Toyota’s plug-in Prius is on the way but is it worth the wait?

Toyota Prius PHV offers a full electric range of up to 63km but is strictly a four-seater

Make: Toyota

Model: Prius hybrid plug-in

Year: 2017

Fuel: Hybrid

Date Reviewed: February 20, 2017

Mon, Feb 20, 2017, 18:07

   

It was inevitable that Toyota’s Prius would eventually come with a plug. The last iteration offered plug-in potential to the car, but only in very limited numbers. In the end, the Irish importer opted not to take the car.

This time things are different, reflecting the burgeoning market for hybrids, the increased interest in the latest fourth-generation Prius, and an awareness among consumers that plug-in hybrid offers the easiest stepping stone to the electric future for everyday family motorists.

Worth the price?

In June, Ireland will see the more economical and even greener Prius PHV Plug-In Hybrid join the range. Toyota Ireland is still finalising prices and specification but we expect three grades and a circa €3,000 premium over the equivalent Prius Hybrid, starting at circa €37,000 on the road after the various grants.

Is the plug-in Prius worth the extra outlay? Time to start crunching some stats.

The “regular” Prius delivers miserly fuel consumption with an average figure of 2.5L/100km (93.8mpg).

In comparison the Prius PHV is capable of averaging of 1L/100km or 235mpg. Or so the official stats claim. However, the multiple power variations available on hybrids has always played havoc with official consumption figures.

Many urban buyers are well able to match the official consumption figures, but some buyers complain that time on the motorway with the engine carrying much of the load dramatically dents those ambitious fuel figures.

Real-world figures

On one test route we deliberately pushed the throttle hard, reflecting the driving style of most diesel drivers rather than the eco-conscious hybrid set. The plug-in car returned a modest average of 3.2L/100km (73.5mpg) over close to 190km of city, motorway and rural driving.

However, a change of driving style, with gentle use of the fly by wire accelerator and brakes on later test routes, delivered far better fuel economy.

The Prius PHV, like the regular hybrid, can charge up its battery on the go. This allows commuters to drive solely on electric power in built-up areas with no tailpipe emissions. Prius PHV can do this thanks to a bigger battery that can be recharged via a cable just like any electric or plug-in vehicle.

Electric range

While the regular Prius hybrid can only manage a couple of kilometres under just electric power, Prius PHV claims an official range of 63km on electric power based on a fully-charged battery. Toyota engineers admit 50km is a more realistic range in real-world conditions.

Yet that’s still enough for most family motorists to complete the school run and some short trips between charges. The downside of the larger battery is the loss of the middle rear seat, making Prius PHV a strict four seater. So while the school run may be cleaner, it will also be a little restricted. Boot capacity is sacrificed also as a result with just 360 litres of space.

With the bigger battery, the Prius PHV is also heavier than the hybrid but Toyota has been able to reduce the gap by using a new and contoured lightweight tailgate made from CFRP (carbon fibre reinforced plastic). The bonnet and bumpers are new to the plug-in version as well.

You wouldn’t describe the Prius as quick and the plug-in version is slower still, managing a 0-100km/h time of 11.1 seconds, but it feels significantly quicker behind the wheel.

It also benefits from a quieter cabin than the regular version, thanks to additional sound insulation, better seals, acoustic front door glass and wheel arch silencers. An optional head up display is useful but critically lacks navigation instructions.

The extremely wide electronic upper dashboard display is a tech nerd’s dream as it displays a myriad of information. When you dig deep in to its menus via copious steering wheels buttons, you can find a display that helps you maximise fuel economy. It displays a moving blue line much like a rev counter that you try to track with a parallel green line that represents your throttle input.

On the road PHV rides on unique and relatively tiny 15-inch alloys fitted with high profile tyres. The ride is comfortable and it is only when cornering with gusto that drivers may wish they could opt for the 17 inch wheels on the regular hybrid.

Toyota expects to sell about 100 plug-in Prius hybrids in a full year, but the market for such cars is still relatively hard to gauge. On paper the price leap over a regular Prius doesn’t seem that much for urban buyers whose daily car trips are below 50km.

These motorists will like the idea of running the Prius as a fully electric car while appreciating the reassurance of a regular hybrid powertrain always at the ready when the battery runs out or longer trips are necessary. Yet €37,000 is starting to encroach into the premium car price bracket, while the restricted rear seats will limit its family appeal.

Lowdown: Prius PHV Plug-In Hybrid

Price: From circa €37,000 on the road

Engine: 1798cc VVT-i 4 cylinder petrol engine putting out 98hp/142nm combined with 8.8 kWh lithium ion battery powering two electric motors - one 31bhp the other 72hp

Battery recharging time: 2 hours

Combined system power output: 122hp

0-100km/h: 11.1 seconds

Top speed: 162 km/h

Claimed fuel economy: 1 l/100km (235mpg)

CO2 Emissions: 22 g/km

Motor Tax: €170

Verdict: Prius is good and Prius PHV is even better and there is no arguing with its green credentials. Yet its high price and lack of five seats will limit appeal.