The Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid boasts impressive fuel economy of 134.5mpg, along with emissions of just 49g/km CO2; these figures are achieved by the ability to plug the hybrid car into the mains to charge the battery.
The Toyota Prius is probably the best-known hybrid. The Prius is now in its third generation and Toyota has improved most areas of weakness of the second-generation version. Despite other manufacturers claiming that they wouldn’t be going down the hybrid route only a few years ago, suddenly all manufacturers seem to be developing hybrids. Presumably that’s because they’ve seen the success of the Prius; it’s now sold over 2.6 million . In fact Toyota and Lexus have sold more than 4 million hybrid cars in total. Despite fears over the complexity of the hybrid technology, the Prius has also been shown to be one of the most reliable cars you can buy .
The standard Prius hybrid has now been joined by the Prius Plug-in – which, as the name suggests, can be plugged in to provide a larger range on electric power .
The Prius Plug-in is essentially the same car as the standard Prius hybrid. That means that the base car is an energy-efficient five-seat, five-door hatchback. The hybrid principle is now familiar to most people – the Prius has a 1.8-litre petrol engine which powers the car most of the time, but this is mated to an electric motor powered by a battery, and by using this extra technology t he Prius achieves greater fuel economy and lower emissions than a normal petrol-engined car .
Compared to the standard Prius, the Prius Plug-in has a larger, 4.4 kWh lithium-ion battery which can be plugged into the mains. Recharging takes 90 minutes and this provides an electric range of up to 15.5 miles. The Prius Plug-in has undergone five years of trials during which time over a million miles have been completed, and Toyota claims that this range is the result of the best overall compromise between factors such as electric range, cost and packaging. Thanks to a switch from nickel-metal hydride to lithium-ion batteries, Toyota has squeezed in the bigger unit without losing any significant boot space, although the spare wheel is missing.
Visually, the Prius Plug-in is virtually identical to the standard Prius. An obvious difference is the addition of a new cover for the recharging socket, which is located on the front passenger-side wing . There are other minor cosmetic variations, but one significant difference is that the standard Prius is available with larger, 17-inch wheels, which, when fitted, certainly enhance the look of the car. This option can’t be specified on the Prius Plug-in because larger wheels would push the emissions up beyond its 49g/km CO2 figure, so, with its 15-inch wheels, it doesn’t look as good as the standard Prius fitted with 17-inch wheels.
The Prius Plug-in is basically a similar driving experience to the standard Prius. That means that it is comfortable, refined and quiet. The main difference is that the Prius Plug-in has an electric range of up to 15.5 miles, so it’s likely that you’ll be driving on electric power for more of the time, at least, in most cases, for the early part of your journeys. This means that the car is even quieter than normal – not that the regular Prius is noisy. The only exception to this is if you need to accelerate vigorously using the petrol engine, when, thanks to the ‘automatic’ CVT gearbox, the engine noise rises as the revs rise, yet a directly proportionate increase in speed doesn’t result.
If you start a journey on fast roads and you’re due to finish in the city, you can choose to drive the car in ‘HV-EV’ hybrid mode to start, which should save the battery for the city, to allow electric-only driving. This is achieved by selecting this button to drive in petrol-electric hybrid mode, which is one of three switches behind the gear selector. There’s also an ‘EV City’ button, if you want to keep the car in electric-only mode, which can be maintained up to 51mph. The EV mode on the Prius Plug-in allows more aggressive acceleration than in the standard Prius before the petrol engine cuts in to assist. However if you need even more power then the car can override the EV mode selection and start the engine.
The third button is for Eco mode , which further adjusts the car’s settings in the interests of ultimate efficiency.
The standard Prius has a ‘Power’ mode button – this doesn’t feature in the Prius Plug-in. This perhaps summarises the Prius Plug-in – the few concessions that the standard Prius makes towards an improved driving experience are replaced in the Prius Plug-in with even more extreme eco-driving aids . This means that the Prius Plug-in is not a driver’s car – but the average person driving around cities such as London doesn’t need or want a driver’s car – they want something that is easy to drive, comfortable, practical and cheap to run – and the Prius Plug-in ticks all of these boxes.
The Prius Plug-in has an official economy figure of 134.5 mpg , and emissions of 49g/km CO2. The secret to achieving this is of course the plug-in capability, which enables the car to be driven on its electric motor for more of the time, so saving use of the petrol engine and fuel. If you drive the Prius Plug-in for journeys of up to 15 miles in the morning, recharge the car during the day, and then drive home for 15 miles, you may achieve close to the official economy figures. On the launch event we drove 25 miles in mostly built-up areas, and achieved 108mpg, without any special eco-driving.
As always, there are two things to be aware of about these official figures. Firstly, the figures don’t account for the energy you’ve taken from the grid when you recharge the car.
Secondly, the figures are based on the industry standard fuel consumption test – in other words, a test conducted over a short distance, and with low load. If you drive 12,000 miles a year mostly on the petrol engine then you won’t achieve 134.5 mpg. But, like the Vauxhall Ampera, the Prius Plug-in offers genuine low carbon motoring for people who can drive most of the time on electric power – and who recharge on a renewable energy tariff.
Toyota also quotes fuel economy and emissions for the instance when the mains-generated energy has run out; the figures are 76.4mpg and 85g/km CO2 – which is slightly better than the standard Prius. This is a really useful figure to provide, because it shows that even when the charge in the hybrid battery has been depleted, this car will still be highly economical – in reality, much more so than an Ampera under similar circumstances (which is likely to return 40-50mpg when its battery has been depleted).
There’s not much to report in terms of different specification options as there’s only one model. It costs £32,895, or £27,895 after the government’s £5000 plug-in car grant. After the grant, the Prius Plug-in costs £6,295 more than the £21,600 entry-level Prius 1.8 VVT-I T3, or £2,985 more than the top of the range £24,910 T-Spirit.
The price of £27,895 may sounds like a lot for a 15-mile electric range benefit, but many businesses, and individuals, in cities such as London will like the idea of a 134.5mpg and 49g/km CO2 car that has very few drawbacks. Companies will also like the idea of the 5% company car tax rating, and of course there’s no road tax to pay and it’s exempt from the London Congestion Charge.
Remember that you can’t specify the Prius Plug-in with the larger 17-inch alloy wheels which feature on the T4 and T Spirit Prius models.
The Prius Plug-in comes with a five year-warranty, with eight years for the hybrid system.
The standard Prius hybrid is a winning formula for people who want a practical eco car. However rival companies are bringing all-electric or electric range-extended cars to market, so the Prius Plug-in is Toyota’s answer. It offers electric motoring for up to around 15 miles, then a petrol engine when the battery is depleted.
If you want electric driving capability but don’t want range anxiety that comes with an all-electric car then the Prius is a solution. But how does it compare to an Extended-Range Electric Car such as an Ampera? The Ampera is always an electric car; whether powered from its battery for up to 50 miles, or from its range-extender generator thereafter. The Ampera wins on its all-electric range, so if you want a potential 50-mile electric range, with the ability to go further, choose the Ampera.
However if you only need around 15 miles of electric driving before the car switches to an efficient petrol-hybrid engine that’s likely to deliver higher miles per gallon than the Ampera after its battery runs out, the Prius Plug-in is probably a better solution.
So the Toyota Prius Plug-in is a practical, comfortable, refined car that can potentially achieve 134mpg if used on the right drive cycles, but that can still achieve 76mpg if driven beyond its EV range. The Prius Plug-in may not look quite as good as the regular Prius with 17-inch alloys, you lose the Power mode option, and it’s relatively expensive (although around £5,000 cheaper than a similar-spec Ampera), but apart from these issues there really are very few drawbacks of the Prius Plug-in.
For a car that offers such potentially high fuel consumption and low emissions with no significant drawbacks such as range limitations, the Toyota Prius Plug-in is awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 10 out of 10 .
Electricity consumption: Estimated 139 Wh/km – approx 75 g/km CO2
Battery pack: 4.4 kWh lithium-ion
Recharge time: 90 minutes 230v