As the name suggests the latest model to join the third generation Prius hybrid five door hatchback family is the Plug-In version. This new addition can be charged from mains electricity to extend the driving range of the electric power only mode.
The new Prius Plug-In becomes the flagship of the family and it is Toyota's first rechargeable full hybrid. It uses the same 1.8-litre 98bhp petrol engine and 81bhp electric motor/generator/battery Hybrid Synergy Drive as the Prius five seater hatch and the new Prius+ seven seater MPV models.
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But instead of the battery only/zero emission driving range of just a couple of miles, the Plug-In version after a one and a half hour charging period which costs around 60-pence has an electric power range of 15.5 miles, enough for most city return journey commutes. Toyota says after their five year global trials for the Prius Plug-In, involving 600 test vehicles, two thirds of commuting journeys covered less than 12.5 miles.
For the UK market the Plug-In version differs from its other Prius stablemates with the fact that it can be bought using the Government's £5,000 plug in low emission electric vehicle grant so it is priced at £28,345 on-the-road.
The other benefit over other Hybrid Prius models is that it only incurs 5 per cent company car tax instead of 10 per cent and for businesses there is the 100 per cent write down allowance in the first year of ownership.
With CO2 emissions of 49g/km it is of course free of VED road tax and free of the London Congestion Charge. The Prius Hybrid has CO2 emissions of 89g/km and the Prius+ Hybrid 96g/km and both are currently exempt from road tax and the Congestion Charge.
UK customers for the new flagship Plug-In version are expected to be current Prius hatchback owners, retail buyers who must-have the latest automotive technology, eco conscious drivers and the business community who, for marketing reasons, operate 'green' cars.
Only one level of high specification is available and that is similar to the top of the range Prius T-Spirit petrol-electric Hybrid versions. There are extra cost options available such as leather upholstery.
Prius Plug-In versus rivals
The Prius Plug-Ins' main competitor for sales is probably not other Prius family members but the Vauxhall Ampera/Chevrolet Volt with its petrol generator/electric motor range extender system.
Figures supplied by Toyota claim that over the Ampera their Prius Plug-In model for a three year/60,000 mile period can save users almost £2,000 on costs covering its greater driving range and quicker battery charging time. They also claim that specification adjusted the Plug-In has £3,587 more value and it seats five people instead of four.
With its 700-miles driving range using petrol and electric power, including a maximum 15.5-miles electric power only range, the new Prius Plug-In is a big step forward in making electric propulsion more practical. It delivers all the good points electric vehicle offer but with the added benefits of no limits and range-anxiety to when and where the car can be driven.
Just a conventional 13amp plug is needed linked to a suitable house/office/street charging point supply. After a one and a half hours full mains charge, which depending on tariff rates, it should be cost around 60p in mains electricity.
Toyota GB does recommend owners choose to use their power supply partner British Gas to get a free survey done on the suitability, efficiency and safety of the owner's home electrics. If required a dedicated high power 13-amp cable/charging socket can then be fitted with costs ranging from £375 to £799.
Owners at their own risk can choose to ignore this advice and use a normal 13-amp outlet as long as there are no other heavy-use electric items being used on that ring-main. The Prius Plug-In comes with its own charging cable handily stowed in the 443-litre boot.
The Plug-Ins' extended electric driving range has an official 134.5mpg figure, a 45 per cent improvement over the standard Prius. Once the stored battery power has run out the Synergy Drive petrol/generator/electric supply mode will still return 76.4mpg.
The official overall combined fuel consumption figure using petrol and electric power is 84mpg.
On a short test drive this week from Toyota's UK headquarters in the busy commuter-land of Epsom, traffic filled roads around Leatherhead, M25 territory and a short spell of the A3 dual carriageway and using mainly battery power, the on-board computer showed 227mpg.
But a short 70mph cruise on the A3 lowered this to 150mpg. Now I am not for one minute suggesting these are the figures owners will get in real-life for day-to-day driving but it does show the potential the Plug-In Prius offers for commuter driving conditions.
I literally sweated over this test drive, the air con was left off on the hottest day of the year so far, but that apart I was driving in a normal manner and keeping up with the rest of the traffic. Realistically 80mpg overall should be possible for most drivers for normal town and country driving.
The Prius Plug-In has three on-demand driving modes; HV, EV and EV-City. In HV (hybrid vehicle) mode the car operates in the same way as the standard Prius seamlessly engaging the petrol engine with the electric motor when required.
When EV (electric vehicle) mode is chosen the electric motor draws power from the lithium-ion battery pack and gives a driving range of up to 15.5 miles at speeds up to 51mph. The petrol engine will start up if the system judges more power is needed.
In EV-City mode the same characteristics as EV mode apply but more forceful use of the throttle can be made before the petrol engine cuts in allowing drivers to use the car in inner city zero emission zones. In addition an Eco mode can be selected to operate jointly in any of the HV, EV or EV-City modes.
This softens the throttle response and the air conditioning system efficiency is adjusted to save power. All this information is fed to the driver via displays, graphics and instruments.
It's a techno-persons dream or a technophobes nightmare. Whatever type of driver you are the Plug-In is really easy to use. Get in switch on, select drive in the CVT auto transmission, press the accelerator and off you go. Choose the power supply mode that suits you, or the driving conditions, job done.
The specification is high with just one level available. Electric windows, door mirrors, air con, cruise control, sound system, sat nav, rear view camera and 15-inch alloy wheels are all included. The ride is comfortable over good road surfaces but it gets unsettled over poorer surfaces, the steering is light and gives little feedback but it makes it easy to park.
There is a sting-in-the tail though. The Prius Plug-In is easy to drive, cheap to run and tax efficient for businesses and company car users. But for retail customers it is expensive to buy and a significant £3,435 more than the top-spec Prius Hybrid Hatchback T-Spirit.
That price comparison takes into account the £5,000 Government low emission vehicle grant which applies, (for now) to the Plug-In. Without that grant the Prius Plug-In would be nearly £8,000 more than the conventional Prius Hybrid.
Toyota Prius Plug-In 5-Door Hatchback
£28,345 with the Government low emission grant.
1.8-litre, four cylinder variable valve timing petrol engine, 98bhp/104lb ft, electric motor 81bhp/152lb ft, CVT auto, 2-speed forward/reverse drivebox.
112mph, 0 to 62mph 11.4 seconds, Fuel consumption, EV electric 134.5mpg, Hybrid petrol/electric 84.0mpg, CO2 49g/km, VED £0, BIK company car tax 5%.
L 4,480mm, W 1,745mm, H 1,490mm, boot/load space 443 to 1,120-litres.
Car 5-years/100,000 miles, battery pack 8-years.
Cheap to run, low on emissions, low on taxes, simple to drive, comfortable, ideal for company car users/businesses, no limit to the driving range.
Hard to justify the significant higher purchase cost over a standard Prius Hybrid for retail customers.