Plug-In Might Be Toyota's Best Prius
Fifteen months ago, Toyota loaned us a test mule of this car, a pre-production version of what is now available in many states as a 2013 model. Not your ordinary gas-electric hybrid, that Prius mule had a heavy-duty electrical socket on its left front flank and huge decals on the doors: PLUG-IN HYBRID. Included was a hefty cable with a three-prong wall plug on one end, a special Prius plug on the other, and a transformer box inbetween. I hooked it up, then went to the meter on the house, expecting to see the little wheel whirling madly and emitting sparks and smoke. Nope. My clothes dryer spins it faster.
That was then. Now, this is the production model, known as the Prius Plug-in and one of four distinct Prius variants. Besides equipping it well, Toyota has made some big changes since the mule. For starters, the plug receptacle has been moved to the right rear fender and the decals are gone. Way more important is that the car’s road behavior has been improved considerably. The steering now has some weight to it, the energy-recapturing brakes feel more progressive and offer useful feedback, and the vehicle will go around corners semi-smartly. The Plug-in Prius feels like a comfortable car; the mule resembled an ultralight airplane.
The drivetrain still offers some of that sensation of a rubber band that has to be stretched before the car will move, but far less so than, say, a Kia hybrid. The annoying backup alarm is still with us too. Since it’s audible only inside the car, what’s the point?
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