8.8.2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in review
Swopping the Prius's nickel-metal hydride battery pack for a more expensive, heavier, more potent lithium-ion one has made this the best Prius yet for wealthy motorists wanting to go greener, but it's still difficult to make the maths add up. Low mileage, urban users might never need a petrol station, but won't cover enough miles to justify financially the extra cost of this plug-in version over a standard Prius.
The Prius remains white goods style transport rather than an entertaining car to drive and the interior looks and feels cheap considering the car's £32,895 price tag before the poor taxpayer chips in £5,000.
Review by Russell Bray for nextgreencar.com
Not quite as quick off the mark as previous versions to save energy and give the Prius Plug-in a 15.5 mile electric power only range at speeds up to 51 mph before the petrol engine switches on and the car starts behaving like a normal hybrid. A full charge of the higher density lithium-ion batteries, which have replaced nickel cadmium ones, takes 90 minutes. The normal Prius barely manages 1.5 miles in electric only mode at very low speed and requires eggshell pressure on the accelerator pedal not to bring the petrol engine to life. The 1798cc 16-valve petrol engine produces 98bhp at 5,200rpm and torque of 105 lbs ft at 4,400rpm. The electric motor delivers 81bhp and torque of 152 lbs ft from zero revs. Combined together, the Prius Plug-in returns acceleration to 62mph in 11.4 seconds and a top speed of 112mph.
The change in batteries and some other bits and pieces has pushed up the weight of the Prius by another 50kg, so while it drives almost identically to the usual Prius in general, if cornering enthusiastically you are even more aware of the weight trying to overcome the grip of the low rolling resistance tyres and send you off course. Compared to the brilliant Toyota GT86 sports coupe that I arrived in at Toyota's UK HQ the Prius is dynamically inert and won't appeal to keen drivers. The steering is precise enough but with little feel for the road. The regenerative brakes have a welcomingly firm pedal, but stiff suspension settings don't help responses on bumpier roads.
The distinctive, sleek and aerodynamic styling of Toyota's Prius gets only minor changes that it would take a real Prius fan to notice. There's a bigger, lower grille, with a chrome finish, a silver accent on the upper trim panel and a blue tint to the extended section of the top of the headlights. There are also silver accents on the door handles, clear LED rear lights, model specific five-spoke alloy wheels and the Hybrid Synergy Drive badges incorporate a plug-in symbol. The change to lithium-ion batteries has seen a drop in load capacity of two litres to 443 litres, but with the 60:40 split rear seats folded there is a load volume of 1,120 litres. It is 4480mm long and 1745mm wide.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
Same strengths, same weaknesses. Driving couldn't be easier. Turn on the power, select drive from the CVT (continuously variable transmission), release the brake and squeeze on the power. Drivers can select three drive modes. In HV (hybrid vehicle) mode it drives like a standard Prius. Choose EV (electric vehicle) and it stays on electric power, on a light or medium throttle, for about 15.5 miles depending on road conditions. Using EV-City the car stays in electric mode even if you use the throttle forcefully, providing there is enough electric power in the battery. In any mode throttle response is reduced and the air conditioning 'adjusted' to achieve better fuel economy.
Comfort could be better – the front seats lack sufficient lumbar support and the (even) firmer suspension is felt particularly in the back seats.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
The official combined fuel consumption is 134.5mpg and on a mixed traffic route the test car returned 109mpg with little effort at economy driving techniques. For more than 12 miles the car showed 900mpg, dropping to 700mpg, because it was running on batteries. As the batteries became exhausted – they recharge under regenerative braking or coasting down hills – the plug-in Prius drives like a regular Prius and consumption increases. CO2 emissions are calculated at 49g/km (compared to 84g/km for a standard Prius) which is easily in Band A and so the car attracts no road tax or London congestion charge. Insurance is group 15, and warranty is five years/100,000 miles with an eight year guarantee on the battery pack.
Non-polluting city driving is now available for commuters who live about 12 miles from work and can recharge the electric batteries while there. It takes about 90 minutes and costs about 50p. During braking or deceleration the electric motor works as a generator to capture kinetic energy otherwise lost and store it in the electric batteries. Low rolling resistance tyres, engine start-stop, aerodynamic shape, electrically assisted power steering and minimal use of air conditioning in eco mode also cuts fuel consumption. Toyota says it is possible to recover 95% of the Prius's materials using processes taking only 2% of its life cycle CO2 emissions. The Prius Plug-in receives a Next Green Car Rating of 32.
Top T Spirit features touch and go multi-media system with satellite navigation, rear view camera and advanced Bluetooth for phone connection and audio streaming. There's also an eight-speaker sound system, rain sensing wipers, cruise control, air conditioning and electric windows and door mirrors. Heated front seats, alloy wheels and leather rimmed steering wheel are also standard. Options include black leather upholstery (£1,500), rear privacy glass (£270), parking sensors and boot liner (£360), chrome style pack (£360), metallic paint (£450).
Model tested: Toyota Prius Plug-in
Body-style: Five-door family hatchback
Engine/CO2: 98bhp 1798cc 4-cylinder petrol plus 81bhp electric motor / 49 gCO2/km
Trim grades: T Spirit
On-road price: From £27,895 (after £5,000 grant)
Warranty: Five years/ 100,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.0 STARS
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