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First drive review: Toyota Prius Plug-in

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The Prius makes more sense than ever as efficient transport thanks to a useful and usable all-electric range

What is it?
A new Prius. Not just any new Prius, mind, but the most efficient version yet of the world’s best-known hybrid, boasting 134.5mpg and 49g/km of CO2 emissions.

How has Toyota managed to extract such impressive figures from the Prius? Cast your mind back a couple of summers to when we had a go in a Toyota Prius Plug-in development car. It was one of 600 being tested around the world to see how users would respond to a Prius with a greater all-electric range and recharging capability.

The results are now in, and Toyota has used them to shape a production version of the Prius Plug-in, on sale now at the top of the Prius range for £27,895.

What is it like?
To look at, the plug-in resembles any other Prius. The biggest giveaway that this car is a plug-in are the filler flaps on each side. Extra anorak points for noting the chrome bars at the front and rear, too. But the real changes, of course, are under the skin.

Gone is the Prius’s familiar nickel-metal hydride battery pack and in its place is a lithium ion pack that offers better all-electric range, power density and recharging times.

The battery pack is 36kg heavier than the standard car’s, but only two litres of boot space are lost over the standard Prius (443 litres is the Plug-in’s figure), while the flat floor and 60/40 split folding rear bench remain. Overall, the Plug-in is 50kg heavier than a standard Prius, with minor chassis tweaks to accommodate the extra weight.

The standard third-generation Prius has been trailing the Plug-in’s killer feature since it launched in 2009: the ability to run solely on electric power. But while the Prius’s battery pack can only muster electric power for 1.2 miles at speeds of up to 31mph, the Plug-in has a much more usable 15.5-mile range at speeds of up to 51mph.

That 15.5-mile figure was settled upon as a result of the trials; around two-thirds of those trialled commuted less than 12.5 miles per day. A full recharge of the batteries takes 90 minutes.

The car defaults to pure electric EV mode at start-up, so there’s the typically eerie silence that accompanies low-speed progress in such cars. But while most electric cars feel very brisk off the line, the Prius actually feels a bit sluggish, certainly more so than the standard car, due to its extra weight.

If you get too enthusiastic with your right foot in the regular EV mode, the 1.8-litre petrol engine kicks in and it switches to hybrid mode. This switch can also be made manually by pressing the HV-EV button, a function that can also be selected to save electric power for later in your journey.

As a conventional hybrid, the Plug-in performs as competently as any other Prius. The car switches seamlessly between petrol and electric power. Being a bit more conservative – and therefore eco-friendly – with the throttle can also mask the drone from CVT gearboxes.

One of the biggest changes to the Prius Plug-in since the earlier trials is the addition of a new ‘EV City’ mode. This allows for much more forceful use of the throttle before the petrol engine kicks in and is thus considered to be a much truer EV mode should future legislation create zero-emissions zones in city centres.

If the majority of journeys are short, you really will become an unfamiliar face down your local petrol station as you’ll barely be touching the contents of the 45-litre fuel tank. On longer journeys, once the EV-only range has been used, the Plug-in still returns a claimed 78.5mpg and 84g/km. Our experience suggests more than 60mpg should be achievable on long runs.

The Prius has always had a supple ride, albeit one that leans to the firm side. It’s also had a tendency to crash over larger bumps and the Plug-in, armed with its extra 50kg, is no exception, although smaller 15in alloys help soften the blow. The steering is precise if devoid of any great feel, although it handles tidily.

Should I buy one?
Prius customers are a loyal and affluent bunch. Most go for the top-spec model, and the Plug-in is marketed as much as a new range-topper as it is a stand-alone model.

So if you’ve already been sold on the Prius concept, you won’t take much convincing to go for a Prius Plug-in. Adding a useful electric range without significantly increasing the cost or weight, or compromising on the interior packaging, should have the Prius fan club sold.

As for attracting new buyers, the Prius Plug-in is probably the most tempting product yet for those wanting to take the plunge and go green without the fear that they are investing in unproven technology.

Toyota Prius Plug-in
Price: £29,895 (after £5000 OLEV grant); 0-62mph: 11.4sec; Top speed: 112mph; Economy: 134.5mpg: CO2: 49g/km; Kerb weight: 1425kg; Engine: 4 cyls, 1798cc, petrol, plus electric motor; Power: 134bhp; Torque: na; Gearbox: CVT

First drive review: Toyota Prius Plug-in Review | Autocar
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