Few cars have grown on me more than the Toyota Prius. It’s now about 18 months since I handed the keys back to a long-term Prius I’d been running for a year.
At the start, I didn’t really like it. I bought into the image that the Prius was boring and its technology was gimmicky. I just didn’t ‘get it’.
But it had certainly won me over by the time I had to give it up. Master the style in which a Prius should be driven and real-world economy approaching 60mpg is possible.
Now, there is a new Prius in town: the Plug-in. The fundamental difference between it and a standard Prius is its extended electric power range of 15.5 miles, which comes from a lithium-ion battery pack.
In my final weekend last year in the standard Prius, I did a 300-mile trip taking in around 100 motorway miles, 150 miles on A-roads and 50 miles around town, driving as economically as possible. I ended up with 60.0mpg.
And last weekend I carried out a rather unscientific repeat of the experiment over the same route to see just how much the extra £3000 needed to buy a Prius Plug-in over a Prius T-Spirit (the spec of our old long-termer) can improve the economy figure.
The only difference to before would be I’d plug it in where and when I could (see pic one) to get the full use of the electric power to improve the economy.
What I was most surprised with was its how economical it was on the motorway. It feels like a slow and heavy car, and the CVT drone under acceleration is not encouraging. But the economy readout tells a different story (see pic two).
This plots half an hour of driving on the M25 when it was only moderately busy, and the worst the economy was claimed to be over a five-minute period was around 60mpg.
While the extra electric power offers a huge advantage to driving in town (see pic three, where a full bar means an average mpg over 100 was achieved over a minute), it also provides more assistance at higher speeds, thus putting less strain on the engine and using less fuel.
A typical half hour journey in the Prius Plug-in is illustrated in pic four. The low bars at the start are when it’s not warmed up and not very efficient. Once warm and up to motorway speeds, the economy improves to the match of an economical turbodiesel, and when it’s fully warm by the end of the journey and back to town speeds, that’s where the real economy gains are to be found.
By the time I handed the keys back after the 300 miles, the final economy figure for the weekend was 71.2mpg, quite a leap over the Prius T-Spirit.
But what it mainly reminded of was just how interesting a car the Prius is. It is deeply impressive in how it seamlessly switches petrol and electric power – or a combination of both – and few cars have interior displays as engaging as the Prius’s, where you can watch how the powertrain is operating and get minute-by-minute feedback on how economically you’re driving.
In a world of Chevrolet Volts, Vauxhall Amperas and Nissan Leafs, the Prius is still innovating and excelling. It's the alternatively-fuelled car with the fewest compromises I can think of, and the one that's proven and improved itself for more than a decade. The Plug-in only enhances the respect I have the Prius.