Driven: 2016 Lexus CT200h Hybrid

We recently got our first drive in the 2016 Lexus CT200h hybrid, the least expensive and most fuel-efficient Lexus offered. It’s been with us for some time, but has continued to be updated and fortified with new features.

To start with, the Lexus CT200h is compact as you’d expect. While it shares is hybrid powertrain with the iconic Toyota Prius, it’s chassis platform architecture comes by way of the Corolla. It does have its own unique sheet-metal and styling however, which it shares with nothing.

Up front it received a mid-cycle update since the car was introduced in 2011. It now well matches the rest of the Lexus showroom with its spindle grille and LED daytime running lamps. But unlike the Corolla, LED headlamps are optional here.

16 Lexus CT200h 5

Ours had the F Sport Luxury Package which brought sportier visuals on its exterior like unique 17-inch wheels, mesh grille, fender badges and a black painted roof. The roof looks nice this way, giving the appearance of a panoramic glass roof which isn’t available here.

At the rear, its five-door hatch configuration has a nice finish to it, yet even with the sporty theme of this Lexus, there are no exhaust tips to make that point.

The cabin of the F Sport is a step up from the standard CT200h, blacked out top and bottom. There are rich leather sport seats and metal tone trims here and there, including aluminum pedals. You also get the F Sport leather steering wheel which has a nice feel in your hand.

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Both front seats are heated and power adjustable. They offer up excellent comfort and support, with the driver getting memory settings. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, but it is a manual adjustment so is not included in the memory saves.

Rear seat passengers get adequate comfort and space, but this is a tight place to be. It’s outfitted for up to three passengers but that might be snug for most Americans. They do fold down in a 60/40 split as you’d expect. And when folded the rear cargo floor is reasonably flat given the space needed for its hybrid battery.

Infotainment here includes the optioned Premium Audio and Navigation system which has a dash mounted screen operated by a console mounted puck. This remains one of the most intuitive controls on the market in my opinion, and this was one of the first Lexus models to have it.

The audio system however is not the Mark Levinson system found in many Lexus models. The sound quality reflects this as it’s not the same at all, but the price of this upgrade still does at nearly $3500. We want the Mark Levinson option please.

Driving the Lexus CT200h is the same engine and hybrid drive system found in the third-generation Toyota Prius. It’s comprised of a 1.8 liter Atkinson Cycle engine and a two-motor electric drive continuously variable transmission.

16-Lexus-CT200h-15At 134 horsepower, it pulls a slightly heavier car than the Toyota Prius from which it comes, but is tuned a bit more for performance. This gives it an EPA rated 43 mpg city, 40 mpg highway and 42 mpg combined.

Even with the sport mode you can switch over to on the center console that allows all hands on deck from the powertrain, it’s still only 134 noisy and rough horsepower. This translates to a slow feeling and sometimes punishing experience if you try to drive spiritedly.

Though I could want for more power in a car which is marketed to me as a sporting alternative to a Prius, it still achieves excellent fuel economy. In my week with it I averaged 44 mpg combined city and highway which is more than promised.

The chassis of the CT200h starts with the more modest Toyota Corolla but has a more upscale double-wishbone rear suspension which conveys a better ride and sharper responses when driving spiritedly around curves and bumpy roads.

16-Lexus-CT200h-5It has a sport tuned suspension on the base CT200h, and on the F Sport is tuned even more aggressively. It does indeed drive well with a solid ride and feel which offers up some sense of road holding, a quiet ride, and a decent amount of feedback from steering.

That ride and feel is the one standout here in the driving experience which makes this car feel its price, and not related to lower grade economy cars. It’s showing its age around the edges however with areas of refinement over rough surfaces.

And feel is always important in a car, especially a luxury brand we pay more for. Impressive was fit and finish overall both visually and by touch. The doors aren’t as solid in their shut as some Germans, but it still feels like more than a Toyota Corolla in stature.

Safety too is top of the class for the CT200h. The IIHS gives it their highest honor of Top Safety Pick + with its good ratings on all their tests including the brutal new small-lap crash. And, it offers an Advanced level of crash prevention systems.

All-in, when we consider its as tested price of $41,860 it’s hard to call this car a value where at its entry point of around $31,000 it may well be. This is because at near $42,000 there are a myriad of other choices in the market, larger and with similar fuel economy, and similar features.

Overall though, if you like the Prius for its economy, green car image, or its reliability record, this is a car that might be worth a few extra bones to gain additional luxury and sporting flavor.

First drive: 2015 Tesla Model S 85D

There’s a reason why every test drive review of the Tesla Model S is agush with superlatives. Today we found out why driving for the first time the 2015 Tesla Model S 85D.

With D meaning dual motor, we drove the 422 horsepower all-wheel drive version, just one step down from the entirely bonkers P85D which hums out some 691 horsepower.

15 tesla S 85D 2

Only 422 horsepower? Well, that gets us from 0-60 in about 4.4 seconds. It happens in a snap, an instant. All this power, and not a puff of smoke from an exhaust pipe nor the tires. No drama mama.

Stepping back a few breaths, the Tesla Model S has earned its place in automotive history already. The creation of a start-up company nobody thought would survive, it has managed to do so and become the darling of the press, investors and owners alike.

15 tesla S 85D 5

That start-up company borrowed lots of government seed money, but paid it back and moved on. Today they are ready to launch a second model based on the same technology, the Model X crossover SUV. That model you can reserve now and have sometime in 2016.

We began our test drive of the Model S for the first time climbing behind the wheel and realizing how different this car is in every conceivable way from the expected automotive norms.

15 tesla S 85D 6

Some of the stuff you expect is here. There’s a steering wheel, power seat controls on the side of them, a center armrest and a seat belt. On the door are controls for the power mirrors and windows, check.

From that point on, it bucks tradition. They skipped right past the Start Button. You power up the Tesla by stepping on the brake pedal, at which point it comes to life.

As you reach around to find the center stack controls, you find they are all and I mean all mastered into a massive 17-inch touchscreen that manages to work remarkably well at presenting and serving up various menus for everything from audio and navigation to suspension and steering settings to sunroof controls.

15 tesla S 85D 8

The interior itself is fashioned with high quality trimmings and a contemporary design theme that reminds on the outlying end a Copenhagen furniture gallery and on the mainstream side of things, a Volvo cabin.

15-tesla-S-85D-6There are a few deficiencies here to mention, that being the lack of storage cubbies we tend to like with our luxury and a standard center console that has a traditional shape and configuration. We are told you can option this if you must be old-fashioned.

Setting the Model S into motion is much like that of a top-end German sedan, using a steering column mounted paddle switch. It creeps forward just like a traditional car when you lift off the brake and head to the tarmac.

Being an electric car, it is of course whisper quiet and smooth in its power delivery not just here, and not just there, but always. And when you summon both motors and throw down your right foot, you get an instantaneous burst of madness coupled with a pleasant whir.

15-tesla-S-85D-8Before you have much a chance to savor it, you’re breaking the law. You lift off, let the strong regenerative braking slow you back to legality, and then repeat. Oh what a joy. Now you know why you see these damn things literally everywhere. Stop lights and freeway on-ramps become launch pads for your delightful silent revenge. The carbon footprint stomping bastards will never know what hit them.

As tested with the largess of its optional 21-inch wheels, handling was quite remarkably tight for a car weighing 4,700 lbs and perhaps a few extra with its dual-motor powertrain. Steering is adjustable for effort and seems quite happy regardless of how you dial it.

When it comes to range, the 85D has the longest of them all with some 270 miles of go there between charges according to the EPA. If you sink your toes into the tripple-shot of espresso P85D you lose a few miles down to 253.

15-tesla-S-85D-5If you can afford it, there must be some joy in contemplating the idea of giving up 17 miles of range to achieve a shudder and guilt free sprint to 60 mph in only 3.1 seconds as you head to the next Tesla Supercharger station for another dose of free electricity.

And that kids is where the Tesla Model S really begins to make a lot of sense. Yes, our tester tipped the scales at just over $106,000 with options, and you can spend even more. But the base entry level Model S 70D is a rather reasonable $57,500.

That pits it against all the usual suspects in its luxury and driving experience class like the BMW 5 and 7-Series, Mercedes E and S-Class, and so many others. And honestly if you order up the Germans with their top horsepower options, your driving range with them isn’t that much more.

15-tesla-S-85D-2The thing is, when you plunk down $60, $80, or even $100,000 for a BMW or Mercedes you don’t get free gasoline from them, at least not after your first full tank from the dealership. The Tesla Model S ownership experience includes unlimited free access to their Supercharger network and destination chargers located increasingly everywhere. The juice is free!

So not only are you saving at home when charging up with electricity that is far cheaper than gasoline per mile, you can sip free kilowatts on a real live road trip. On the interstates now, you will find Tesla Superchargers located such you can take a coast to coast trip so long as you don’t mind stopping for about 30 minutes every 3-4 hours for a latte and some free Wifi.

Are we sold? Hell yes. Isn’t everyone? We drank the Kool-aid, we got the tattoo and so should you. This thing is that good.

2016 Acura NSX Hybrid technical details impress

Technical details about the 2016 Acura NSX hybrid super-car have been revealed which shed light on it’s groundbreaking new powertrain and ultra lightweight body construction.

Peeling the layers off its eye catching body, what drives the new Acura NSX is nothing short of exotic by today’s standards, what Acura calls Sport Hybrid SH-AWD.

Power starts with a longitudinally mid-mounted 3.5 liter twin-turbocharged V6 engine with both direct and port fuel injection. The dry sump engine has a narrow 75-degree V-angle and sends power exclusively to the rear wheels through an all-new 9-speed dual clutch transmission.

Between the the two is a direct-drive electric motor which applies its power and torque directly to the engine’s crankshaft to add power when its requested.

Driving the front wheels is a dual electric motor or twin-motor unit which can deliver what Acura calls zero delay acceleration, meaning they along with the electric motor at the rear can entirely negate any feeling of turbo lag.

Better still, the twin-motor unit can perform dynamic torque vectoring. And Acura even says that through the design of its double wishbone front suspension, the feeling of torque steer won’t exist through its variable ratio steering.

All this hardware requires a lot of cooling and to that the NSX has some 10 heat exchangers throughout which cool the front twin-motor unit, the twin-turbo engine, rear electric motor and even the 9-speed transmission.

The 3.5-liter V6 gets three radiators, one front and center with two side mounted units and the transmission has two heat exchangers. The turbocharger intercoolers are saddle mounted at the sides, taking air from the large side scoops.

While the first NSX was made entirely of aluminum, this one gets a combination of high-strength steel and aluminum in its space frame structure. Hung over it are aluminum and sheet molded composite panels.

NSX Power Unit LayoutIts space-frame uses a new ablation casting method for major structural gussets that join aluminum extruded tubes. These castings provide robust mounting points for powertrain and suspension while strengthening the structure.

Effectively acting as junction points for softer tubes, they provide a manageable safety structure for crash performance while also holding the structure together during the welding process in production.

NSX Powertrain - Top View
NSX Powertrain – Top View

High-strength steels are used in key areas like the A-pillar where more protection is needed, and materials like carbon fiber are used in the floor panels where additional weight can be saved.

Actual horsepower ratings and efficiency metrics haven’t yet been released for the 2016 Acura NSX, but we expect to hear more very soon as it’s slated to begin production in Ohio later this year.

Whats new: 2015 Lexus CT 200h Hybrid

One of our quite honestly favored small sport luxury hybrids rolls into 2015 with a number of new features to keep it fresh. The Lexus CT 200h with its 42 combined mpg gets more connected with new infotainment options that are must haves.

iPhone users will be happy now that a newly standard Siri Eyes Free Mode lets you call contacts, get turn-by-turn navigation, as well as select and play music from iTunes and much more. Additionally, the Lexus Enform App Suite gets upgrades including iHeartRadio 4.0 and Slacker, expanding the available music sources.

If you opt for the Navigation system, you will find it how has more voice commands. An updated HomeLink system is easier to program. A new two-way communication feature lets you know the door is closed so you don’t need to wait or revisit your home to verify.

Rated at 43 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, and 42 mpg combined, the CT 200h is loosely based on the mechanical genius of the perennial Toyota Prius. Given this, it features the same 1.8-liter in-line four-cylinder gas engine teamed to an electric motor/generator for a combined output of 134 horsepower.

A second motor in the hybrid system serves as both engine starter and generator to charge the hybrid battery pack. The power all flows seamlessly through a continuously variable transmission (CVT) which makes the best use of the instant torque of the electric motor and quickly finds the optimal gear ratios for the CT 200 more performance oriented character.

You of course get a drive mode selection which offers four distinct settings of Normal, Sport, Eco or EV. Normal mode has an essentially linear throttle response that gives naturally progressive power. Sport mode yields a more responsive and dynamic driving experience.

2014_Lexus_CT_200h_042In Eco mode, air conditioning settings are adjusted and the throttle response is reduced relative to the pedal angle to emphasize fuel economy. Under certain circumstances, the EV mode can allow the CT 200h to be driven short distances using only the electric motors.

The popular F-Sport trim grade added in 2014 comes across for 2015 as well. It gets all the handsome visuals of a mesh style Lexus spindle grille, black contrast roof, rear spoiler and 17” alloy wheels. It also gets a sportier suspension with stiffer dampers and springs.

While we compare the CT 200h often to the Toyota Prius, the Lexus shares nothing in terms of exterior sheetmetal or interior trims with the more utilitarian Toyota. The driving experience is engineered more to performance and the cabin every bit a Lexus when it comes to style and quality trappings.

We will bring you an updated drive review soon on the new 2015 CT 200h when we get behind the wheel of one later this year.

Ford readies hybrid power for next F-150, Expedition, Navigator

The collaboration between Ford and Toyota made a couple years ago this week was announced to have ended. Calling it a feasibility study today, both manufacturers have said they will go their separate ways to develop rear-wheel-drive hybrid systems for their next-generation pickups and SUV’s.

Ford has said that its own in-house design rear-wheel-drive hybrid power-train will be seen in the next-generation F-150 as well as their full-sized SUV’s such as the Expedition and the Lincoln Navigator. The new system Ford says will be available by the end of this decade.

While little has been announced about the new rear-wheel-drive hybrid system it is believed to be a parallel system which will sandwich an electric motor between an 8-speed automatic transmission and a gasoline engine.

This arrangement is by far the most robust when it comes to offering power and durability for full-sized truck and SUV applications. A constantly variable transmission (CVT) which most hybrids utilize simply doesn’t have the durability and torque delivery necessary for towing and heavy loads.

As to the engine that would most likely be paired with a hybrid offering is difficult to judge. A small naturally aspirated V6 would likely be the default play or potentially a V8, enabling a better spread for meeting CAFE regulations. An EcoBoost turbocharged engine is not likely due to cost.

Ford says that paramount will be the capability truck and SUV customers demand while providing greater fuel economy. And as Ford and Toyota both seem to have parted ways, it seems that the hybrid truck and SUV market will get more competitive.

“We know what it takes to build world-class hybrids, and we now will build and leverage that expertise in-house,” said Raj Nair, group vice president, global product development. “By continuing to develop a rear-wheel-drive hybrid system on our own, we can extend our advanced hybrid technologies to new vehicle segments and deliver even better fuel economy across our lineup.”

The next-generation Ford F-150 is said to be lighter weight afforded by an all aluminum body structure in addition to offering more efficient gasoline engines across the board. The Ford Expedition SUV and its Lincoln Navigator counterpart will as well need to be trimmed and modernized under the hood to even have a chance at survival.

Chevrolet Spark EV to lease for $199 a month

The next big news in the electric car set is the coming Chevrolet Spark EV. And making that news bigger today, Chevrolet announced a least program starting at $199 per month. Additionally, with a price starting at $27,495, it can be had for as little at $19,995 after $7,500 federal tax incentive.

Depending on their tax situation, California Spark EV owners may also qualify for other state and local tax credits and incentives up to $2,500, potentially reducing the price to $17,495. Spark EV owners in California are also eligible for High-Occupancy Vehicle, or carpool lane, access.

The least program that Chevrolet will launch is $199 per month for 36 months, with $999 due at lease signing including security deposit (tax, title, license dealer fees extra). The lease includes 10,000 miles per year. The Spark EV is now available for order in some California and Oregon Chevrolet dealers and will begin arriving by middle of June.

Based on the gasoline Chevrolet Spark, the Spark EV features a combined city/highway EPA estimated range of 82 miles when fully charged and a 119 MPGe fuel economy equivalent rating. The Spark EV will be GM’s first production 100% EV model since the now famous EV-1 of the 1990′s

The Spark EV will be price competitive with cars like the Mitsubishi MiEV and Nissan Leaf. The Nissan Leaf at $28,800 is a more substantial car in size and scope however than the Spark or the MiEV. Ford offers their own Focus EV, but that car is priced substantially higher at $39,200.

Fiat 500e leases for $199, includes rental car program

Fiat has announced initial pricing and a lease program for its new 500e, which begins sales this summer in California. In that state, buyers of electric cars can cash in on both the $7,500 federal tax credit as well as a strong state tax credit.

The new Fiat 500e is able to go up to 87 miles on a charge, and is surely to be a popular EV in a market where style is just as important as being green.

“With unique Italian style, industry-best highway MPGe rating and class-leading combined driving range, we know we have a great car in our hands,” said Tim Kuniskis Head of FIAT Brand North America. “Now our task is to simplify the customer’s experience and make sure that people know how easy and affordable it can be to own our electric Cinquecento.”

The 500e will be offered to California residents at launch with a $199 a month/$999 due at signing lease for 36 months, same as the current lease offer on a Fiat 500 Pop powered by a gas engine.

Fiat steering wheel

The Fiat 500e is priced at $32,500, which includes a $700 destination charge. However, eligible California residents may be able to purchase the 500e for as low as $20,500, after federal credits, state incentives and Rebates rebates are included.

Fiat says that’s about $200 less than the current starting price of a comparably-equipped Fiat 500 Lounge with a gas engine, and makes it one of the least expensive electric cars on the market.

In addition to the low price, Fiat has partnered with Enterprise Rent-A-Car to create an innovative program that offers 500r owner a gasoline powered car up to 12 days a year, free of charge. The program is standard with a 500e, and helps bridge the gap of range for those times when a road trip is needed.

The “Fiat 500e Pass” program, provides purchasers and lessees of a new 500e up to 12 days of alternate transportation each year for the first three years after the date of purchase. The program gives 500e owners or leases access to vehicles such as the gas-powered Fiat 500, the coming Fiat 500L, the all-new Dodge Dart or the Chrysler 200 mid-size sedan.

In addition, customers will have the flexibility to upgrade to a larger vehicle such as a minivan or a pickup truck subject to terms of the program.

“This innovative idea from the Fiat brand and Enterprise Holdings will provide purchasers of a new 500e with the opportunity to enjoy the exciting characteristics of this all-electric vehicle while giving them a flexible alternative in case they want to drive beyond the vehicle’s range,” said Kuniskis. “By addressing upfront the concerns and anxiety consumers may have about purchasing an electric vehicle, we are helping to make it easy and convenient to purchase or lease a Fiat 500e in the state of California.”

The program will be valid at any Enterprise, Alamo or National car rental location throughout the U.S. Enterprise has more than 6,200 locations in the U.S. making the use of the Fiat 500e Pass easy and convenient for Fiat’s customers.

Video: Toyota Camry, Prius v perform poorly in new IIHS crash test

When the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) started rating cars based on their offset frontal crash test, it made car companies go back to the drawing board, as it was much harder than the government’s standard front crash test.

With the IIHS new small overlap front crash test, this may very well send Toyota back to revisit the design on two of their popular hybrid models, the Camry and Prius v, which both tested with poor ratings in the latest round of tests.

In the first battery of the new test which the front of the car hits a small obstacle, about 25% of the width of the bumper, the damage can be far more catastrophic than if it was a wider impact. This is because the object misses the frame of the car and impacts instead the non-structural “flesh” of the car, pushing the front wheel into the passenger compartment.

As the IIHS states in their findings, “the Camry and Prius v illustrate what can go wrong in a small overlap crash, despite good ratings in IIHS tests that qualify the cars for Top Safety Pick.”

In the test for the Prius v the survival space was seriously compromised. The side curtain airbag also deployed too late to offer protection. They measured high impact forces on the dummy’s legs and feet, and the side curtain airbag deployed too late in the crash to offer protection. All of which earned the Prius a poor rating.

With the Toyota the Camry, the impact forced the front wheel all the way back into the foot well. The intrusion bent the windshield pillar and pushed the parking brake pedal and the left outer edge of the instrument panel rearward into the driver’s survival space.

The IIHS said that the Camry’s driver airbag and side curtain airbag deployed, but the steering wheel moved so far to the right that the dummy’s head made only minimal contact. Furthermore, the side curtain airbag didn’t extend far enough forward to help prevent the dummy’s head from hitting the instrument panel.

The two Toyota vehicles performed far more poorly than other vehicles in their classes, which will likely take Toyota engineers back to their labs to start looking at ways to bolster their designs. Competitors like the 2013 Honda Accord received a “good” rating, while Kia Optima and Ford Fusion – all of which are available in hybrid models, earned only “acceptable” ratings in the new crash test.

IIHS Small Offset Crash Test results:

Honda Accord (hybrid) = Good

Ford Fusion (hybrid) = Acceptable

Kia Optima (hybrid) = Acceptable

Chevrolet Malibu (mild hybrid) = Moderate

Volkswagen Jetta (hybrid) = Moderate

Toyota Camry (hybrid) = Poor

Toyota Prius v hybrid = Poor

 

Lexus CT-200 Black Bison Edition

Wald International is a Japanese company which creates custom body packages for many cars, including Lexus. This week they just unveiled their latest creation for the 2011-2013 Lexus CT-200h.

Called the Black Bison Edition, the creation sports new front and rear fascias. The font features integrated LED driving lights with sculpted channels. The rear fascia has a diffuser and a very Porsche-like set of exhaust outlets.

Also included are handsome side skirts, a roof spoiler made of carbon fiber stands out well against the matte black finish of the body work. Other carbon fiber accents abound including the grille surround.

The look is accented with light blue highlights at the front and rear fascias, a tribute the hybrid nature of the CT-200. The suspension is lowered along with the installation of large rolling stock for a more aggressive look.

The imprinted Bison logos are a bit of a cute flourish, though more amusing than anything – definitely an Asian touch.

While completed version of the Black Bison Edition arent likely to be found at your local Lexus dealer, you can buy these pars through Wald’s Exclusive dealer in the States, Jonari.

Comparison: 2012 Chevrolet Volt vs 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in

We took the two top contenders in the plug-in slash hybrid slash electric car wars and put them head to head. The Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric and the Toyota Prius Pug-in Hybrid Vehicle (PHV) come from two completely different engineering philosophies but the outcome is very similar on paper as it relates to how you feed them.

Both cars plug in for an electric charge which gives them a modicum of electric only driven range. Both cars have a gasoline engine which comes into play once that charge is depleted. Depending on your daily drive patterns each car can act strictly as an electric vehicle(EV) or as a hybrid of both.

The Chevrolet Volt is advertised and sold as an electric car with an on-board generator powered by gasoline. The battery takes up to 14 hours to charge on a 120V outlet, shorter with a 240V fast charger. The battery will get you between 35-40 miles before it runs down. When that happens an on board gasoline powered generator fires up and gives you additional electricity to keep you going for as long as you want to buy gas.

With the Toyota Prius PHV, you plug it in for a 3 hour charge on your 120V outlet which gives you about 12 miles of electric-vehicle (EV) range at speeds up to 62 mph. Once that range is depleted the PHV goes back in to a normal Toyota Prius hybrid driving mode.

If it happens your daily round about fits into the 12 mile range, then you can conceivably drive the PHV as an EV almost infinitely provided you keep it plugged in when parked. The EPA rates it at 95 mpge on all-electric mode and 50 mpg combined city/highway in hybrid only mode. Depending on your mix of both modes you can see actual mpg easily up into the 80′s and 90′s.

We achieved 61.5 mpg in our mixed week of driving in the Prius PHV and 119 mpg with the Chevrolet Volt. The extra range afforded by the Volt’s much more robust range brought its average up considerably as we drove both cars about 40-50 miles each day in similar patterns.

Behind the wheel is where these two cars begin to take entirely separate characters. The Volt drives the same way regardless of whether you drive off the battery or the gasoline engine is powering it. This is because the engine does not power the wheels, but turns a generator that makes power for the electric drive motor. It does so very quietly and seamlessly, often you don’t even know it is running.

In day to day driving the PHV drives very much like any Toyota Prius. In EV mode the car is smooth and quiet with a reasonable amount of power on tap. The gasoline engine still fires up occasionally in cases where you have a lot of accessories on or you mash the accelerator hard.

The regenerative braking and electric motor sounds were a bit louder in the Prius PHV than in the Volt which is nearly whisper quiet. And because the Prius is a hybrid which uses power from the engine to drive the wheels off and on, your get occasional roughness as it the powertrain cycles from one power source to the other.

Handling and ride were another area the cars stood apart. We found the Volt to be happy spirited around town and on windy roads in a way that rewards you when asking it to play. The Prius on the other hand seemed to be slow to steer and heavy in feel, not designed for spirited driving. The Volt has a feel and suppleness more in keeping with its $40,000 price range than did the Prius.

The interior of the Volt is one of high style and quality in a way that tells you the people who designed this car wanted to make it special. The look is futuristic without being gimmicky and material quality is top notch. Hitting the blue LED power button lights up the dash and a futuristic chime greets you happily. Easy to use, a traditional shift lever is found on the center console.

Both the instrument panel and center stack use color liquid crystal displays with very well laid out graphics. There seems to be just the right buttons to compliment the touch screen controls to make it all intuitive. HVAC and audio controls can be controlled both by standard controls and touch screen menus.

The Volt’s leather trimmed seats were so comfortable, the steering wheel feeling just right in your hands. Here in Phoenix it is already into the 90 degree temperatures so we used the electrically driven air-conditioning prodigiously to double happy comfort.

The interior of our Toyota Prius PHV Advanced had a tastefully executed monotone charcoal theme that was a richly inviting place to be with the SofTex synthetic leather. While we would have liked the genuine article in a car costing $40,000, it only lacked the aroma that cowhide gives. The heated seats were comfortable and power adjustable for the driver which was a welcome feature.

The Advanced trim grade comes with the top end navigation and audio system from the JBL Greenline which includes Toyota’s Entune infotainment interface for your smart phone. Included also is the aforementioned rich SofTex synthetic leather interior with heated seats, high tech auto leveling LED headlamps with cleaning nozzles, and a futuristic head-up display in the dash.

The top line sound system in the Prius PHV was a bit of a disappointment, never really sounding of quality regardless of how we tried to adjust its settings. And while the head-up display was a cute gee-whiz cool feature that displayed speed and core information on the windshield at your eye line, its only about 10″ from the real instrument display.

Also part of the Prius PHV’s Advanced trim package are fog lights and an auto-dimming rear view mirror with Homelink. A key feature we liked was a very helpful dynamic radar cruise control system that automatically speed compensates when you get stuck in traffic. We loved it on the 101 freeway at rush hour, every car should come with this.

Pricing on our two test cars was similar. Our Volt was fully loaded with the $1,995 premium audio system with navigation which sounded excellent. Also optioned was the aforementioned heated leather seats which are part of the $1395 premium trim package. All said the total came to $43,880 including destination.

The most expensive Prius, the PHV starts out at $32,000. Our Prius PHV Advanced model is the top of the line, loaded with every imaginable option which brought the sticker price to a stratospheric $40,285 including destination.

The Volt qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit while the Prius PHV qualifies for a $1,500 tax credit. Both cars qualify for a number of state level tax rebates too including a $2,500 credit for both in the state of California. We feel that given these balancing powers, the pricing on each car comparatively is almost a push.

There is no question that each car shoots for the same target as it relates to efficiency and greenness, but each has taken a remarkably different path to get there. They both come in as pricey cars that you have to want as much for its ingenuity and its statement as for their energy cost savings.

In our opinion the Volt offers a stronger sense of style, handling acumen and overall enjoyability than does the Prius PHV. When you get out and walk away from the Volt you catch yourself wanting to look back at it. There is no question the designers at GM went out of their way to make this car special. The only major complaint is that it only seats four people.

The Prius PHV on the other hand will easily win over those who worry about the considerable headlines the Volt has garnered whether they be consequential or not. While it has the new plug-in capability, the car is based on Toyota’s tried and proven Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain which has proven bulletproof over the last ten years.