Toyota Prius Plug-in

The latest Toyota Prius betters its predecessor in nearly every area, Styling is subjective, but the driving dynamics and interior quality are greatly improved and it’s hard to criticise the car’s fuel economy, with the manufacturer claiming up to 94.2mpg.

A plug-in version of the new Prius was revealed at April’s New York Motor Show, while the European model debuted in Paris. Now, though, weve driven an early US-spec car, badged Prius Prime in the States.

toyota-prius-plug-in-front

There aren’t many differences between the Prius and the Prius Plug-in. Low-profile headlights similar to those on Toyota’s Mirai fuel-cell saloon set the Plug-in apart, as do more subtle tail-lamps. The longer hatch lid with its double-bubble rear glass conceals an 80mm extension at the rear to accommodate the larger battery pack, making the car a bit longer, lower and wider than a regular Prius.

“Economy of 282mpg and 22g/km emissions are almost twice as good as old Prius Plug-in claimed”

The Plug-in has a high-capacity battery that can be charged from the mains. Its 8.8kWh capacity is twice that of the previous Prius Plug-in, with range increased in kind: Toyota estimates 30 miles of electric-only driving versus just 15 miles for the old car. Charge time is just over two hours, compared with 90 minutes for the previous model.

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The company anticipates a best-in-class fuel economy figure of 282mpg, with CO2 emissions of just 22g/km; those numbers are almost twice as good as the previous Plug-in claimed. But the big battery has its downsides: the rear accommodates only two people and the boot is far smaller, at 360 litres with the seats up and 1,204 litres when they’re folded, compared with 502 litres and 1,633 litres in the conventional hybrid.

Under the bonnet you’ll find the same 1.8-litre petrol engine and CVT transmission as in the standard Prius. The primary difference involves one of the two electric motors, called MG1 and MG2.

In the normal car, MG2 provides power while MG1 works as a starter and generator. In the Prius Plug-in, MG1 provides power as well, requiring the addition of a one-way clutch. Toyota claims a 0-62mph time of 11.1 seconds-just one-tenth slower than the regular hybrid – which isn’t bad considering this version is 150kg heavier.

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The car we tested (which Toyota says has the same suspension tuning as the UK model) bounced up and down over bumps, often hitting the lower end of its suspension travel. Like the normal Prius, the Plug-in is far better than its predecessor in corners; it steers accurately and grips well, with the tyres howling long before they lose grip. However, the soft suspension does it no favours, and mid-corner bumps can get the car jumping like a pogo stick.

Along with Eco, Normal and Power drive settings, the Prius Plug-in has a mode switch specific to the plug-in system.

EV Mode forces electric-only operation, with the petrol engine staying mostly dormant. While the old Plug-in could only reach 53mph on battery power, the new one hits 84mph without petrol assistance.

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In HV Mode, the Prius Plug-in operates like a regular hybrid, although it draws liberally from the battery to improve fuel economy, while EV Auto automatically switches between EV and HV modes. During our test drive it favoured the battery, only calling on the petrol engine for maximum acceleration. There’s also a Charge mode that uses the engine to recharge the battery.

The cabin of the Prius Plug-in we drove featured an optional 11.6-inch touchscreen display – positioned portrait-style, as in a Tesla Model S – that displays climate, stereo and phone controls simultaneously with the map. We liked the big display, but the small on-screen buttons were hard to press while driving, and the system doesn’t have a volume knob. We don’t yet know if this screen will be fitted to UK-spec cars, but that shouldn’t concern too many buyers as we’re not sure the wow factor is worth the added complexity over the current set-up.

toyota-prius-plug-in-interior

Like the conventional hybrid, we see the new Plug-in as a massive improvement over its predecessor. The extended electric-only range makes it a viable alternative to models like the BMW i3 and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV – and with real-world fuel economy that pips even the regular Prius, the Plug-in is great for long journeys as well as local commutes. UK pricing has yet to be announced, but if the numbers are as attractive as the car itself, then Toyota is on to a sure-fire winner.

PRACTICALITY

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Larger batteries in the Plug-in mean the rear has been changed to a two-seat layout, so the car now offers space for only four people, A set of cup-holders fits in between

POWER

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Charging the Prius Plug-in now takes around two hours, giving a claimed all-electric range of more than 30 miles – twice as far as the previous model – at speeds of up to 84mph

VERDICT

Like the standard Prius, the upcoming Prius Plug-in is a big improvement over the old version. It offers all of the refinements of the latest Mk4 Prius, as well as a bigger battery that doubles the electric-only driving distance, and over a broader speed range. With anticipated claimed economy of 282mpg, the Prius Plug-in is the perfect bridge between regular hybrids and pure EVs.

ESSENTIALS


toyota-prius-plug-in-logoToyota Prius Plug-in

Price: £28,000 (est)
Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl petrol plus electric motor
Power/torque: 98bhp/142Nm
Transmission: CVT, front-wheel drive
0-62 mph: 11.1 seconds
Top speed: 110mph(est)
Economy: 282.5mpg
CO2: 22g/km
On sale: Spring 2017

NEED TO KNOW

CO2 emissions of 22g/km put the Prius Plug-in ahead of Volkswagen’s GOLF GTE by 17g/km. Big screen isn’t confirmed for UK models

 

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