The Prius Plug-In carries cargo as well as “baggage.”With the rear seat folded the Prius has plenty of room for my Piper Cub model’s nearly seven-foot wing.
Whether you are telling a story or throwing a dinner party, the goal is to leave your audience wanting just a bit more when it’s over, right? Toyota seemed to have taken that approach with the Prius Plug-In, a version of its popular hybrid hatchback that can travel longer distances on electric power alone.
For starters, I wanted more range from the car’s 4.4-kilowatt-hour battery pack. Fully charged it is supposed to let the driver travel 15 miles or so before the gasoline engine kicks in and the car reverts to operating like a standard Prius. In practice that’s often just short of getting you all the way to the office or to the mall and back exclusively on battery power.
But if your driving consists mostly of short errands you can go for months without visiting a gas station — a main attraction of the plug-in lifestyle. For me, the best part about driving the Plug-In was the near silence as it whisked me across town or along the highway. Unlike the standard Prius, this one can run on battery power up to just over 60 mph.
As much as I love the sound of a rumbling engine and the vibrating sensation of a choppy idle while waiting at a stoplight, the Prius Plug-In’s turbine whisper won me over. It isn’t quiet in a wimpy, soul-less way. Indeed, its faint whir seems to reflect a high-tech efficiency absent from even the most advanced gasoline-powered cars.
The Prius Plug-In also gives its drivers a sense of control, however slight, that traditional cars cannot match. You have to plug it in, after all. I got into the habit of charging the battery whenever I wasn’t driving and checking after dinner to make sure I hadn’t tripped a breaker. It’s a bit like bedding down your livestock.
After awhile monitoring the battery’s capacity begins to approach obsession. It drove me to distraction when my test car’s battery gauge refused to go above 11.2 miles of range even after a full charge. I really wanted to get back the nearly four missing miles, but the car did fine without them. In its own way the plug-in is the most engaging car I have driven in years. Really. It’s a joy to drive.
Some traditional car fans wouldn’t consider buying a Prius because they consider it geeky, boring and overflowing with “baggage.” We often assume their drivers are intellectual, grass-fed types from northeastern suburbs. They may not even eat meat, much less hunt for it. And they never look under the hoods of their cars — those people.
Despite all that I wanted to keep the Prius Plug-In after the test-drive was over. Even with lots of highway driving I managed to travel 86 miles per gallon overall — using just under three gallons of gas in 250 miles. That’s just one mile-per-gallon short of the car’s EPA rating. With practice I’m sure I could bump it over 100 mpg.
Still, the car is expensive, starting at $32,000 for the basic model and $39,525 for a more luxuriously equipped version. That’s roughly a $10,000 premium over the standard Prius. Even if you never put gas in your Prius Plug-In it would take years to “break even” based on savings.
So the Prius Plug-In is more about conserving resources in the long run than saving its owners a bundle of cash right away. But driving the car is so relaxing that you might gain a few years of lifespan from the resulting stress reduction. You’ll also have the pleasure of pursuing triple-digit fuel economy while drivers of the regular Prius watch with envy.
Toyota Prius Plug-In: Is 85 mpg Worth an Extra $10,000? (Slideshow) - Driver's Seat - WSJ