The claim was made regarding a Nissan Pulsar, but to investigate this I decided to compare the Prius with the Corolla Hatchback, as far as I can tell the Corolla Hatchback is the nearest non-hybrid car to the Prius that Toyota sells (being similar in size, weight, and performance). Comparing cars of different make adds extra variables into the equation. Unfortunately the Toyota web site fails to provide specifications for the Prius and only provides a PDF file with minimal information on the Corolla, but it is enough for some minimal calculations.
A car company run by intelligent people would publish the specs on all their vehicles and provide a search form to compare selected models. The Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation has a good search method that allows easy comparison and ranking of items in their database (here is an example). It would be good if Toyota would permit us to compare models in their car range in a similar manner.
According to the Toyota web site the Prius uses 4.4L/100Km when driving in the city and the manual transmission version of the Corolla Hatchback uses 7.4L/100Km (7.7 for the auto). For the average 16,000Km that an average Prius owner drives that would save 480L of petrol which would save about $700 at current petrol prices.
The Corolla Ascent Hatchback (the cheapest of all Corollas) is $21,000 while the cheapest Prius is $37,400. If you compare the Prius with the cheapest Corolla then it’s a $16,400 price difference. If you save $700 per annum then it won’t cover the interest on a $16,400 loan or match the interest rates earned by a bank term-deposit if the $16,400 was invested. So it seems apparent that at current petrol prices (NB petrol prices are expected to increase) and with average Prius driving patterns a Prius will not be more economical than a cheap Corolla.
Currently the Commonwealth Bank of Australia offers 6.05% interest on term deposits of between $10,000 and $25,000. This means that $700 per annum would be the interest on a term deposit of $11,500. If we compare the Corolla Ultima Sedan at $32,000 with the Prius at $37,400 the difference in price is less than $11,500 – but the cars have incomparable sets of luxury and safety features. The Prius i-tech appears to have a super-set of the luxury and safety features of the Corolla Ultima Sedan but at $46,900 is again going to cost more for the average Prius driver.
The Prius is a very quiet car to drive, there is almost no engine noise (when driving at speeds where the Petrol engine is operating there is usually more noise from other vehicles) and no gear changes (handy if passengers are consuming hot or sticky drinks). It has a good set of safety and luxury features and is also a prestige car (no-one will say “oh wow, you’ve got a Corolla”). If you assign a dollar value to these features then a Prius may be the most economical car that meets your requirements!
Finally, let’s keep in mind the fact that petrol prices are steadily increasing. If you save $700 by driving a Prius this year then you may save $1000 next year. There is also the option of converting a Prius to a plug-in hybrid which will be a useful option if petrol prices hit $10/L! Also the amount of money saved will depend on the use of the car. If you are running a courier or taxi business then a Prius will probably be a lot more economical than a Corolla due to the greater distances travelled and the travel in the slow city traffic that the Prius was designed for.
PS All prices are in Australian dollars and concern products on offer in Australia, I would like to see comments from other people who perform the same calculations for their countries.