The latest Prius Plug-in has a larger all-electric range, improved economy, as well as fleet-friendly lower emissions. Richard Gooding sees if it offers the best of both the electric and hybrid car worlds
What is it?
The first version of Toyota’s ubiquitous Prius was launched in 1997 (GreenFleet 100), and over the subsequent 20 years and four generations has come to define the petrol-electric hybrid car concept.
The first Prius Plug-in landed in 2011, and with its 4.4kWh lithium-ion battery pack, could run for 15.5 miles on electricity alone, with an official fuel consumption of 134.5mpg and CO2 emissions of 49g/km.
Around 75,400 first-generation Prius Plug-ins found homes, until the unveiling of the current second‑generation car in 2016, and it was the second best-selling PHEV during 2012.
Rated at 8.8kWh, the latest Prius Plug-in packs double the capacity of batteries this time around, with electric‑only range correspondingly increased to 31 miles, while fuel economy drops to 283.0mpg and emissions to just 22g/km.
Based on the fourth‑generation Prius, bolder styling marks out the Prius you can top-up, and a raft of advanced technologies improve powertrain efficiency, promote environmental efficiency and make the latest and newest version of Toyota’s plug-in Prius the safest ever.
How does it drive?
The Prius Plug-in’s relationship to its non-plug-in sibling is clear. Based on the same Toyota New Global Architecture platform, its silhouette is almost the same. The new front and rear styling may be divisive, but as all divisive‑looking cars, the plug-in Prius stands out, especially in the ‘Spirited Aqua’ signature shade of our test car. The 15-inch alloy wheels may look small, but they help with efficiency, which is what this car is all about.
Inside, the familiarity with the full hybrid Prius continues. The interior is almost identical, with the addition of an ‘HV > EV’ button to switch the power between full electric or hybrid mode.
There’s the same coupé-like feel and the same comprehensive dashboard displays which impart information on all parts of the car’s efficiency – ideal for drivers to ensure they are making the most of the technology on hand.
Displays include an energy flow monitor and fuel consumption diary, as well as electric use/economy read‑outs. Fit in finish is good, and the standard 8.0-inch colour touchscreen shades that of the standard Prius, but the software can be disappointingly slow to respond.
Focused on technology, the latest Prius Plug-in is the first car to feature a solar roof (more of this later) and gas‑injection heat pump air conditioning, which together with a battery warming system improve all-weather EV driving range.
A Toyota first, a 22.5kW / 53kW dual motor EV-drive system provides better acceleration and increases the EV‑only top speed to 84mph.
The battery charging speed has also been increased by 65 per cent, with a flat to full charge now taking around two hours using a Type 2 ‘Mennekes’ plug, rising to just over three hours on a domestic household socket.
Depending on usage, the battery may not need to be charged as much in the latest car, though, thanks to its ‘Battery Charge’ mode. This uses the 97bhp 1.8-litre petrol engine to generate electricity to charge the battery while driving in ‘HV’ mode, which combines power delivered by the engine and electric motors to operate the car as a full hybrid. Combined system output is 120bhp.
‘EV’ mode meanwhile uses power from the HV battery to drive the car, the engine only kicking in during wide throttle openings or higher speeds.
Finally, the ‘EV City’ mode reduces the available maximum output, while the engine is only started when throttle kick-down occurs. Therefore, the car runs on electricity as long as possible for ultimate efficiency.
All the Prius Plug-in’s driving modes are controlled by an electric CVT gearbox. While adept at making the car easy to use, it’s noisy under harsh acceleration, marring the serene driving experience. Best not to rush a Prius, just enjoy its relaxing and smooth nature.
For the duration of our test, we drove the car in ‘Eco’ mode, and chose EV running when in the urban cut and thrust and ‘HV’ running when out of it. Doing this, it’s not hard to get good economy values, much the same as the regular Prius fact.
Body roll notwithstanding, the plug-in Prius also feels surprisingly agile, another characteristic it shares with its full hybrid sister. The power steering has a nice weight, and doesn’t feel too artificial, and the car is very quiet – even more hushed than the regular car according to Toyota – and refined on the move.
A very relaxed cruiser, it can cover sizable distances with little effort and in large doses of comfort. The plug-in powertrain does create packaging compromises, though, as thanks to the larger battery, the luggage space is cut by around 100 litres when compared to the standard car.
How economical is it?
Over the course of our 288-mile test, we achieved an average 132.8mpg in varied driving situations. We charged the car whenever the battery was depleted, and drove it in ‘Eco’ mode for the majority of the test.
While our economy was still some way short of Toyota’s official figure of 283.0mpg, it’s a very useful doubling of the value we achieved from the non-plug-in version of Toyota’s halo hybrid (GreenFleet 93).
At the end of the test, we had 400 miles of total (fuel and electricity) range left, and we had charged the car four times in seven days.
What does it cost?
Squarely aimed at fleets, the Prius Plug-in range starts with the Business Edition Plus at £29,195 with the £2,500 Government Plug-in Car Grant (PiCG) deducted.
Moving up the range, the Business Edition Plus is also available with a solar roof as tested here. Priced from £30,695 with the PiCG deducted, Toyota states that the technological roof can give up to 409 extra miles of range per year (dependent on weather conditions) and can also improve charging efficiency, as well as boosting power to the electronic functions of the car on the move.
Business Edition Plus-spec cars include all the kit essentials, including 15-inch alloy wheels, adaptive LED headlights and cruise control, auto lights and wipers, dual-zone air conditioning, head-up display, heated seats with electronic lumbar support, reversing camera, smart entry and push-button start, Toyota Touch 2 with Go navigation system, and a wireless smartphone charger.
Safety is high with blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert systems as standard. Cars with the solar roof lose the head-up display and safety systems, though.
Topping out the Prius Plug-in family is the £31,395 Excel, the main differences in specification being ‘Nakano’ black leather seat trim, a JBL premium audio system and the Simple Intelligent Parking Assist system with front and rear parking sensors.
Metallic paint such as the Spirited Aqua hue of our test car is £545, with pearlescent shades £795.
How much does it cost to tax?
With CO2 emissions of just 22g/km, the Prius Plug-in Business Edition Plus attracts no first year Vehicle Excise Duty. The plug-in Toyota sits in the 1-50g/km VED band, rated at £10 in the first year.
However, alternative fuel ultra low emission vehicles continue to receive a £10 across-the-board reduction on VED rates, hence the £0 charge.
After the first year, the Toyota PHEV costs £130 per year in VED, with the £10 alternative fuel discount deducted from the standard £140 annual charge. Benefit in Kind is nine per cent for 2017/2018.
Why does my fleet need one?
As with other PHEVs, the Prius Plug-in offers all the benefits of both full battery electric and hybrid-powered cars. As with the standard Prius, high economy values are easy to achieve, and the car is a relaxed long-distance companion.
When compared to full battery electric cars, its smaller all-electric range brings charging benefits, too. With less time needed to top up, it’s ideal for urban use.
However, that improved convenience and economy come at a price around £5,000 more than the regular version of Toyota’s hybrid trailblazer.
While the Benefit in Kind and VED rates are more costly with the non‑plug-in car (13 per cent and £15 first-year rate respectively), consider the sums very carefully for the Prius PHEV.
Its longer range is undoubtedly welcome, but if all-electric miles are not a major need, the standard hybrid Prius may be a more suitable choice.