Is a Plug-in Hybrid Worth an Extra $10,000?

I’ve been thinking about what my next vehicle will be, and now I’m rethinking it. I was thinking about getting a basic four cylinder Toyota Tacoma because I want something that can tow light loads (less than 1,000#). However, I start a new job next week. Instead of a commute that is half 45-50 MPH stop-and-go traffic and half interstate, my entire commute will be through stop-and-go traffic up and down U.S. 1 through Florida’s Treasure Coast area with speed limits between 30 and 45 MPH. The new commute will be a couple miles shorter than my current commute, but it will take longer since it is all stop-and-go traffic.

Suddenly, the 19 MPG I would get with a Toyota Tacoma doesn’t look very appealing:

My question is, looking at the price of the Toyota Prius plug-in model, and comparing its price to the Prius c, is it worth the extra $10,000 or so to get the plug-in model? Which model would be the wiser financial choice with current fuel prices hovering around $3.75/gallon? My commute will be about 25 miles each way.

How can the fitment of purpose be worked out between the Tacoma and the Prius? The two models are worlds apart.

Fortunately, the question I asked is much simpler than it would be to figure that out.

Nevertheless, thank you for attempting to answer my question.

I can’t imagine you’d pay off the gas savings over a Prius C anytime soon. $10,000/$4.00 per gallon = 2,500 gallons X 50 mpg = 125,000 miles, ignoring the electricity cost and gas cost for the plug-in. So maybe 200,000 miles to break even. Just going with a “regular” hybrid is what I’d do (and did do).

Compromise and get something a little more comfortable like a Rav4 hybrid.

@texases, yeah, I just looked at the new commute on Mapquest. The difference in daily fuel cost between the plug-in Prius and the Prius c is pocket change.

@rattlegas, I currently drive a 1998 Honda Civic and I have no comfort issues, so another small car should serve me just fine. I have zero desire to own any SUV. This is an excruciatingly simple choice between one Prius model and another Prius model.

I agree with texases, go with the Prius c, you would never recoup the extra $10k.

Nope. The plug-in range of the Prius is just too short to pay for the large premium. It only makes halfway sense for people who make mainly short trips. For a longish commute it is barely more efficient than a model without the plug…

However, I wouldn’t get a Prius C, either, as just about everyone who has reviewed it has hated it, and that includes Consumer Reports, which loves the regular Prius. Per the press, the C handles badly, rides poorly, is noisy, cramped, and has a cheap-looking interior. It doesn’ t even reward you with significantly better fuel economy. I’d spend a little more and get a regular Prius (not the plug-in). It is a much nicer car and not that much more than the C.

If you don’t need a back seat, the Honda CR-Z has been well-reviewed, especially the manual transmission version. The only concern I’d have is the batteries. Toyota hybrid batteries are often good for the life of the car, but for some reason Hondas historically have worn out their batteries much sooner. That was for older models, so may have been fixed.

Hey Whitey, you ride motorcycles and I used to. I just can not see you commuting in a boring Prius. Maybe in a Fiat 500 or a Mini Cooper.

@MarkM, that’s good advice. I haven’t even started test driving cars yet, but when I do, I’ll scrutinize the Prius c heavily. My Civic is pretty noisy too, so maybe it won’t bother me. I ruled out the Honda CR-Z due to its lackluster fuel economy. Maybe the low ratings will help me get a better deal on a Prius c.

@VOLVO_V70, I get enough excitement from the motorcycle. I need something for rainy days that will be fuel efficient enough that I won’t be tempted to take the motorcycle out on slick roads.

You might want to consider a Ford Fusion. I had the opportunity to drive a 2014 model for a week or so and was surprised at the mileage. I have a heavy foot and it got 34 mpg in town and on the interstate. I also drove a 2014 Fusion hybrid for a couple of days and the best it could manage was 38.5. That’s good but I would never pay the difference that they wanted between the 2 vehicles. I’m waiting on the diesel Cruze so that I can drive one and check it out as well.

I might explain that my uncle works for a large new car dealership that’s both a Ford and GM dealership. When they deliver new vehicles (within a 500 mile radius) they need someone to bring the driver’s back and I’m the guy. I have my pick of any vehicle on either lot to drive (no high $ stuff). Their sales volume has doubled in the past 2 years because they started selling vehicles on the internet. I have a feeling they are going to increase the mileage limitation because I just got back from Delaware. That’s 700 miles away and the customer paid for the additional miles. Can you say Cha-ching?

No. It only has a range of 11 miles on battery. The Volt has an electric range of 38 miles and it costs the same as a Prius Plug-in Advanced. If you want an electric car with a lot of range, the closest you can get with a reasonable electric range is the Volt. Priced within reason, of course. A Tesla is too expensive and a Leaf has a a range of 84 miles. I think the 84 miles is without heat or AC. If that works for you, the Leaf might be worth a look.

I’d give a Mazda 3 with the 2.0 serious consideration, good mpgs and fun.

Rav4 comes in a hybrid ? That’s news to me.
Regardless, there are a lot of economy cars out there that are more cost effective then a hybrid v truck. A Corolla comes to mind. I would avoid the Prius C. It’s a Yaris based car from what I read with a lot of the ills. Whitey, you are too old to ride in an unforfortable car. Be good to yourself…a Camry or an Accord ! The Accord close to 40 mpg and the Camry not far behind highway…it’s only money. Everyone else is a cheapskate. ;=)

Consider a Prius without the plug in for a little more than the Prius C, depending on if dealers are discounting in your area. The ratings of the C are a little better for mileage but it’s not as good a car.

I would get a 3 yr old CPO Prius. As mentioned the Prius C gets poor scores both in gas mileage and size, esp when compared to the regular Prius. Test drive one and see if the transmission and lack of power is tolerable for you. It was okay for me, but then a 5 speed Focus was more fun and economical for me.

The regular Prius isn’t exactly a prison cell (unlike the Prius C.) It’s very comfortable, roomy, and nicely equipped. The cargo area and back seat are both of usable size. The only punishment inflicted is on people who like a sporty drive. The suspension is pure marshmallow, the acceleration is not at all peppy (though adequate for more relaxed drivers) and the brakes and steering have no feel. It reminds me of sixties cars that tried to isolate you as much as possible from the road. Just be wafted along in perfect serenity. If you don’t really care about driving and just want a low stress commute, the Prius will do very nicely. You won’t be bothered by rough pavement or any sudden moves. Just go with the flow and you’ll get to work relaxed. Bored, too.

The Fusion is a more involving car, also more elegant and stylish. Unfortunately, not cheap, but very good. I also like the Ford C-Max as a family car. Nice seating height, spacious for four adults, plenty of cargo space, even as a hybrid, but not as the plug-in hybrid. Those are your only two choices as they don’t sell a version here with a conventional drivetrain. They have become very popular with cab fleets in San Francisco, where cabs have to be hybrids. I find that reassuring as cab companies are frugal. Maybe they are just getting great prices on a slow-selling model. Hope not, as I’d like to see more practical shapes like this.

Seems like I’ve seen a hitch or two on Prius cars(think Rick of “Wheres Rick” has one,if I’m not mistaken)dont see why it couldnt tote 1K on occasion,my librarian friend has a used Prius(shes pretty eco minded) compared to her Chevy truck it runs for nothing,only trouble now is,Shes a regular" Gadabout"-Kevin
( The only advantage I could see about a plug in-would be if you generated the power to top the cells)

You know, the Fusion hybrid popped into my head this morning. Maybe I’ll consider it when the time comes. It’s more expensive than the Prius and it gets worse fuel economy than the Prius, but it does have more style. I’d consider the Volt as well, but the Volt is more of a commuter car and not much of a touring car. The Prius seems to outperform all of its competitors in terms of fuel economy. Heck, as a Honda guy, I wish the Insight put out 50 MPGs in stop-and-go traffic.

As for the mushy handling of the Prius, that is something I might find appealing. I was recently lamenting the fact that my '98 Civic has a pretty nice ride, and if I were to get a comparable car today, it would likely have much stiffer handling. The thought of feeling every bump and pothole so the car can feel more “sporty” doesn’t appeal to me.

I guess I’m getting ahead of myself. My commutes have always included a lot of highway driving, so it made sense to have a car that gets better fuel economy on the highway than in city traffic. Now I’m facing a very different commute, and I’m trying to find a way to make it as painless as possible. Lowering my monthly fuel bill would go a long way in providing peace of mind.

The one time I made this drive was for the interview that led to my new job, and I was late (by about 20 minutes). It was very stressful and rush hour traffic was really heavy. The commute includes a stretch of U.S. 1 through downtown Fort Pierce that has a 30 MPH limit. There is a scenic route I can take, but it still leads through downtown Fort Pierce on U.S. 1. Maybe the best long term solution is to move north of downtown Fort Pierce and get a normal non-hybrid vehicle like the Tacoma I was thinking about. The most attractive features of the Tacoma would be that it would be easy to maintain and repair and I could get one with a manual transmission.

I appreciate everyone’s insight. It looks like the consensus is that the Prius c doesn’t measure up compared to the Prius. One thing that bothers me is that the least expensive version of the Prius c doesn’t offer cruise control - even as an option. Shouldn’t every hybrid come with cruise control?

@Whitey, maybe a Corolla? Cheaper than a Prius, same size as a Prius, gets good mileage and the fuel savings will take forever to pay off. KBB’s 5 year cost to own is $31,217 versus the Prius’ $36,353. $4000 will buy a more than a thousand gallons of gas. That goes pretty far (40,000 miles!) at 40 mpg. I know they are tough, my elderly mother did her best to kill hers to no avail.