about its plug-ins, although it has projected the range of the C-MAX Energi to be in excess of 500 miles.
Of course, when you get down to brass tacks here, the real battle is going to narrow to the Prius Plug-in vs. the Volt, since they share the same basic positioning in the marketplace as similarly sized vehicles that both offer a mix of all-electric and gasoline-powered propulsion. Surprisingly, both are fairly similar when it comes to net pricing as well. The MSRP of the Prius Plug-in is an even $32,000, and the Volt starts at $39,145, but the cost of the Chevy can be offset by a full $7,500 federal tax credit. Once the tax credits are figured in, the Toyota comes to $29,500 and the Chevy’s price drops to $31,645. And note that, beginning with 2012 models, the Volt also qualifies for California’s $1,500 CVRP incentive, so that’s a wash.
Thus, while each vehicle offers its own real-world driving benefits, the biggest advantage may be to the industry itself—assuming that having more electrically powered vehicles on the road is an advantage.