Heels On Wheels - 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid Review +VIDEO
HEELS ON WHEELS
By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel
INTRO TO THE PRIUS PLUG-IN HYBRID VEHICLE
You’ll have to wait until spring 2012, because just 160 lithium-ion battery powered Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrids, or a PHV, are currently being driven in select cities test the significant “green” enhancements Toyota has made on the Hybrid Synergy Drive system. And as northern California resident, I was one of the lucky women able to tour the vehicle and gather real-world feedback.
I drove a Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid prototype with the more compact lithium-ion battery that has a maximum cruising range of approximately 13 miles in electric-only mode with highway speeds of more than 60 MPH. Using a standard household 220V electrical outlet one might use for the clothes dryer, it only takes one and a half hours to get a full charge (three hours for a smaller 110V connection). Staring price will be $32,000 for the Plug-in. Electrical costs are estimated at around about one dollar and fifty-cents per charge.
Unless you consider plugging in a phone charger difficult, the Prius Plug-in takes little effort to maintain. The PHV comes with a standard 20-foot 120V cordset that plugs into the right side charging port and then into your home outlet; you won’t need separate charging equipment unless you’d like one cord for home and another for outside charging. You don’t have to plug it in to use the vehicle; as with previous models, the vehicle automatically transitions to hybrid mode and runs on the gas engine until you have a chance to recharge. Fuel economy can obviously be unbelievable with this setup; however, hybrid-only mode still achieves 49 MPG.
HEELS ON WHEELS REVIEW CRITERIA
Stylish But Comfortable Results: You can expect the Plug-in interior to be at the top of its game as Toyota has addressed several issues over the years. Rear legroom has expanded, and there are two screens for audio and climate control to avoid confusion when shuffling through the touch-screen commands. The Advanced trim will come with an 8-way power-adjustable driver's seat with power lumbar support – an option I’ve always craved in the Prius. This trim also offers an upgraded JBL audio system. You still have remote AC and solar paneling roof to keep the Prius at ambient temperatures so that AC doesn't have to be in overdrive.
Reliability & Safety Factor: The Prius Plug-in version has not yet been tested by The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but former models have ratings of “Good” performance in front, side, rollover, and rear tests and standard electronic stability control. It hasn’t been tested by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Cost Issues: With a sound charging plan, the Prius Plug-in can survive without gasoline, which can cut out your gas bill significantly, if not completely. And $32,000 is an affordable starting price, considering the Chevrolet Volt is $39,995. The Volt does quality for a $7,500 federal tax credit which puts the cost closer to the Prius Plug-in – but the Prius Plug-gets one two for $2,500.
Activity & Performance Ability: Obviously, getting longer distances on electric-only power is an improvement, and Toyota has done this by creating a stronger and lighter recharging infrastructure. Several high-output lithium-ion batteries operate in tandem with main battery pack, but only one at a time. So when pack one’s battery’s charge is depleted, it disconnects and pack two engages. When that’s gone, it switches to a regular hybrid and uses gas. The smaller batteries will not engage with the main battery pack until the vehicle is plugged in and charged again.
The Green Concern: Under hybrid mode, the Prius Plug-in still gets 49 MPG. It’s still the leader. But by being able to go longer distances at a decent traveling speed – and plugging in – those miles-per-gallon estimates can easily double or triple. This setup can be a very ideal, easy-to-use arrangement that should appeal to all kinds of drivers (not just the environmental types).
Watch TACH's exclusive Prius Hybrid promo video
FINAL PARTING WORDS
The Toyota Prius Plug-in shows the vehicle is improving in every possible way, from the electric power range to the finer interior choices like power seating and an upgraded audio system, and the price makes is accessible to all budgets.
©2011 Katrina Ramser