The poster child for responsible motoring, Toyota’s Prius is easily the 300-pound gorilla in any collection of fuel-efficient vehicles extant. And while Chevrolet beat Toyota (now there’s a phrase you won’t read very often) to market with a plug-in hybrid (no matter what the marketing department says, Chevrolet’s Volt is a hybrid — OK?) any experienced gambler will tell you the odds-on favorite in the plug-in hybrid sales race is the Toyota.
Not so much because the Plug-in Prius is a better car than the Volt, but more so because Toyota’s hybrid has the momentum of 10 years of sales success behind it. Introduced in 1997, by 2010, two million units of Toyota’s Prius had been sold worldwide. The model passed the one million sales mark in the U.S. in April of 2011, and the third generation Prius — the car upon which the Plug-in Prius is based — sold a million units worldwide, in only two years.
Clearly people like the Toyota Prius.
And, now with Toyota unleashing a whole lineup of Prius-based autos, the company seems poised for even more hybrid success.
Unless you’ve been sequestered in a jury someplace for the past ten years, you know a hybrid uses an electric motor as well as a gasoline engine for motivation. While most hybrids generate electricity to recharge their battery packs from their gasoline engines and from recapturing energy expending during braking and coasting, a plug-in hybrid can also recharge its batteries using current from an ordinary household electrical outlet.
Given the Prius Plug-in’s ability to travel approximately 15 miles, or at speeds of just over 60 miles per hour on electricity alone, it is conceivable an individual with a commute of less than 15 miles (and a charging station at their place of employment) could drive back and forth to work everyday without using any gasoline at all. Because of this, Toyota says the Prius Plug-in will achieve the equivalent of 87 miles per gallon in combined driving. Total system output is 134 horsepower, 98 of which the 1.8-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine generates.
Toyota did make a few changes to the standard Prius formula to create the Prius Plug-in. The most significant change is the switch in battery technology. Rather than the nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery pack Prius has always employed, the Prius Plug-in uses a lithium-ion battery pack. The lithium-ion battery pack stores more energy and recharges more quickly than the nickel metal hydride. Connecting the Prius Plug-in into a standard household 120v outlet will recharge the fully depleted battery pack in about three hours. A 240v system (like the one an electric laundry dryer uses) will recharge the battery pack in about an hour and a half. Other than that though, the overall experience is just like living with any other Prius.
Which is to say the Toyota is quiet, comfortable, spacious, and well equipped. On the equipment side of the equation, available highlights include a Head-Up Display, LED headlamps, SofTex (leatherette) interior seat trim, an eight-way adjustable power driver’s seat, a JBL premium audio system, smart cruise control, a hard disc based navigation system, and Toyota’s Entune Plug-in Hybrid Applications for smart phones.
Toyota’s Entune multimedia system also incorporates smartphone apps into the comfort and convenience capabilities of the car. With Entune, the Prius Plug-in can leverage the services of mobile applications such as Bing, OpenTable, and MovieTickets.com. Travel-related services, such as live weather, traffic, refueling locations and price information, stock market and sports news are all piped into the Prius Plug-in via Entune. The system enables the accessibility of music options such as iHeartRadio and Pandora as well.
While all of that’s more than enough to keep even the most fervent technophile thoroughly engaged, driving enthusiasts will be underwhelmed by the Prius Plug-in motoring experience. Described succinctly, when it comes to driving, the Prius Plug-in is competent but not particularly thrilling. The electric steering system, while accurate, provides very little feedback. Acceleration is leisurely; merging into freeway traffic is best done strategically and with careful planning. Braking distances are more than reasonable and winding mountain roads are negotiable in the Toyota. But if you see a sports car coming up behind you, do everyone a favor — use the first available turnout.
Of course, it is common knowledge that sheer unadulterated driving pleasure ain’t what Toyota’s Prius has ever been about — nor will it ever be about. Toyota’s hybrid rock star is more appliance than entertainment.
That said, given Prius’ reputation for reliability, fuel efficiency and resale value, if driving pleasure isn’t high up on your list of priorities, you could do a lot worse than adding a Toyota Prius Plug-in to your roster of transportation options.
Pricing for the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in starts at $32,500.