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First drive: Toyota Prius Plug-in. Image by Toyota.

First drive: Toyota Prius Plug-in
Want more range from your Toyota Prius? Then the new Plug-in Hybrid model is for you.

 



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Toyota Prius Plug-in

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

Toyota does the obvious and gives its Prius MkIV some much-needed additional zero-emissions electric vehicle (EV) range, courtesy of a plug-in hybrid model. Clever tech and styling changes mark out this newcomer that comes with some incredible economy and emissions stats, but does the reality measure up to the expectations set by the Toyota's impressive engineering specification?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid
Pricing: Prius Plug-in from 32,395, rising to 34,595 (prices include Government's 2,500 plug-in car grant)
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol with two permanent magnet synchronous electric motors
Transmission: E-CVT, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 22g/km (VED Band A, 0 annually if registered before April 1, 2017; 10 first 12 months, 140 annually thereafter if registered post-April 1, 2017)
Combined economy: 282.5mpg
Top speed: 101mph
0-62mph: 11.1 seconds
Power: petrol 98hp at 5,200rpm, electric motors 22.5kW (31hp) and 53kW (72hp), maximum system output 122hp at 5,200rpm
Torque: petrol 142Nm at 3,600rpm, no maximum system output quoted

What's this?

The Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid EV, which - annoyingly - Toyota badges as PHV, when most other firms just go with PHEV. It's the anticipated evolution of the MkIV Prius Hybrid, a car that simply uses moderate electric motors-augmentation to eke out its reserves of petrol, without any need for messy plug-in recharging faff.

The PHV, however, does what so many of these more potent EVs do and offers consumers the opportunity to drive for longer in near-silent, zero-emissions electric mode. It achieves this because, unlike the 'regular' hybrid model with its smaller nickel-metal hydride battery pack, the PHV receives a larger and more advanced lithium-ion unit rated at 8.8kWh; precisely twice as capacious as the old Prius Plug-in's 4.4kWh pack. That, predictably, means the new Prius PHV goes twice the distance without needing to fire up its Atkinson cycle 1.8-litre VVT-i petrol engine, so the latest Toyota is supposedly capable of 30 miles of saintly running on a full battery charge.

Not only that, but there's more impressive tech stuffed into the angular body of the Prius. It runs the same pair of MG1 and MG2 electric units as the Hybrid model, but whereas that car's MG1 item is only a starter-generator, in the PHV it has been turned into an actual electric motor that is capable of powering the wheels, courtesy of the fitment of a one-speed gear in the transaxle; Toyota calls this tech Dual Motor Drive System (DMDS) and it gives the car more powerful and accelerative EV driving characteristics, summed up by a fully electric top speed that now stands at 84mph, instead of the weedy 53mph of the old Prius Plug-in.

Furthermore, its on-board charging unit is boosted from 2.0- to 3.3kW, reducing battery replenishment times (two hours for 65 per cent capacity on a fast charging system, or three hours ten minutes on a household plug socket), while there are also battery heaters to reduce the impact of cold weather on EV range, a clever gas-injection heat pump air conditioning system that can pre-heat the cabin in sub-zero temperatures, and which also features a natty characteristic whereby it determines how many people are riding in the car and then shuts down irrelevant air vents as a result... oh, and there are solar panels on the roof.

A 1,500 option on the lower Business Edition Plus specification car, these panels can charge up an intermediary solar battery in the PHV while it is parked, which - once full - supplies a pumping charge to the main lithium-ion battery. And if the car is driving, then the solar array diverts its power to the 12-volt auxiliary battery instead, although this still reduces the strain on the Li-ion unit and thus keeps consumption down. All told, Toyota reckons that, with the right conditions, this feature alone could boost EV range by three miles a day, or 400 miles a year in UK city traffic, even allowing for our notoriously drab weather.

What with all of the ingenious electric tomfoolery above, the PHV has put on 150kg of bulk compared to the Hybrid Prius, and yet it still has some almighty 'green' claims: these being combined economy of 282.5mpg, and CO2 emissions pegged at a paltry 22g/km. Unless you're a purely urban animal, it'll never actually achieve such ludicrous numbers, of course, but - as we'll outline in the driving impressions sector below - it nevertheless gave back some impressive real-world figures without much consideration or effort on our part.

So, with all the brain-melting hybrid tech out the way, let's get down to basics. The range in the UK is just two-strong, starting with the 34,895 (and aforementioned) Business Edition Plus (36,395 with solar roof panels) and climbing to the Excel for 37,095; there's a weird spec-related barrier that means the leather-lined Excel cannot have the clever battery-recharging roof, though. Toyota confirmed on the launch that the PHV had just been ratified for the Government's 2,500 Plug-in Car Grant (PICG), which reduces those three figures to 32,395, 33,895 and 34,595 respectively. It goes on sale on March 1, with the plan to sell 435 units in the UK on a 57-43 per cent fleet-to-retail sales split. Additionally, Business Edition Plus will take 70 per cent of PHV numbers, although for the 30 per cent retail buyers Toyota will offer a free home charging unit. It comes with a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty, seven per cent benefit-in-kind costs, Congestion Charge exemption and those class-leading economy figures.

Business Edition Plus models get a lengthy spec list that includes Toyota Touch 2 with Go infotainment and satnav, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and go, LED headlights, wireless phone charging, a colour head-up display, heated front seats, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert, plus the Toyota Safety Sense suite of goodies: Pre-Collision System with pedestrian detection, Lane Departure Alert with steering control, Road Sign Assist, Adaptive Headlamp System and Adaptive Cruise Control. Excel only builds on that with leather upholstery, a ten-speaker JBL premium audio sound system and the Intelligent Park Assist with front and rear parking sensors.

And (please bear with us; we're nearly at the driving impressions, we promise) that just leaves the looks. If you're peering at the PHV and thinking something has changed, you'd be right. Toyota has bravely decided to properly differentiate the PHV from the Hybrid, almost making them separate models in the process, by totally restyling the front and rear light clusters. As a result, the Plug-in has sleeker 'four-cube' headlights (that are vaguely reminiscent of Opron's Alfa Romeo SZ, or 'Il Mostro') and horizontally arranged rear clusters. We think the resulting machine looks a little bit better than the regular Hybrid. Inside is pretty much identical to the standard Prius MkIV, save for a boot that has been reduced in capacity by 141 litres to 360 litres as a consequence of the lithium-ion battery packaged underneath the significantly raised cargo bay floor.

How does it drive?

If all of the above sounds intriguing and you're hoping for a great drive from the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid to sweeten the deal... then prepare to be disappointed. It is by no means a bad car, but that additional bulk brought about by all the PHV's hybrid running paraphernalia really does make itself felt. It is uncomfortable during rapid direction changes and the steering, while precise and direct, isn't particularly pleasant to deal with. There's enough resistance to understeer and mechanical grip here to make the Prius PHV reasonably adept at clinging on to its hard-won straight-line pace (it is not a quick car by any stretch of the imagination) once the roads start turning twisty, but there's precious little fun to be had doing so. Especially as the E-CVT starts bellowing and whining in its customary fashion once the revs rise.

Revel, then, in the increased refinement. Toyota has thrown a shedload of sound-deadening measures at the PHV to make it comfier to live with and it shows. Jammed into the crevices around the engine bay and passenger compartment are bonnet side seals to minimise the 1.8-litre four-pot's mechanical thrashings; urethane wing separators to isolate the cabin from that Atkinson cycle combustion lump; silencers in the rear wheel-wells that aim to cut back on chatter from the rubber; acoustic glass in the front doors to quell wind noise; and masses of insulating material in the floor, A-pillars and so on. The outcome is very, very good, if not exceptional - you'll still hear too much roar from the back tyres on poorer surfaces and the VVT-i does become raucous when extended, but otherwise it's an easy-going motor in which to cover distance in a fuss-free fashion.

That's because the ride quality is excellent, whether in town or pummelling along a dull motorway for extended stretches, and the Prius PHV is markedly better to drive in urban traffic thanks to the full EV running mode. It launches away from lights in eerie, efficient silence and threading its way through a bustling Barcelona it maintained plenty of its charge level with regen-braking and the like to make the 30-mile electric range seem wholly believable. Furthermore, on an 80-mile route made up mainly of Spanish autopistas - and not driven in an entirely sensible, fuel-saving manner either - it gave back 85.6mpg by the end. Stick to the conurbations and regular charging events, and we have no doubt whatsoever that the typical Prius driver (i.e., someone who's not an appalling lead-foot) would comfortably enjoy over 100mpg on a daily basis. But 282.5mpg...? Good luck with that one.

Verdict

The Prius Plug-in Hybrid's biggest problem is price. With a starting ticket the wrong side of 32 grand, it looks a steep climb to bag its extra EV range over and above the Hybrid, which begins at a much more reasonable 23,295. Added to that is the fact the PHV is compromised in terms of boot space and rear accommodation - it's a strict four-seater - and that its handling manners have been dulled by its bloated frame, and it seems like the Hybrid remains the sensible choice.

But then, there are few five-door plug-in hybrid EVs that can match the Toyota for its sheer tech count, or indeed its impressive high-speed refinement. That the car is also far punchier in electric-only city driving could be a clincher too, because if you're one of these urbanites who never leaves the built-up areas and who has regular access to charging facilities, you're going to be able to take full advantage of the Toyota's increased EV prowess in plug-in format - and you might even start getting regular three-figure economy returns to boot. Couched in those terms, the Prius PHV starts to look a lot more tempting indeed.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

3 3 3 3 3 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

3 3 3 3 3 Driving Dynamics

3 3 3 3 3 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 9 Feb 2017









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2017 Toyota Prius PHV. Image by Toyota.2017 Toyota Prius PHV. Image by Toyota.2017 Toyota Prius PHV. Image by Toyota.2017 Toyota Prius PHV. Image by Toyota.2017 Toyota Prius PHV. Image by Toyota.

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