Toyota Prius Plug-In First Drive
The figures behind the new Prius Plug-In shows that Toyota is taking PHEVs seriously. After the first generation's rather poor electric range, this second iteration has very strong economy statistics, wrapped up in a far more tempting package. Next Green Car went on the launch in Spain to try out the new Toyota Prius Plug-In.
Review by Chris Lilly
With the same internal combustion engine under the bonnet as the hybrid Prius, the PHEV version uses a 97hp 1.8 litre Atkinson Cycle unit as its conventional power source, while two electric motors provide 22.5 and 53 kW respectively. Combined power comes in at 120hp for the total hybrid system output, and the Prius Plug-In has a 0-62mph time of 11.1 seconds, before reaching a top speed of 101 mph. As the performance figures suggest - and you might expect - the Prius Plug-In has an emphasis on economy rather than performance, though the Toyota has enough power to call upon when necessary for the majority of situations. Sitting at motorway speeds and running about on A or B roads, the Prius Plug-In will drive along without undue strain on the powertrain. However, with the car's e-CVT gearbox it might not sound as though that's the case. The car will whine and buzz when under hard acceleration, which is normal with continuously variable gearboxes, though still not the most refined set-up around. Toyota uses it because of it's improved efficiency though, and the Japanese firm's CVT is better than most. The Prius Plug-In will seem to struggle up hills, with a big stamp of the right foot required to make decent progress, or a need to switch from Eco or Normal modes to Power.
Just as the Prius Plug-In is targeted for economy over performance, so too is it aimed at comfort over sharp driving dynamics. Toyota succeeds too, with a relaxing drive for both drivers and passengers. Soft suspension is able to deal fairly well with cornering - body roll is kept reasonably under control - while lumps, bumps, and pot holes are dispatched with ease. The uneven surfaces found in towns and cities are brushed aside by the Prius Plug-In's suspension, and the Toyota excels in built up areas. Surprisingly nimble for a relatively long car, the Toyota is easy to use around town, and the ride settles down nicely on the motorway too. Even on twisting country roads the Prius Plug-In doesn't disgrace itself. The steering isn't the sharpest around, nor are the feedback or suspension encouraging for keen drivers, but the Toyota doesn't feel out of its depth on a driver's road. Try not to push the limitations of grip and suspension stiffness and the Prius Plug-In will be very relaxing to drive.
Toyota has deliberately made the Prius Plug-In look a little different to the standard Prius. It's still definitely part of the Prius family though, with the main changes made to the headlights and rear lights. The boot space is impacted upon because of the addition of the larger battery, and might be too small for some. It will take a couple of good sized bags though and will easily deal with day to day luggage needs. A weekly food shop will fit with plenty of space, though don't expect to throw in a family's worth of luggage and equipment for a week's camping trip. The cabin in the Prius Plug-In is light considering there is quite a bit of roof ahead of the heads of those in the front seats, and the fact the rear has an aerodynamically styled roof-line. The rear pillars do mean that over the shoulder visibility isn't the best, but reversing cameras and sensors do take away much of this problem. The overall effect is not the prettiest car on the market, but one that is striking nevertheless - though not too much so as to be off-putting to potential customers.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
As mentioned above, the Prius Plug-In is a very comfortable car. Its cabin complements the driving experience with lots of leg, shoulder, and head space available up front, and good levels available in the rear. The Prius Plug-In is only available as a four-seater though, which will put some buyers off, though instantly allows for more space in the rear for those two passengers that can find a seat. The chairs don't offer a lot of lateral support, though they wouldn't need to for the Toyota's natural environment. Those pews will allow drivers to complete long journeys without any hint of discomfort. The Prius Plug-In gets the latest generation Prius's controls, which makes for a fairly clean dashboard design. The top screen displays all the driving and economy information needed, while the 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system is a little larger than the Prius Hybrid's set-up. The top screen also has improved resolution, though the car's road sign recognition system is too sensitive and will display the speed of any sign that comes into vision, even if it's on a side road, or on the back of a lorry. Ignore it and pay attention to the road signs yourself, or refer to the sat-nav for a more reliable source of information much of the time. The screens might be a little busy with the amount of information available to the driver, but much of it is useful at some point or other, and it doesn't impact upon the cabin's styling.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
The Prius Plug-In's greatest strength is its economy figures. Toyota made a big step forward with the latest Prius, and the Prius Plug-In takes an arguably greater advancement still. With CO2 figures of 22 g/km and an official fuel economy figure of 283 MPG, the Prius Plug-In is one of the most efficient cars around, with only Range Extended, pure electric, or fuel cell vehicles trumping its economy performance. As always though, with a PHEV, the rear-world figures depend greatly on how you drive it. There is an electric-only range of 30 miles though to help drivers out, and that's a real-world quote, rather than the NEDC test figure of 39. Driving the Toyota, 30 miles definitely seems attainable. On two long runs - one just shy of 100 miles, and the other around 120, the Prius Plug-In recorded 77 MPG and 91 MPG respectively. Both involved a fair amount of motorway driving and a good mix of town and country driving, plus plenty of elevation change. As examples of what you might expect a Prius Plug-In to return without carefully trying to drive extremely frugally, they are good representative figures. And of course if you have less than 30 miles to go, you could complete it all in electric mode.
Toyota has a large number of systems to help with the Prius Plug-In's green credentials. The most obvious one is the option of a rooftop solar panel, which can charge the car's 8.8 kWh battery while the car is parked up, or help with the car's auxiliary systems while driving. Over the course of a year, an owner can get around 400 free miles of driving because of it, and it will prove an extremely useful investment for some. Toyota has also partnered with Chargemaster to provide a free 3.6 kW home charger where situations allow, helping encourage drivers to charge as often as possible. The petrol engine is the most thermally efficient mass market unit around, the car's drag coefficient is incredibly low, and the Prius Plug-In sits on low rolling resistance tyres and fairly low to the ground. There is gas-injection heat pump air conditioning and a battery warming system. Carbon fibre has been used for the boot panels, and the Toyota can hold its electric charge, use it, or charge the batteries using the engine as a generator. There is also an EV City button which forces the car to run on electric power until the battery is completely drained. The car's computers will also tell it and the driver the most efficient level of throttle to use, with excess performance used to generate the car's battery. The Prius Plug-In also uses brake energy regeneration to boost range, with a stronger B setting on the gearstick offering stronger deceleration when wanted. Charging will take 3.5 hours using a three-pin plug, or 2 hours from a 3.6 kW charge point, using a Type 2 connector.
The Prius Plug-In comes well equipped, and is available in two specifications - Business Edition Plus and Excel. Standard equipment across the board will include Toyota's Safety Sense system, with pre-collision assist and pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, adaptive cruise control, and road sign assist. Dual zone air conditioning, keyless entry and start, Toyota Touch 2 with Go infotainment and navigation system, Bluetooth & DAB stereo, heated front seats, and LED headlights are all fitted too. The Business Edition Plus is able to be specified with the solar roof panels too, an option not available on the Excel model because of weight and trim restrictions. That higher specification will add the likes of rain-sensing wipers, park assist, front and rear parking sensors, a premium JBL stereo system, and leather trim to the list of standard features.
Toyota has done a very good job with making the Prius a plug-in hybrid. The electric range is class leading, as are the CO2 emissions and fuel economy. The car works as a hybrid, an electric car, and a plug-in hybrid, with arguably its most comfortable set-up being as an EV. The car will cost very little to run, even if long distance trips are regular occurrences. However, for the car's target audience of low mileage customers, the Toyota will excel. It's comfortable and very frugal, and will be a natural choice for plenty of drivers. Prices are lower than Toyota's rivals too, with the entry level model starting at less than £30,000, including the Government's Plug-in Car Grant. It's still not a cheap car, but the low running costs will tempt some to pay that little bit more to start with in the knowledge that they will get it back while using the Prius Plug-In. If you are looking to reduce running costs as much as possible but are unable to make the jump to full EVs, the Toyota is one of the best options available. It works best when driven in EV mode anyway - less restricted almost - and the usual back-up of the PHEV is there for when you exceed the electric only range. It almost seems as though Toyota has found a niche between the range extended EV, like BMW's i3 REX, and a PHEV. Comfortable and efficient, the Prius Plug-In is a welcome boost for efficient PHEVs.
Model tested: Toyota Prius Plug-In
Body-style: Large family car
Engine / CO2: 1.8 litre petrol with two electric motors / 22 g/km
Trim grades: Business Edition Plus and Excel
On-road price: From £29,195 inc PiCG.
Warranty: Five year / 100,000 miles
In the showroom: Available to order now
Review rating: 4 Stars