What is it?
The most efficient and economical Prius yet. The plug-in hybrid version of the all-conquering Toyota Prius may look like any other Prius, but there are some crucial differences.
The nickel-metal hydride batteries of the standard model have been replaced with lithium-ion batteries; these offer greater power density and can be recharged quicker.
This larger, more powerful battery pack offers a superior electric range and the Prius is capable of traveling up to 12.5 miles on electric power only at speeds of up to 62mph. It can also be plugged into the mains and recharged in around an hour and a half.
This extended electric range helps the plug-in Prius to record combined fuel economy of 108.6mpg and CO2 emissions of 59g/km.
What’s it like?
The best Prius yet. All the benefits of the standard model are there, yet with subtle improvements. The EV mode in the standard Prius is gimmicky, offering less than two miles of power at speeds less than 30mph.
That’s not the case with the plug-in model. The 12.5 miles range is usable: on our test route around central London, the Prius never once needed to switch to petrol power and the available charge didn’t deplete even with ancillaries like the air-con and radio on.
The power delivery is smooth and step-off is brisk. Around town it’s quick and nimble to keep up with traffic and you never feel limited by the fact you’re only using electric power.
If you run out of electric power, fear not. The 1.8-litre petrol engine remains untouched from the standard Prius, meaning journeys are never limited or tainted by range anxiety. The transition from electric power to petrol power is just as smooth as the standard Prius.
Should I buy one?
It may look and drive like it's production ready, but you won’t be able to buy one from your Toyota dealer for at least another two years.
That’s because Toyota is trialing 600 units around the world to test plug-in hybrid technology and how people react to it. After all, there aren’t any such cars on the market yet.
But what we have is the next-generation of the Prius, a car with proven technology that’s also reliable. The plug-in Prius moves that on further; the EV range is useful, offering many of the benefits of electric cars only in familiar packaging and with no range anxiety attached.
Downsides? It’s likely to be expensive. Lithium-ion batteries are much more expensive than their nickel-metal hydride counterparts and Toyota won’t produce the lithium-ion battery packs in high enough volume to significantly drive the cost down.
Come the fourth-generation Prius before the end of the decade, we expect this to be the default choice for Prius buyers given the likely reduction in cost of the technology and further performance benefits.