March 6, 2011

Reviews for electric, hybrid cars wide-ranging

Chevy Volt

Toyota Prius

The wide-ranging reviews for new electric and hybrid cars seem to show that automakers will be challenged with how to make fuel-efficient cars that are appealing to the mainstream.

With gas prices approaching $3.50 a gallon in Phoenix, it's likely interest in fuel efficiency will rise. But it will be hard to save money with a hybrid if it costs thousands more than a regular car, or with an electric car with limited range that requires you to own, insure and maintain two vehicles so you can take long road trips.

The disparate auto reviews show that the new eco-cars are going to struggle to displace the $23,000 Toyota Prius as the most common hybrid.

The $41,000 Chevy Volt has alternately been hailed as the Car of the Year by "Motor Trend" and then got chewed up and spit out by Consumer Reports, which noted that it rivals the fuel efficiency of a Prius but costs almost twice as much.

The all-electric $33,000 Nissan Leaf also is getting lots of attention but not enough strong endorsements to think it will displace its rivals. Nissan also won't make enough of the cars for several years to present a significant threat to the Prius. Behind the wheel, the Leaf feels like a conservative, eco-friendly car that will appease highly engaged environmentalists.

The Volt feels like a regular car that will satisfy green types who don't want to sacrifice any looks, comfort or performance in their car.

That no-sacrifices feel led AAA Arizona auto reviewer Jim Prueter to name the Volt the Top Hybrid Pick of the year. "What it came down to picking the Volt over the Leaf is that we simply don't think the Leaf can be your single vehicle," he said. "In good weather, you can do pretty good. But there is a lot of range anxiety. Can you go 70 miles or 130 miles?"

He liked the Volt better than the Prius, which has won past AAA honors.

"The Prius kinda wallows on the road," he said. "And I don't care for the rear visibility on that vehicle. I've never liked the driving dynamics of it. It is not very inspiring driving."

The Prius is clearly more cost-efficient though, he said.

While reviewers such as Prueter can make rational arguments for why they like one vehicle over another, it makes it unclear exactly what kind of drivers will choose which hybrids.

"The one I just got out of that was phenomenal was the ($68,000) Porsche Cayenne Hybrid," he said.

He liked the fuel-saving feature. But, he said, it's a little unclear who will be attracted to such a penny-pinching feature on a pricey car.

by Ryan Randazzo The Arizona Republic Mar. 6, 2011 12:00 AM

Reviews for electric, hybrid cars wide-ranging

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