Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid Review - Part One

Monday 15th August, 2011
In July 2010, Toyota brought 20 right-hand drive Prius Plug-in Hybrid vehicles to the UK for trial purposes. One year later, and with a production version due to make its debut in Frankfurt next month, Toyota approached me to see if I would be interested in testing one and blogging my findings.
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Regular readers will know I'm a little bit sceptical when it comes to plug-in electric cars. I question "zero emissions" claims from some manufacturers, as the electric has to come from a National Grid which already creates significant emissions of its own. I question the subsidies of up to £5000 that are given by the government for plug-in cars out of tax payers money. I also question the excessive pricing of some of the models on sale which, combined with their limited range, simply doesn't add up in my head.

So far I've written about the Nissan LEAF, Vauxhall Ampera and Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid models. I drove the LEAF at its European Press launch in Lisbon last year and found that, whilst it's a very comfortable drive, with its 100 mile range it's rather limited as a primary vehicle and too expensive as a second car. The Ampera, which I drove at Challenge Bibendum in Berlin, resolves range issues by carrying a petrol engine on board but the poor efficiency and added cost of this somewhat ruins the whole purpose of the whole car - it's not that eco friendly or cheap. In contrast though the Volvo made a lot of sense and, whilst it's an early prototype and final spec remains to be seen, it makes a lot of sense so far.

So how does the Plug-in Prius add up?

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Toyota claim a range of up to 12.5 miles in EV mode and this is confirmed the first time you click the power button. If the car has been parked in warm sunshine, and the climate control kicks in at full pelt, you'll see this range swiftly start ticking down. In my case, it was already down to 12.0 miles before I'd even entered the destination in the sat nav. The A/C is rather impressive, rapidly bringing the car to an acceptable temperature and in fact so cold that I had to point the vents away from my hands before they went blue!

Driving from Toyota's technical centre, near Gatwick Airport, back to my office in Epsom, Surrey was a good first challenge. The Sat Nav said it was 11.0 miles away but I had the long ascent of Reigate Hill to conquer. I reached the bottom of the hill with around 0.5 miles of range to spare but, as I got to the top, was around one mile short. As the journey from there was pretty much all downhill, I hoped I could coast it the rest of the way but, this being morning rush hour, I soon caught the tail-end of a long queue ahead of a diversion due to roadworks.

In a pure battery powered (BEV) car this would have been a major concern but, being a plug-in hybrid car, the Prius Plug-in also has a 1.8 VVT-i engine under the bonnet providing an additional 400+ miles of range on a petrol/electric hybrid setup which normally achieves over 70mpg on standard economy tests. Not a bad backup plan!

The engine ran for a little while, averaging over 70mpg whilst doing so, and then turned off again as I rolled down the final hill towards my office. Overall I managed about 10 miles on electric only, no petrol, then about 1.5 miles in hybrid mode using about 0.02 gallons (100ml) of unleaded for the 11.5 mile journey - which equates to around 537mpg but, in reality, most of those miles didn't come from the gallons, so it's a rather poor way of calculating it.

In real terms, we used around 13 pence of fuel instead of the £1.20 we may have used in the standard Prius but, to achieve that, we also used the electricity required to fully charge the batteries. How much is that? We don't know that yet...read on to the charging section to learn more.

Prius Plug-in Hybrid - Part Two - Public Charging

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