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Toyota Prius Plug-In

Click to view picture gallery“As its name suggests, the latest
  model to join the Prius hybrid
five-door hatchback family is a plug-
in-to-the-mains version which
can be charged from household
  electricity to extend the driving range
  of its electric power-only mode

THE NEW PRIUS PLUG-IN is Toyota's first rechargeable full hybrid and uses the same 98bhp 1.8-litre petrol engine and 81bhp electric motor-generator battery Hybrid Synergy Drive as the Prius five-seater hatch and the new Prius+ seven-seater MPV models.

But instead of the battery only, zero emission range of just a couple of miles, the Plug-In (after a ninety-minute charge that costs around 60p) has an electric power range of 15.5 miles — enough for most return journey city commutes.

After their five-year global trials for the Prius Plug-In, involving 600 test vehicles, Toyota found that two thirds of commuting journeys covered less than 12.5 miles.

“The Plug-In (after a
ninety-minute charge
that costs around 60p)
has an electric power
range of 15.5 miles —
enough for most
city return journey commutes
For the UK market, the Plug-In version differs from its other Prius stablemates in that it can be bought using the Government's 5,000 plug-in low-emission electric vehicle grant — making it 28,345 on-the-road.

For business users it gains over other Hybrid Prius models by only incurring 5% instead of 10% company car tax, plus there's a 100% write down allowance in the first year of ownership.

All users gain from its 49g/km CO2 emissions that make it free from road tax as well as the London Congestion Charge. For the record, the Prius Hybrid has CO2 emissions of 89g/km and the Prius+ Hybrid emits 96g/km and both of these are also currently exempt from road tax and the Congestion Charge.

The Plug-In's main rival for sales is probably not other Prius family members, but the Vauxhall Ampera / Chevrolet Volt with its petrol generator-electric motor range-extender system. Toyota claims that against the Ampera its Plug-In model can save users almost 2,000 on costs over a three-year/60,000-mile period while covering its greater driving range and with a faster battery charging time.

With its 700-mile driving range using its petrol and electric power (including a maximum 15.5 miles electric power-only range), the new Prius Plug-In is a big step forward in making electric propulsion more practical. It delivers all the good points that electric vehicles offer but with the added benefits of no limits and range-anxiety about when and where the car can be driven.

Just a conventional 13-amp plug is needed linked to a suitable house, office or street charging point supply. Toyota GB recommends customers use their power supply partner British Gas to get a free survey done on the suitability, efficiency and safety of the owner's home electrics.

If required, a dedicated high-power 13-amp cable / charging socket can then be fitted (375 to 799). At their own risk owners can choose to ignore this advice and use a normal 13-amp outlet as long as there are no other heavy-use electric items being used on that ring-main. The Prius Plug-In comes with its own charging cable stowed in the 443-litre boot.

“In normal town and
country driving,
and keeping up with
the rest of the
traffic, 80mpg overall
should be possible for
most drivers...”
The Plug-In's extended electric driving range has an official 134.5mpg figure — that's a 45% improvement over the standard Prius. Once the stored battery power has run out, the Synergy Drive mode will still return 76.4mpg. The official overall combined fuel consumption figure using petrol and electric power is 84mpg.

On a short test drive this week from Toyota's UK HQ in the busy commuter-land of Epsom, traffic-filled roads around Leatherhead, M25 territory, and using mainly battery power, the on-board computer showed 227mpg. However, a short 70mph cruise on the A3 dual carriageway brought this down to 150mpg.

Not for one minute am I suggesting these are the figures owners will get in real-life for their day-to-day driving, but it does show the potential the Plug-In Prius offers in commuter driving conditions.

I literally sweated over this test drive (the AirCon was left off on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year so far!), but aside from that I was driving in a normal manner and keeping up with the rest of the traffic. Realistically, 80mpg overall should be possible for most drivers in normal town and country driving.

The Prius Plug-In has three on-demand driving modes: HV, EV and EV-City. In HV (hybrid vehicle) mode the car operates in the same way as the standard Prius, seamlessly engaging the petrol engine with the electric motor when required.

When EV (electric vehicle) mode is selected the electric motor draws power from the lithium-ion battery pack for a driving range of up to 15.5 miles at speeds of up to 51mph. The petrol engine will start up if the system judges more power is needed.

In EV-City mode the same characteristics as EV mode apply but more forceful use of the throttle can be made before the petrol engine cuts in, allowing drivers to use the car in inner city zero-emission zones.

In addition, an Eco mode can be chosen to operate in HV, EV or EV-City modes. This 'softens' the throttle response and the air-conditioning system's efficiency is adjusted to further save power.

“Whatever kind of driver
you are, the Plug-In is
really easy to use:
Get in, switch on, select
drive in the CVT auto
transmission; press the
accelerator and off
you go
All this information is fed to the driver via displays, graphics and instruments; a technophiles dream — or a technophobes nightmare!

Whatever kind of driver you are, the Plug-In is really easy to use: Get in, switch on, select drive in the CVT auto transmission (2-speed forward / reverse drivebox); press the accelerator and off you go. Choose the power supply mode that suits you, or the driving conditions — job done!

Only one level of specification is available and that is similar to the top-of-the-range Prius T-Spirit petrol-electric Hybrid versions: power windows, door mirrors, AirCon, cruise, sound system, SatNav, rear-view camera, and 15-inch alloy wheels are all included. Extra-cost options such as leather upholstery are available.

Over good road surfaces the ride is comfortable although it gets unsettled over poorer surfaces; the steering is light and gives little feedback but it does make it easy to park.

The Prius Plug-In is easy to drive, cheap to run and tax efficient for businesses and company car users — but there is a sting in the tail: for retail customers it is expensive to buy (28,345) and a significant 3,435 more than the top-spec Prius Hybrid Hatchback T-Spirit.

That price comparison takes into account the 5,000 Government low-emission vehicle grant which applies (for now) to the Plug-In. Without that grant the Prius Plug-In would cost around 8,000 more than the conventional Prius Hybrid.

Reasons to purchase a Plug-In: Cheap to run, low emissions, no taxes, simple to drive, comfortable, no limit to the driving range, and ideal for company car users.

Reasons not to: Hard to justify the significant higher purchase cost over a standard Prius Hybrid. — David Miles

Toyota Prius Plug-In | 28,345
Maximum speed: 112mph | 0-62mph: 11.4 seconds
Overall MPG: hybrid petrol-electric 84mpg;
electric 134.5mpg
Power: 98bhp + 81bhp electric | Torque: 104lb ft + 152lb ft electric | CO2 49g/km