The Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid is a variant of the popular and proven Prius with a larger lithium-ion battery pack that provides an extended electric-only driving capacity. Aside from a few unique exterior touches, the only other change from the normal Prius is more standard equipment (and a higher price-tag).
Whereas the battery pack of a garden-variety Prius sports a 1.3 kWh capacity, the unit used in the Prius Plug-In Hybrid holds 4.4 kWh. The extra juice provides the car with an 11-mile electric-only driving range at up to 62 mph (although anything more aggressive than moderate acceleration will trigger the gas engine), after which the car reverts to hybrid mode.
Toyota claims the charging time as 2.5-3 hours using a standard 120V outlet or 1.5 hours using a 240V outlet.
The Prius Plug-In Hybrid's powertrain is otherwise the same as the normal Prius, meaning it utilizes a 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle, four-cylinder engine with 98 horsepower and an AC electric motor producing 80 ponies.
When driven in electric-only mode, the car returns 95 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent), while hybrid-only operation nets 50 mpg. The latter figure matches the normal Prius despite the extra weight of the Plug-In's battery pack (the car is 123 lbs heavier overall), while the former number compares to the Chevrolet Volt's rating of 94 MPGe.
Distinguishing the Prius Plug-In Hybrid from more modestly battery-endowed Prii are unique chrome grille and bumper trim, chrome door handles, special 15-inch alloy wheels, blue-accented headlamps, a distinct tail lamp design and new Hybrid Synergy Drive Plug-in badging.
Predictably, the downside of the powertrain's focus on mileage is leisurely acceleration; taken together with numb steering and ample body roll, that means that the car isn't likely to appeal to traditional enthusiasts.
However, like other Prius models, it does possess the less exciting but more practical virtues that will endear it to most hybrid buyers, including a comfortable ride, safe handling and a versatile hatchback bodystyle that provides 21.6 cubic feet of cargo space. Passengers are treated to ample room in both rows along with a space-age dashboard that sports a highly legible center-mounted instrument panel and a "floating" center console with a storage tray mounted underneath.
A 6.1-inch touchscreen for the audio system is fitted as standard, as is a navigation system, backup camera and Toyota's Entune infotainment system. Entune offers Bing, Facebook places and Pandora radio apps along with real-time fuel prices, sports scores, weather and traffic info. In addition to expected options like SofTex leatherette upholstery and heated seats, buyers can spec a radar-based cruise control system, a lane departure warning system, pre-collision braking and a park assist system that helps guide the Prius into a spot.
Trim Level Breakdown
The Prius Plug-In Hybrid is offered with two trim levels: the entry-level Prius Plug-in and the upscale Prius Plug-in Advanced.
The Prius Plug-In comes standard with heated front seats, a navigation system with Toyota's app-based Entune infotainment system and an integrated backup camera, a smart key, LED Daytime Running Lights, 15-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels and a multi-information display. Green features include an air conditioning system that can run either off the grid while the vehicle is plugged in or off the battery, a charger timer, and EV/ECO/POWER modes that prioritize either fuel economy or acceleration.
To those features, the Prius Plug-in Advanced adds a premium HDD navigation system with Entune and an environmentally-friendly JBL GreenEdge sound system, Plug-in Hybrid Applications through a user's smartphone (Charge Management, Remote Air Conditioning System, Charging Station Map, Vehicle Finder and Eco Dashboard), head-up display, dynamic radar cruise control, a pre-collision system, LED headlamps with an auto on/off feature and integrated fog lamps, SofTex-trimmed seating, an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, Safety Connect and more.
Regardless of trim level, the Prius Plug-In Hybrid offers nine airbags: dual front, side, front-side and rear-side airbags along with a driver's side knee airbag, to be exact. ABS, traction and stability control systems are standard, as is a tire-pressure monitoring system.
The Prius Plug-In Hybrid faces competition from the Chevrolet Volt, which can travel 40 miles in electric-only mode before reverting to hybrid mode, the Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid, the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, as well as the Nissan Leaf, an electric vehicle with a maximum range of about 84 miles.