Toyota Prius Plug-In review
by Tom Stewart (26 July 2012)
I'm sure that choosing a new car used to be simpler. Time was when, apart from selecting a body style and make, all you had to do was decide what engine capacity best suited your needs and budget. Fuel type wasn't an issue.
Then along came diesels, which were torquier, slower and cost a bit more, but went further on a gallon of cheaper fuel. A minute or two of ready reckoning and bingo, you pretty much knew what you wanted. Then, in a dastardly governmental act, the price of derv rose to equal and exceed the price of petrol, which meant that diesel power usually only made sense if you planned to cover a high mileage and keep the car for ages.
At the same time cheap, low-power LPG entered the equation, but if that weren't enough we're now bombarded by hype promoting the varied virtues of full electrics, petrol- and diesel-electric hybrids, range-extender hybrids and, most recently, the plug-in petrol hybrid in the shape of the Toyota Prius Plug-In.
With a petrol/electric hybrid Prius five-seat hatchback (with nickel metal hydride batteries), a seven-seat Prius+ (with more efficient lithium-ion batteries) and now another five-seater that requires its li-ion battery to be recharged via the mains, just choosing the right Prius has become something of a brain teaser. So, allow me to simplify things, or at least try to.
The new Prius Plug-in has the same 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with the same 650v electric motor as the Prius and Prius+, and so produces the same 134bhp full system power. For a number of reasons the Plug-In is a little slower off the line with an 11.4-second 0-62 time, but it matches the "normal" Prius's 112mph top speed. Put simply, the Plug-In is no rocketship, but it performs adequately in normal driving.
In common with other hybrids, its re-generative brakes feel a little grabby at low speed, but, unlike the other Priuses, the Plug-In can drive a whole 15.5 miles in electric-only mode – 14.3 miles further than its two stablemates and sufficient, according to research, for 80% of Europeans who commute by car.
The Plug-In has three driving modes: Eco, HV/EV and EV City, and if these are used as intended then you should at least match the truly impressive 112mpg I achieved (with the help of a co-driver) over a mixed 30-mile test route, without even trying. The Plug-In's official combined figure is a whopping 134.5mpg, and if you do run out of battery power then it'll do a claimed 769 miles on a 45-litre (9.9-gallon) tankful, so "range anxiety" is non-applicable. A flat-to-full battery recharge takes 90 minutes and should cost around 50p.
The single-spec Plug-In costs £32,895, minus the current £5000 plug-in car government grant. So, that's £27,895 on the road, or a little under £3000 more than a "normal" Prius in the equivalent T-Spirit spec.
I'm afraid you'll have to do your own sums as to whether 100+mpg (officially 78.5mpg on petrol alone) and just 49g/km (VED band A – £0 road tax with zero London Congestion charge) might justify that extra £3k initial outlay.
FYI: at the time of writing, 78.5 miles on petrol alone costs about £6.05, whereas the same distance solely on electric power would cost about £2.53, although to cover those 78.5 miles you'd have to recharge the Plug-In five times over 7.5 hours. Oh, and you'll also have to consider whether and where you can conveniently recharge, plus the approximately £300 cost of installing the recommended dedicated power supply at home.
Energy and cost considerations aside, like the third-generation Prius (introduced in 2009) the Plug-In model rides comfortably at medium to high speeds, but at lower speeds it can feel a bit firm on poor surfaces. Weighing 1425-1450kg it's a tad heavier than the "normal" Prius (1370-1420kg, depending on spec), and running on 15" alloys (with aerodynamic plastic wheel trims) the Plug-In also doesn't feel particularly lithe or chuckable.
It steers and grips well enough, and it can be hustled along fairly quickly if needs be, but as before it falls short of being an enthusiast's driving machine.
The Plug-In’s interior is much the same as the existing Prius's, and among the standard equipment are rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlamps, an eight-speaker JBL audio system, automatic air-conditioning, a 7" touchscreen, a multifunction trip computer with an Eco Drive Monitor, a head-up display, a USB port, a rear-view camera and, not least, Toyota's Touch & Go Plus system which features satnav, Bluetooth, Google Local Search and voice recognition.
Like the normal Prius, the Plug-In's bigger batteries are sited under the boot floor (they're between the front seats in the Prius+ MPV), but at 443 litres (with seats up) its boot is only two litres smaller.
So, there you have it; choosing a new Prius, let alone a new car, just got even more complex, but, sums aside, a genuine 100+mpg with a 700+ mile range is definitely a significant step forward.