Toyota Prius Plug-In review
Next Green Car was lucky enough to test the Prius Plug-In on its European launch earlier this year, and it left us impressed. A spin up the Catalan coast and back over a couple of days of shared driving can only tell you so much though, so we've now got our hands on one for longer to see how it stacks up on rather more mundane trips.
Review by Chris Lilly
Based on the same petrol powertrain as the conventional hybrid Prius, the Prius Plug-In gets a 1.8 litre Atkinson Cycle engine up front. The electric elements have all been beefed up over the Prius though, with two electric motors combining with the petrol engine to provide 120hp in total. The 0-62mph sprint is completed in 11.1 seconds, before topping out at 101 mph. It's not the quickest of plug-in cars then, and the emphasis is very definitely on economy. This is emphasised by Toyota's use of an e-CVT gearbox, which is more efficient than a standard auto or manual transmission. It is also worse then both in terms of driving enjoyment, and although it's much better than in previous generations, it still takes some getting used to the extra noise created when accelerating. Ignore the e-CVT though - and many do by judging by the number of latest generation Prius cars on the road - and the Prius Plug-In does a decent job at keeping up with traffic. The extra electric oomph helps fill in the power gap initially created by the gearbox, and the Prius Plug-In potters around very nicely at town and sedate speeds. Try to thrash it and you will be taking the Toyota right out of its comfort zone, but keep things serene and the Prius Plug-In will match your driving style to a T.
Serene is a good adjective to use for the Prius Plug-In full stop, since the handling matches the performance potential in being laid-back. It's a very relaxing car, wafting along with the best of them when driven to its strengths. Push on hard down a twisty road and the Toyota will cope with the treatment, but it won't be happy about it. The Prius Plug-In is agile considering its soft suspension set-up, with the steering precise, though lacking in feedback. The Toyota is able to be piloted accurately in the bends, but it is no driver's car. It is far happier on the motorway however, with the car settling down nicely at speed. It soaks up imperfections in the road nicely, a trait it repeats in town where speed bumps and the like are shrugged off with aplomb.
Toyota has done a good job at both making the Prius Plug-In look like a Prius, yet distinguish the PHEV from the hybrid at the same time. The light clusters are the main features to make the difference, but there are a number of touches about the design that add up to make the Toyota a distinctive design, and one that I like on the whole - even if it is a bit fussy. The design has a big impact though, with the slippery shape improving aerodynamics and helping with efficiency. The big difference to be felt by buyers though between the Prius and Prius Plug-In is boot space. The larger batteries for the PHEV take up boot space, so although it goes back a good distance, it's not very deep at all. It might put some off who require a load-lugging car, but it shouldn't bother too many buyers. Those looking for a large and practical boot though will have to cast their gaze elsewhere.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
Complementing the supple suspension is a comfortable interior with seating for four - the Prius Plug-In doesn't get a rear bench seat. There isn't a lot of lateral support while cornering, but then there will be little opportunity for drivers to test that considering the Toyota's cruising capabilities discouraging enthusiastic cornering. Long-distance trips are dealt will well, and only those with existing ailments will complain about getting out of the Prius Plug-In after a cross-country jaunt, citing the seats as cause for any aches and pains. The driver gets a clean and modular dashboard, with each of the main sections seemingly set within their own pods and stuck to or indented into the sweeping dashboard. There are plenty of nice features around, such as the air vents and simply gear selector, to make the Prius Plug-In a pleasant cabin to sit in. The multi-display instruments can look rather fussy in certain configurations, but it displays in high resolution, and will tell you just about everything you ever wanted to know from a set in instruments - and I dare say more. The whole cabin and its controls feel well built, as you would expect from Toyota. All that is apart from a storage bin which makes the lower half of the central 'transmission tunnel' storage space. It doesn't quite attach to the centre console which is no great issue aesthetically. However, if you lean your leg against it while driving - and remember your left leg has little to do while driving a Prius Plug-In - then it shifts with the pressure exerted. It doesn't feel as though it will break, and it could well be something that will only been picked up by me, but it does seem out of tune with Toyota's usual bomb-proof build quality.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
Here we come to the main point of the Prius Plug-In - its efficiency. The official figures are quoted as a 22 g/km CO2 figure and 283 MPG (weighted combined), with an electric only range of 39 miles. In reality, I managed to get a bit over 30 miles of electric range out of the Toyota, and my worst fuel economy figure was 74.5 MPG - yes, that’s the worst I got. That figure came after a 310 mile trip with only the initial full charge to cover that distance. Other figures include 90 MPG on a 130 mile trip with only an initial charge, and 107 MPG over 48 miles - though that only used 45% of the charge, since I knew I'd need the remainder for the longer return leg. Incidentally, that returned 103 MPG over 88 miles. Electric use varied between 3.5 and 5.0 miles per kWh during my time with the Prius Plug-In.
I know that there are a lot of figures quoted there, but hopefully it goes to show that the Prius Plug-In is a genuinely efficient car, and one that makes it easy to be driven economically. The types of trip undertaken varied greatly from popping down to the shops and back on electric-only power, to the 300+ mile cross-country trip, largely covered at motorway speeds. Looking at the monthly average fuel economy statistics - when the car wasn't in my care - a few months prior to my loan, the Toyota had covered 435 miles at an average of 69 MPG. I can confidently say that it was rarely charged and thrashed for a figure that low to have been produced, such is the confidence I have in the Prius Plug-In's efficiency.
Clearly the plug-in hybrid elements are the greatest part of the Prius Plug-In's green armoury, but there is a lot going on to make the Toyota as efficient as possible. The battery pack has an 8.8 kWh capacity - double that of its predecessor - and Toyota has added a heat air pump to reduce the strain on the electric powertrain from the air conditioning. A battery warming system also keeps the cells in a good working temperature, even when outside temperatures are as low as -20 C, and as with many PHEVs, the Prius Plug-In defaults to electric-mode when turned on. Other features include low-rolling resistance tyres, the most thermally-efficient petrol engine on the market today, carbon fibre body panels, and an EV City mode that forces the car to run electrically until its charge runs out. There is also the familiar brake energy recuperation system, charging the battery as you slow down or brake, with Toyota offering two levels of power - normal or 'B' - this latter increasing the braking strength.
Charging will take around 2 hours from a home or public point, using with the on-board 3.6kW charger. A three-pin plug will charge in about 3.5 hours - each cable uses a Type 2 connector. The model tested was also fitted with a solar panel roof, which helps trickle charge an intermediate battery when the Toyota is parked and not plugged-in. That battery then delivers a charge to the main hybrid battery when fully charged. It doesn't constantly charge the main battery because the roof doesn't generate enough power to make it worthwhile. Toyota reckons that the solar roof is worth around extra miles a year - and those are UK figures. Sunnier climbs get even more free miles. According to our calculations, the tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 30.
The Prius Plug-In is available in two specifications - Business Edition Plus and Excel - with both well equipped. Standard kit includes the Toyota Touch 2 with Go infotainment and navigation system, Toyota's Safety Sense system - with pre-collision assist and pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, adaptive cruise control, and road sign assist - keyless entry and start, dual zone air conditioning, Bluetooth & DAB stereo, heated front seats, and LED headlights. Buyers can specify the Business Edition Plus trim with solar roof panels, though this option is not available on the Excel model because of weight and trim restrictions. Features such as rain-sensing wipers, park assist, a premium JBL stereo system, front and rear parking sensors, and leather seats are added to the list of standard features on the Excel model.
I said it at the car's launch, and I'll say it again - Toyota has done a very good job with making the Prius a plug-in hybrid. The only difference in repeating myself is that the opinion comes after a far sterner test of the Toyota's capabilities. It's priced competitively, is very frugal to drive even when charged minimally, and one of the most efficient cars with an engine on sale today. It's beaten only by a BMW i3 REX which is range extended. Quoted running costs are fairly meaningless in terms of day to day use, as it depends on the driver and their travelling requirements - the same as any PHEV. If you regularly cover anything up to about 100 miles in one go, then you will be looking at real-world fuel economy figures diesels and hybrids can only dream of. Stick closer to its 30-odd mile electric range and the Toyota makes even greater sense - especially as the Prius Plug-In is better in EV mode than when running as a hybrid.
Model tested: Toyota Prius Plug-In Business Edition Plus
Body-style: Large Family Hatchback
Engine / CO2: 1.8 litre petrol and electric motors / 22 g/km
Trim grades: Business Edition Plus and Excel
On-road price: From £29,195 (inc Cat 2 OLEV Grant). Price as tested £30,695 (inc Cat 2 OLEV Grant)
Warranty: Five years / 100,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.5 Stars