The new 283mpg, 22g/km CO2 Toyota Prius Plug-in is less of a car and more of a machine designed for ultimate efficiency.
The Toyota Prius Hybrid is seen as the original green car. The previous generation Prius had a plug-in version, and now a new model is here – with an all-electric driving range that is double that of its predecessor. So should this car be at the top of your plug-in hybrid shortlist?
The new Toyota Prius Plug-in has a 4-cylinder, 1.8-litre petrol engine mated to an electric CVT transmission and combined with a lithium-ion battery and electric motor. Unlike the standard Prius, you can plug it in to the mains to charge it. This gives you an all-electric driving range of around 30 miles. When the battery has run out of electricity, you can keep driving on the petrol engine. Our test car arrived displaying a total potential range of 517 miles.
This concept of a plug-in hybrid isn’t unique to the Toyota Prius; what is unique is that the whole car is optimised to be as efficient as possible.
Examples of this approach include the 0.25 coefficient of drag figure and the optional solar roof which assists with charging the battery. However another outcome is that due to the battery, this plug-in model loses a seat – it’s a four rather than a five-seater, and the boot floor is very high, so there’s a packaging compromise. It also comes with 15-inch wheels. These may assist with the aerodynamics, and therefore the efficiency, but from a visual point of view they mark out the Prius as even more of an eco-car. It’s the antidote to SUVs; everyone wants an SUV, but the efficiency of SUVs is compromised by poor aerodynamics. The Prius may not look as appealing to many people as an SUV, but it has a much more efficient body style.
There’s a similar story inside: think of your favourite driver’s car, and then visualise its interior. We can guarantee that the interior of the Prius is about as far removed from the interior of your favourite driver’s car as possible. Like the rest of the car, the interior is more about technology than a love of driving.
This theme continues with the driving experience – the Prius is easy to drive, but it’s no driver’s car. Steering, handling and ride are all good, and it’s very refined on the motorway. It also feels efficient, helped by the low body. However a motorway journey on the M62 in howling wind and rain left us with the feeling that the Prius doesn’t feel glued to the road in such conditions – presumably the eco-tyres are one of the main reasons for this.
There are three drive settings: normal, eco and power. You can also choose to drive the car in EV or hybrid mode. The revvy sensation, thanks to the CVT, still remains, although it has been improved from previous models.
So overall the Prius succeeds with being highly efficient and pleasant to drive. However there are a number of small details that spoil the overall driving experience for us.
The main instrument panel in the Prius is in the centre of the dashboard – there are no dials directly in front of the driver – which never seems to be a good idea, and supports the theory that the car isn’t primarily designed around the driver’s needs.
It’s difficult to zoom in and out on the satnav, as there’s a small button to press and it’s easy for your fingers to slip on the shiny screen when driving.
The switches for the heated seats are hidden away under the dashboard, behind the gear selector – which seems a strange place to put them. And edges of various surfaces dig into your left leg when driving, including the trim surrounding the base of the gear selector.
But perhaps the biggest issue is that you have a petrol gauge, but no battery charge/range is clearly visible at all times. You can delve into the touchscreen to view this information, but you can’t have this continually visible if you also have other information on the screen such as the satnav.
The official combined NEDC economy figure for the Toyota Prius Plug-in is 283mpg – equating to amazingly low 22g/km CO2 emissions. As any regular reader of Green Car Guide will know, this figure is virtually completely meaningless, as it completely depends on how far you drive between charges. Of more use is a long-term average – in our case, over a week of mixed driving, the Prius averaged 84mpg. Okay, so we didn’t achieve 283mpg, but 84mpg is a pretty impressive result. If you were to end up with that after 12 months – which is perfectly feasible – you’re likely to be pleased.
We were regularly experiencing an all-electric driving range of 30 miles (as advertised). And on petrol power on the motorway we were averaging around 70mpg. So the Prius Plug-in is an efficient car even on petrol power.
The other good news is that the battery charging speed has been increased by 65%, meaning that it should now take just two hours for a full charge.
The Prius Plug-in costs £30,695 after the £2,500 UK government plug-in car grant. Our test car had options of the solar roof system, rear parking sensors and ‘Spirited Aqua’ paint.
There’s also the ‘regular’ Prius hybrid, which doesn’t need plugging in. There are many properties around the UK that don’t have off-road parking and therefore any easy ability to install a charge point, so non-plug-in hybrids should continue to serve a useful purpose.
The Prius Plug-in Benefit in Kind company car tax liability of just 9% will be a significant incentive for many people.
The Prius Plug-in is similar to the regular Prius Hybrid but it provides around 30 miles of electric driving rather than the very short distance possible in the Prius Hybrid. Both cars are easy and pleasant to drive. However the Prius Plug-in takes the obsession with efficiency of Toyota’s engineers to the next level – to the extent that it becomes a four rather than a five-seater.
Real-life fuel economy of 84mpg after a week of mixed driving is an impressive result, even though the official NEDC figure – thankfully soon to be replaced with the WLTP test – is 283mpg. And of course the Prius achieves 84mpg without being a diesel – very important in the current era of strong opinions against diesels and their impact on local air quality.
So does the Prius Plug-in deserve a 10 out of 10? For over 10 years Green Car Guide has been reviewing cars with one clear aim – to seek out cars that are efficient and great to drive. The Prius certainly scores 10 out of 10 on the efficiency scale – but not on the driver’s car front. It therefore ends up with a Green Car Guide rating of 9 out of 10.
We know that Toyota can produce amazing drivers’ cars – the GT86 is one of the very best on sale in our opinion – but we’re still waiting for Toyota to give us the holy grail of the Toyota GT86 that can average 84mpg over a week with us.