Chevrolet Volt vs Ford C-Max Hybrid vs Honda Insight vs Toyota Prius
Review by Jeff Wilson, Michael Bettencourt and Peter Bleakney
Photos by Ryan Edwardson and Jeff Wilson

The Concept, by Jeff Wilson

Comparison Test: Hybrid Car Gridlock Torture Test toyota hybrids honda ford car comparisons chevrolet
Comparison Test: Hybrid Car Gridlock Torture Test toyota hybrids honda ford car comparisons chevrolet
Comparison Test: Hybrid Car Gridlock Torture Test. Click image to enlarge

The concept for this test was simple: assemble a collection of the most common and arguably the best hybrid cars available in Canada and pit them against each other in a brutal, real-life challenge designed to reveal one clear winner.

Science be damned, we want to know which hybrid is the best commuter for real urban lifestyles – the car we’d most tolerate living with every day. This isn’t about emptying fuel tanks and doling out microlitre measurements of gas, and professional drivers at a constant speed on a closed course; this is about sitting in traffic that can drive people to murderous rage.

According to Statistics Canada, the average commuting time in Toronto and Montreal is now up to nearly 80 minutes per day. That means we spend about 40 working days a year stuck in traffic. People are traveling farther to work while driving speeds are slowing, which means the comfort and efficiency of our urban automotive choices has never been more important.

In reality, the concept of this test proved simpler than its execution. First there is the challenge of finding auto journalists bored or foolish enough to volunteer to waste hours in traffic. Then there is the consideration of the choice of vehicles. There are sixteen different brands all offering hybrids more than 30 different hybrid models for sale in Canada. Toyota alone has six different hybrid models, not to mention another five from Lexus.

For this test, we sought vehicles that could reasonably be used to carpool you and a trio of workmates into the office, and contain your laptop case and a gym bag for your yoga mat and Lululemon attire. The cars must also be small enough to maneuver around tight urban spaces (sorry Tahoe Hybrid, you’re cut), affordable enough to be within reach of mere mortals (happy trails, Lexus LS600h) and have sufficient range to complete our full test without leaving us stranded (adios, Nissan Leaf). Senior Editor Yarkony stipulated that these models should be available only as hybrids in our market, so no greened over sedans with a battery back and regenerative brakes (bye-bye Jetta Turbocharged Hybrid, and pretty much everything else on the market).

What we ended up with is a foursome of efficiency mavens surprisingly different from one another despite their on-paper similarities.

Comparison Test: Hybrid Car Gridlock Torture Test toyota hybrids honda ford car comparisons chevrolet
Comparison Test: Hybrid Car Gridlock Torture Test. Click image to enlarge

The Competitors

First, the new guy: the Ford C-Max, a spacious new offering from the blue oval team.

Next, the established elders: Honda Insight and Toyota Prius (while the Prius V is closer in practical size to the C-Max, past experience with the larger Prius suggested to us that its overburdened powertrain would not be a contender, so we opted for the better Prius). Plus, we wanted the iconic original, the car that launched hybrids right to the forefront of the public’s attention, thanks in no small part to some red carpet appearances by Hollywood royalty.

Finally, the wild card: Chevrolet Volt, a hybrid that GM calls an “extended range electric vehicle”. The only plug-in hybrid here, it’s also the most costly car in the group.

Comparison Test: Hybrid Car Gridlock Torture Test toyota hybrids honda ford car comparisons chevrolet
Comparison Test: Hybrid Car Gridlock Torture Test. Click image to enlarge

The Route

Toronto is the most populous city in Canada and the highways around it feature some of the highest traffic congestion in North America. The downtown core is framed on four sides by a series of multi-lane highways that even at 4 AM on a Sunday could be inexplicably choked with traffic. This is truly the ideal venue to pit our challengers against one another.

To the west, our torture route commences at Highway 427 and starts in a southerly direction. Proceeding down, it connects to the Gardiner Expressway – the primary artery that accesses the downtown financial district. Moving east, the Gardiner ends at the Don Valley Parkway (DVP) – more commonly (and aptly) known as the Don Valley Parking Lot for its notoriously miserable congestion. Fifteen kilometers north, the DVP reaches the 401 – Canada’s busiest highway, where our group proceeds west toward the 427 again to complete the loop.

In total, adding in a few brief detours for photo spots and some city-street driving, the route is 84.4 km. Google suggests a total driving time of 1 hour and 9 minutes [Ha! –Ed.]. Reality was nowhere near that, especially since we set out to conduct this test at 3:30 PM – the start of rush “hour”. For much of the test, our average speed would not break double digits.