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Alternative Fuel Sedans Part 1 – Which is best for you?

August 15th, 2011

The answer depends heavily on your needs and driving patterns.

We recently invited over 100 consumers to evaluate and test drive 4 different types of alternate fuel sedans: two dedicated hybrids (hybrids not based off any current non-hybrid vehicle) – the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight, two so-called “non-dedicated hybrids” (hybrids based off non-hybrid vehicles) – the Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion, and two different types of Plug-in Electric vehicles – The Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt. All have 4 doors, and all hold 5 passengers, with the exception of the Volt which holds 4 passengers.

The alternative fuel hybrids use a combination of a gasoline engine and electric motor to power the drive wheels. The Leaf is a so called pure electric vehicle, meaning it has only a battery and electric motor from which to draw power. The Leaf has an EPA estimated range of 73 miles under normal driving conditions, and must be plugged in to recharge once depleted. Charging time is 7 hours using a 220 Volt charger, and 20 hours using a 110 Volt outlet. The Volt is a plug-in electric vehicle that also runs on a battery and electric motor. However, the Volt also has a small gasoline engine that generates electricity to recharge the battery in order to extend the vehicle’s range. The Volt has an EPA-estimated electric range of 35 miles, after which the gasoline generator extends the range another 344 mile for a total range of 379 miles, close to that of many gasoline powered cars. Charging time is 4 hours using a 220 Volt charger, and 10 hours using a 110 Volt outlet.

So, which alternative fuel sedan is right for you? Obviously your willingness to spend comes into play, as the range of comparably equipped prices in our test went from $23,580 for the Insight to $35,745 for the Volt (after deducting the $7,500 Federal Tax Credit and adding in $1,500 to install a 220 Volt home charger). In general, the two dedicated hybrids were the cheapest, the Leaf Plug-in and mid size Camry and Fusion hybrids in the middle, at around $29,000 (after adjusting Leaf for Federal Tax Credit and installing home 220 Volt charger), and the Volt was by far the priciest. Matters of interior roominess, vehicle driving characteristics, exterior and interior styling, and cargo capacity also come into play, and our consumer ratings tell you which won out in each category. One surprise to many respondents: how well the Leaf and Volt electrics did in the driving comparison. Both alternative fuel sedan cars beat the 4 hybrids in acceleration and fun to drive, with the Leaf rating the best at handling and maneuverability (Volt tested in normal, not sport mode).

Read our next blog to learn which alternative fuel sedan saves the most gas!