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Toyota Prius Plug-in review (2012 onwards)
What - Toyota Prius Plug-in
Date - July 2012
Where - Epsom, Surrey
Price - £28,345 (with £5,000 OLEV grant)
Available - Now
We like - Usable fully electric range, quick to recharge at home, amazing overall economy achievable
We don't like - No fun to drive, interior built to a price, very expensive without the £5k government grant
Sensible blend of hybrid and electric car. Might cover your motoring needs without ever using the petrol part of the equation, though at a cost.
The Toyota Prius has not been without its critics, notably among the hierarchy of the motoring press. Many have said it achieves nothing that a good modern diesel car can't do.
Yet Toyota hybrids have been an outstanding worldwide success. Toyota has built nearly four million cars with 'Hybrid Synergy Drive', including a whole bunch of Lexus.
Owners have truly bought into the idea of a clean car, and there is still little to match the minimalist CO2 output of a Prius. Until, that is, the fully electric car came along.
Today there are a few electric choices. Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt and Vauxhall Ampera (the same car with a different badge) and Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Citroen C-Zero, Peugeot Ion (these three also the same) and Renault Fluence are the key models.
Recharging takes 90 minutes and costs 50p
Conveniently overlooking the initial criticism that the Prius received, Toyota now sprouts the phrase "range anxiety" at every possible opportunity, just to remind anyone thinking of buying an electric car instead of a Prius that if they run out of juice they will be in real trouble. It's true but disingenuous.
The Prius Plug-in joins the electric car fray as a sort of halfway house. It has all the attributes of a regular Prius, but with a bigger battery it can be driven for up to 15.5 miles on electric charge alone.
Not far, you might say, but that covers perhaps 80% of car journeys. And it reverts to a regular Prius when the battery is exhausted.
Recharging from a home mains socket takes 90 minutes and costs a max of 50p, less if your tariff allows. Sounds good, so what's the catch?
The price. Available only in the top Prius T-Spirit specification, the Plug-in is £8k more than the standard model. At the moment there is a £5k government grant, which brings the price down to £28,345.
That grant, which embraces all plug-in electric vehicles, could last for some time. To June 30 2012, just 1706 car and 99 van grants had been taken. There are up 60,000 available.
There's no perceivable difference between this and the standard Prius when driven in the hybrid mode. Performance is satisfactory and the standard automatic transmission does its job effectively.
Stick it in electric vehicle (EV) mode and there's a world of silence as you glide along. The Plug-in is 50kg heavier, but the electric motors power it away happily in city traffic.
As you join a dual carriageway, and exceed 51mph, the petrol engine cuts in and the car reverts to hybrid mode, saving the battery for lower speed use.
It all works seamlessly and effectively. If you choose, you can switch straight into hybrid mode when you leave home to save the battery for low-speed city driving as you get nearer to your destination.
On our test we managed close to 15 miles on fully electric power, without trying particularly hard. Which meets Toyota's claims, near as makes no difference
Ride and handling
The Prius Plug-in does the ride and handling bit adequately. It has no faults but then again it is so uninvolving to drive that, if you want entertainment, it's better to play with the multiple electriconic screens on the dashboard.
It's pretty roomy inside the Prius. There's plenty of glass and the rear legroom is generous. And it's a five-seater, unlike the Volt and Ampera, which take only four.
Luggage space is said to be 443 litres, which average for a family car. But the Prius, with its batteries beneath the boot floor, has its capacity in its width not height, so standing cases on their side won't work. Rear seats fold flat, as in any hatchback.
Despite the climate control, satnav and electronic wizardry of the Prius, there is also a sense that areas of the interior have been built down to a price. Certainly for a car close to £30k, there's little comparison with a base Evoque or the new BMW 3 Series.
Economy and safety
Here's the trump card. Even if it costs you 50p to recharge the Prius Plug-in - and it could be less - that equates to 180mpg when compared with petrol at £1.30 per litre, in full electric mode over 15 miles.
Run the Prius for twice that mileage before recharging, the second half in hybrid mode, and it's still going to be more than 100mpg when the two power sources are combined.
The Plug-in makes economical sense
These are, we reckon, genuinely achievable figures, and shouldn't be compared with the increasingly nonsensical statutory numbers for the 'combined' economy of petrol and diesel cars.
So the Prius Plug-in makes sense from an economy perspective and is particularly attractive if you value the opportunity to drive, at least some of the time, with nothing harmful coming out of the exhaust pipe.
The standard Toyota Prius has a five star EuroNCAP safety rating. The Plug-in hasn't been tested yet but it is unlikely to be different.
The MSN Cars verdict
The technology works extremely well and there is every reason to buy the Plug-in instead of the standard hybrid Prius. But as always with new technology, there is a cost issue. Even with the £5,000 grant, £28,345 is a lot for a family car.
Where would we spend that money instead? We'd certainly consider the Ampera/Volt, which is better finished inside, though it doesn't have the astonishing 750+mile range of Prius Plus-in. Or the BMW 320d EfficientDynamics with its claimed 79mpg and 109g.km CO2. Or a Range Rover Evoke. Yes, you can get one for the same price.
But we are getting carried away. The Prius Plug-in transcends the issues surrounding fully electric cars like the Nissan Leaf, works well and the dependability of Hybrid Synergy Drive is rock solid. It's a good car.
Need to know
Engine: Petrol engine 98hp, electric motor 81h; max combined output, 134hp
Torque, lb ft: Petrol engine 105, electric motor 153
0-62 mph, secs: 11.4
Top speed, mph: 112
Mpg, combined: 134.5
CO2, Tax: 49g/km, 10%
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