Driven: Toyota Prius Plug-in
It’s been a long time coming. The Prius Plug-in was subjected to a year-long global trial, which has informed the production model, and launched as part of a range-wide facelift earlier this year. These showed an average journey of 7.3 miles for participants in London, with 59% of all trips falling between 3.1 and 12.4 miles.
They’re figures which bode well for Toyota. The Prius Plug-in is largely the same as the conventional hybrid version we’ve come to know rather well, but adds a mains-rechargable lithium ion battery under the boot floor and recharging port under a flap on the opposite side of the car to the fuel tank opening. Once its electric range is exhausted, it functions like a normal Prius.
These days, that’s a good thing. Prius has grown up to become a good-looking and accomplished long-distance car, and while the CVT gearbox doesn’t add up to a particularly involving driving experience, it’s a very quiet and relaxing space to spend a lot of time. Standard equipment levels are high on the Plug-in, Toyota’s recent updates have introduced more European-feeling dark plastics, and the new Touch and Go satellite navigation is a vast improvement over its fiddly predecessor.
Rivals are few, so the Prius is being lined up against the Chevrolet Volt/Vauxhall Ampera duo. The two drivetrains operate entirely differently, but with the same end result – short-range electric driving, but with long-range ability when needed. It’s not a comparison which favours the Toyota though. The Volt and Ampera are considerably faster and cover three times the range, without a 62mph speed restriction.
But it depends what you need. Toyota’s research shows 45-mile electric range isn’t always necessary, and the Prius is a better-known proposition. It’s also more efficient on longer trips, averaging 58mpg when driven with a flat battery against 44mpg for the GM range-extenders. Drivers regularly covering long trips could find the shorter electric range of the Prius less of a handicap than they expect.
So plug-in technology is a well-considered addition to the already well-rounded Prius, but will offer its biggest benefits for short-distance drivers. Those covering longer trips will find it’s a high tech way to widen the economy gap between a hybrid and the most efficient diesels on the market.
Toyota doesn’t see the Prius Plug-in making up the majority of sales, but for those with usage cycles that fit its electric range it’s a very worthwhile upgrade which should claw back the price difference. And, as a double advantage, worst case scenario fuel economy is the same as the ever-frugal conventional version.
Sector: Lower medium
Type: Petrol-electric plug-in hybrid
Electric range: 15.5 miles
CO2 emissions (tailpipe): 49g/km
Charging port: J1772