North America's most popular hybrid gets plugged in | The Prius Plug-In is all about function and its well-developed hybrid system makes it a highly functional eco-machine.
After spending some quality time with our Honda Accord PHEV long term tester earlier this year, I’ve gained an understanding for the still-emerging technology. With appropriate usage, a plug-in hybrid can deliver many of the same benefits as a full electric vehicle, but without the range anxiety. With this new enthusiasm, I was happy to spend some time with the 2014 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid. After all, with the Prius being the most well-known hybrid on the market, my expectations of its abilities were pretty high.
One of the aspects I noticed about the Accord PHEV was the fact that it looked almost like a regular Accord. It didn’t advertise to the world that I was driving a hybrid, none the less a plug-in model. The Prius has the opposite effect; everyone recognizes the Prius’s distinct styling and immediately makes the connection that it’s a hybrid. The Prius’ styling takes some getting used to, but this latest iteration does flow better than any of the previous models and the front fascia is actually very well balanced and handsome. The hatchback rear end does look slightly awkward in my opinion, but the first time I needed to load something bulky, I immediately learned to appreciate how the Prius’s rear hatch design makes optimal use of space and helps offset the space lost to the large batteries on board.
Jumping into the Prius for the first time, I also realized that driving it was going to take a little bit of getting used to as well. Most notable for me is the gear selector; it’s a cute little stick that allows you to select reverse, neutral and drive, but park requires you to push a button just next to the stick. This seems like a minor detail, but after 10+ years of sliding gear selectors into “Park”, it took me a couple days to get used to the button. The large digital center mounted display, which takes care of everything from your speed to your fuel consumption and how your hybrid system is performing can be configured a number of different ways. I find the way it presents fuel consumption data to be a little more complicated than I would like. Beyond those two small gripes, the interior of the Prius is actually a very comfortable place to be; in typical Toyota fashion the overall fit of everything is excellent and the SofTex synthetic leather ergonomic seats in our test car offered an excellent driving position.
With a price tag pushing $41,000 my top-line Technology-trim Prius is not only a comfortable place to be, but it’s also surprisingly well equipped, given its intended purpose. I was pleased to find a very effective radar cruise control system, a user friendly navigation system, rear view camera, steering wheel mounted temperature controls, headlamp washers and a well-rounded 8-speaker JBL audio system. That feature list may not seem impressive on a $40,000 car, but the fact remains that the technology and development that have gone into this Prius certainly isn’t cheap. To try and compare feature sets with a similarly priced conventional gasoline car is simply fruitless.
Where the Prius really starts to shine in my eyes is actually out on the road. Toyota has stuck with the Prius for 17 years now and they’ve done an exceptional job making it feel just like a regular Toyota. Save for an apparent but expected lack of on-demand power, it is very easy to forget that you may actually be propelled along entirely by electricity. In my experience with other hybrids, there has always been a noticeable transition between running strictly on electricity and when the gas powered engine kicks in. In the Prius that transition is almost impossible to feel from inside the car and I actually found myself frequently looking at the hybrid system status diagram on the digital display to determine which power source I was running on. Speaking of which, I also noticed that when left to its own devices, the Prius hybrid system tends to flip into “EV” (electric mode) a lot more often than the other hybrids I’ve experienced. I really enjoy this given that it is the purpose of the system and there is a certain satisfaction in knowing that you’re currently travelling along without using any gasoline at all!
While the plug-in hybrid system offers huge benefits in all conditions, cruising along at 50-60km/h is where the Prius is happiest and will gladly motor along. Toyota’s continued improvement of their hybrid system has resulted in what I feel is one of the smoothest, reliable and efficient systems on the market. The Prius Plug-In only requires about 3 hours to get a full charge on a regular household outlet. Despite my far from ideal charging conditions, I still managed to average a very impressive 4.0L/100km in a week’s worth of rush hour commuting; simply amazing for a car that will comfortably haul 5 adults.
Handling dynamics are certainly not something I’d put at the top of the typical Prius buyer’s list, but the car does handle very predictably. It’s exceptionally stable on the highway and the tight turning radius of just 10.4 meters makes it extremely easy to maneuver in the city core. The combined electric and gas power sources put out 134 horsepower, and while the weight of the additional batteries in the hybrid do take a significant toll on the Prius’ acceleration, that only means that you need to be a little more selective with your passing opportunities.
The Prius Plug-In is all about function and its well-developed hybrid system makes it a highly functional eco-machine. If there is a compromise to be made here, it is in the price. When compared to the standard Prius which fully loaded comes to $34,000, this particular model totals $40,000. I would have to do some math to make sure that the benefits of the Plug-In car are worth the extra up-front money spent. Price aside, the Prius Plug-In effortlessly handled whatever I asked of it; from commuting to work in bumper-to-bumper traffic and even a small road trip out of town, making it a great “do it all” vehicle for anyone interested in saving all that they can at the pumps. For those looking to get themselves into the rapidly growing plug-in hybrid community, this Prius is an absolute must on your list.