Dear Tom and Ray:
I drive a long way for work — about 310 miles round trip. Fortunately, I only have to do that eight or nine times each month, but it is still a long commute. I drive a 2008 Toyota Prius and average about 45 mpg going 70-75 mph and over the mountains to get there and back. I am considering the purchase of a replacement car, and have looked at the new Prius, the plug-in Prius and other hybrid and electric cars. I haven't found an electric-only car that has the range I need (even one way) for a reasonable price, and I am not sure if the additional cost for a plug-in hybrid really saves any money, as they provide electric-only operation for just the first 15 miles or so. My question is this: What is the best vehicle to maximize my fuel economy? I'm used to the Prius, but is there anything better out there that has a reasonable purchase price? Thanks for your help! — John
Ray: If excellent mileage at a reasonable price is what you're looking for, you really can't go wrong with another Prius, John.
Tom: I'd skip the plug-in Prius in your case; it's more expensive. And while the plug-in system will improve your overall mileage, it's designed to benefit you more if you do a lot of local driving, during which you can run primarily on the cheaper electric power.
Ray: But since you're driving 150 miles at a time, the regular Prius is going to get you 48 mpg on the highway (51 city), which is pretty darn good. And its reliability has been well demonstrated.
Tom: There are alternatives now — many more than when you bought your last Prius, in 2008. There are other Prius models of slightly different sizes, there's an improved (but not as good as the Prius, in our opinion) Honda Civic hybrid. The well-reviewed Ford Fusion hybrid gets slightly lower highway mileage, but it's larger, and you might find it more comfortable. Honda Accord is coming out with a hybrid version soon. And we found the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima hybrids very impressive, too.
Ray: There's also the brand-new Ford C-Max, which we haven't reviewed yet, but which is a mini-minivan from Ford's European market that gets mileage very comparable to that of the Prius.
Tom: You also can look at the Volkswagen line of diesels — Golf, Jetta, Passat. They'll get you something in the low 40s on the highway, but the diesel fuel will cost you more per gallon.
Ray: So the good news is, at least you have more options now. Every year, we're seeing more and more credible high-mileage cars. So if you don't like the way the seat fabric chafes your butt in the Prius, now you can buy something else that's comparable. But if you're happy with the Prius, we don't have any reason to recommend against it.
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)