MEDIA REVIEWS is a compilation of reviews and write-ups of test drives of various e-drive vehicles by the different authors and media. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of EV World. Click the article title to expand the story.
Next Generation Prius Reported to Offer Choice of Battery Pack Among Changes
2016 Prius hybrid will offer both NiMH or lithium battery packs, as well as a possible all-wheel-drive option.
Ecomento 16 Jul 2014
Toyota hopes that offering a choice of battery packs in the next-generation Prius will help arrest falling sales of the popular hybrid and improve fuel economy.
The new car, due to enter production late next year, will be available with either a low-cost nickel-metal hydride battery or a lighter, more versatile lithium-ion unit, according to Automotive News, which spoke to Koei Saga.
Saga is the senior managing officer in charge of powertrain development for the 2016 Toyota Prius, and hinted that the new liftback may also arrive with all-wheel drive as an option.
“I think we will possibly do it,” he says. Such a move would surely be met with approval by the many fuel-conscious Americans living in regions less placid that the Prius’ spiritual home of California.
Toyota is aiming for a combined fuel economy of 55mpg for the new car – a figure that would again confirm the Prius as the default choice for many drivers. A lighter lithium-ion battery pack will help it achieve that aim, although four-wheel drive traditionally adds weight to a car, which would be to the detriment of efficiency.
Saga didn’t elaborate on the 2016 Toyota Prius’ layout, although it’s possible that Toyota could avoid this weight penalty with clever use of the Prius’ electric motor.
The lighter, condensed hybrid system designed for the new Prius will find its way into a large number of Toyota models spanning differing segments, while the Prius itself will feature a new, highly aerodynamic design.
Production was originally scheduled for the first half of 2015, although the battle to achieve a 10 percent increase in fuel economy over the current car’s combined 50mpg is taking Toyota’s engineers longer to win than expected.
Consumer Reports Rates Prius Hybrid as 'Best Value'
Prius hybrid scores magazine's coveted best value rating for second straight win, unseating Honda Fit.
Detroit Free Press/USA 22 Dec 2013
If you're looking for the car that is considered the best overall value among all models out there, Consumer Reports magazine says look no farther than the Toyota Prius, the popular hybrid car.
And at the other end of the spectrum, if you want to squander all your dollars, you can't do a better job of flushing them away than by buying the Nissan Armada, a giant SUV, CR says as part of its annual Best New-Car Value analysis.
For Prius, it's a second straight win on the magazine’s best-value list, having unseated the Honda Fit from the title it held for four straight years. The magazine lauds it as having the right combination of performance, reliability and low estimated five-year ownership costs at 47 cents per mile.
“Prius' 44 (m.p.g.) overall is the best fuel economy of any non-plug-in car that Consumer Reports has tested,” said Consumer Reports Automotive Editor Rik Paul in a statement. “Though it's not particularly cheap to buy, the Prius' depreciation is so low that it costs less to own over the first five years than its initial (price). We call that a bargain.”
The consumer magazine says there is not a lot to love about Armada. It gets only 13 m.p.g. overall, scored poorly in Consumer Reports’' annual reliability survey and forces its owners to shell out $1.20 per mile to operate it, according to CR's analysis.
As for brands, Toyota and its luxury brand Lexus emerged the big winners. They had the top models in three of the 10 categories. Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited scored highest among large carsand Lexus ES 300h was top luxury car.
Vehicles from Subaru and Mazda also did well overall.
Reviewer: Toyota Prius PHV Lacks 'Sizzle'
Rob Rothwell 'admires' the plug-in version of the Prius, but thinks Ford's Fusion Energi offers the 'sizzle' and styling he wants.
The Province/Canada 19 Jul 2013
The electric car has many detractors. These self-proclaimed visionaries dismiss the fully electric car primarily due to its limited range between charging, which induces range anxiety.
Their argument is quickly losing steam — or should I poke the tiger and say “electricity” — since the emergence of plug-in hybrid vehicles, which fuse the electric vehicle with a conventional hybrid car to leverage the best they both have to offer.
Hybrid gets better
Toyota’s Prius is the bestselling hybrid automobile worldwide. That’s quite a distinction, which is bound to gain further notoriety with the production of the Prius Plug-in.
A plug-in hybrid provides extended range electric-only operation. Most people know that you can gently coax a kilometre or two of purely electric propulsion from your typical full-hybrid automobile.
I’ve done it, stealthily wending my way through the hood on side streets to save fuel.
With a plug-in hybrid, such as the Prius Plug-in and Ford’s Energi line of plug-in hybrids, the electric-only range has increased to double-digits in both distance and speed, adding a realistic element of electric-only usage.
In Toyota’s case, the Prius Plug-in will deliver up to 25 kilometres of gas-free driving at speeds up to 100 km/h on a full-charge (using a level II charger) before switching to conventional hybrid operation.
That’s a game-changer in the industry, and cause for re-evaluation of the projected payback over a less expensive, less fuel-efficient ordinary vehicle.
If a person’s commute is relatively short, all or much of it may be achievable on battery power alone. That could translate into exceptionally long intervals between fill ups, dramatically shortening the projected payback period. In my little world, those intervals would probably coincide with the passing of Hailey’s Comet. My driving distances are generally brief unless hitting the road for a motoring adventure.
Of course, the particulars of each person’s fuel consumption patterns, along with other influencing variables, will determine where the break-even point is. I don’t see the price of petrol dropping any time soon, so the road to savings may be shorter than expected.
I’m told that it costs approximately 28 cents to fully charge the Prius Plug-in. That makes the first 25 km of driving post charge about the most inexpensive half-marathon or more one can travel in a remarkably comfortable car with the ability to carry four passengers.
And let’s not dismiss the sense of altruism that accompanies an emissions-free drive; that may be priceless, especially if cleanly-generated electricity is sourced to load the vehicle’s lithium-ion battery.
The base price of the Prius Plug-in, which is acclaimed as the lowest MSRP in Canada for a plug-in hybrid, is $35,700. The availability of Clean Energy Vehicle incentives in some provinces at the point of sale may significantly offset the cost of placing a plug-in hybrid in the garage.
In British Columbia, that offset knocks $2,500 off the pre-tax purchase price of a Prius Plug-in; similar incentives apply to leasing as well. Given the steep “as tested” $40,935 MSRP of this week’s electrified First Steer, anything lopped from the top is welcomed.
My tester was equipped with Toyota’s Technology Package, adding $5,235 to the base sticker.
That’s a pricey box to tick, but it includes premium JBL audio, voice-activated navigation, adaptive cruise control, LED headlamps and Toyota’s Pre-Collision warning system. Even without the Tech Package, the Prius Plug-in is generously appointed.
Driving the Prius Plug-in isn’t an exciting venture. It is, however, rather calming and reassuring thanks to notably quiet operation in both electric and hybrid modes, and the absence of range anxiety.
An overnight charge in my garage using a standard 110-volt outlet netted me a low of 17 km and a high of 20 km of electric-only driving before converting to conventional hybrid operation.
That’s considerably less than the 30 km I was able to accrue overnight when I tested the Fusion Energi, which along with the C-Max Energi is Ford’s foray into the plug-in hybrid market.
The Prius Plug-in may not offer the same generous electric-only return of the Energi siblings but it claims a quicker recharge time of only 90 minutes using a level II (220 volt) charging outlet, and three hours drawing from regular household current.
Many attributes but ...
From a technological standpoint, the Prius Plug-in is a cutting-edge example of a modern automobile blending practicality with real-world sustainability. I admire it for that and for its ability to transport a family in comfort while minimizing its reliance on fossil fuel. But I want a little more style and sizzle in my ride. Ford seems to have achieved this with the Fusion Energi. It’s similarly priced and doesn’t require a pocket protector for ownership.
2013 Prius Plug-in Hybrid
Pricing: $35,700 - $40,935
Power: 134 horsepower hybrid operation
Fuel Economy (hybrid operation): 3.7L/100km / 4.0L/100km city / highway
Basic Warranty: 3 years/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty: 5 years/ 100,000 km
Hybrid Unique Components: 8 years /160,000 km
What We Learned Driving Our 2003 Prius For 10 Years
After 10 years and 115,000 miles, Scott Burns, recounts his family's experiences with their 'pre-iconic' 2003 Toyota Prius hybrid.
Houston Chronicle 15 May 2013
It's hard to believe, but it has been 10 years since I bought a funny-looking car, the 2003 Prius.
It was the first model, a tiny sedan. It looks nothing like the now-iconic 2004 Prius, which was introduced a few months later.
Our pre-iconic, subcompact Prius has 115,000 miles on it and is still a bright, un-dinged metallic green.
It has covered that distance at about 43 miles per gallon. During the 10 years, it has needed only one expensive repair. It has been trouble-free year after year, and it has been happy wherever we've taken it, from aggressive Dallas traffic to long stretches of remote New Mexico roads.
It has been a practical companion to the inevitable sport utility vehicle that occupies the rest of our garage.
Not done yet
In a few weeks we will give it to our 16-year-old granddaughter. My wife and I hope she will be driving the car until she finishes college.
Some of the 2003 Priuses advertised on autotrader.com give us hope that the car is good for the distance.
As I write this, for instance, one is listed with 178,519 miles. Another has 153,072 miles, and still another has 140,229.
So unless she gets into Dean Moriarty-like road trips, the odds are pretty good it will do the job.
What have we learned during the last 10 years? A bunch.
First, the worries many people had about the batteries that enable much of the fuel efficiency of hybrids were unjustified. Ours is still going strong. I've also met multiple owners who have never replaced the battery and have far more miles on their car than we have on ours.
This is important. Early naysayers claimed that every dime saved in fuel would be spent on replacement batteries.
We've burned about 2,700 gallons of regular gasoline during those 10 years.
A comparable size non-hybrid car would have burned about a thousand gallons more.
So our fuel saving was about $3,300 and about 7.8 cents a mile. I also figure the car, which was $20,000 new, has lost about $13,500 in value. That would make depreciation about 12 cents a mile, or $1,350 a year.
Perhaps you can burn less gas and suffer less depreciation, but there are no obvious examples.
According to the AAA, for instance, the cost of gasoline for a typical small sedan is 14.5 cents a mile.
The AAA also figures the cost of depreciation at 15.2 cents a mile. The 10-cent lower cost per mile of the Prius implies a 10-year savings of $11,500 - not bad for driving a car that is quieter and smoother (because it has a continuous variable transmission) than most small cars.
Other choices now
I will leave to readers whether a Prius is a good car to "wear." Driving a Prius can give you a deep sense of automotive inadequacy in the tonier areas of Dallas or Houston.
My wife has worried about being crushed by a Ford F-250 while in the Tractor Supply parking lot. We've both happily balanced those awkward feelings with the ease of sliding into small parking spots throughout the known universe.
The good news today is that car buyers have a lot of choices if they want to drive a fuel-efficient car.
Prius, improved and still iconic, faces a veritable armada of competition.
A lot of it is made in the USA. The new Ford C-Max, for instance, is larger and more fun to drive than a Prius, and also less expensive, even if it doesn't get the claimed 47 miles per gallon. If you want to go lux, the $42,000 Lexus ES300h is a really nice way to get 40 miles per gallon.
Then again, a tricked-out Ford Fusion hybrid has the looks to get in the ring against the Lexus.
You can explore and compare all the possibilities of hybrid by visiting fueleconomy.gov.
While comparing, you'll probably notice that it's pretty easy to find a high-mpg conventional car. The diesel offerings are growing, too.
Finding a new Fit
What did we buy to replace the 2003 Prius? A new Honda Fit, Sport model.
It doesn't get the 40-plus miles per gallon of a hybrid, but at $20,000 it cost about $10,000 less than most hybrids. It's also fun to drive, has great visibility and very flexible seating/storage.
We figure the $10,000 difference will buy a lot of gasoline.
Plug-In Might Be Toyota's Best Prius
Silvio Calabi test drives Toyota's Prius Plug-in and finds it delivers on its promise of high fuel economy, but at a significant price that tops out above $40,000.
Daily News Transcript 19 Nov 2012
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?
Every Prius, you’ll recall, has a 4-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor, plus a big bank of batteries. Both motors are connected to the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission and both are controlled by a complex computer program. The computer decides from moment to moment whether the car should run on gas, on electricity or on both, and when it’s time for the gas engine to recharge the batteries. It also shuts off the gas engine whenever the car stops—at intersections, for example—and then instantly starts it again, as needed. What sets the Plug-in apart from other Priuses is that the batteries can be topped up in a couple of hours on household current, as opposed to being recharged only while the car is underway. This should extend the range of what’s in the gas tank.
When we unplug the Prius and start it—or activate it, since the gas engine doesn’t light up, at least right away—the dashboard indicates that 10 to 12 miles of electric propulsion are possible. OK, time to go sneak up on pedestrians in run-silent, nuclear-sub mode. But no; each time I rolled out of the driveway, the internal-combustion engine started almost immediately, no matter how gingerly I toed the throttle.
I was unable to go more than a mile or two on electricity only, mostly downhill, whereas the pre-production mule would go a dozen miles or so, at speeds up to about 45 miles per hour, before running out of juice and shifting to gasoline. But that was in June and it is now November—fully 50 degrees colder, with all the extra friction that this brings.
Still, at a computer-indicated average of 45 MPH the Plug-in Prius still delivered 51 miles per gallon overall. This included several hundred interstate miles with the cruise control set at 77 MPH, making this the best highway fuel efficiency I’ve ever experienced. Had I stuck to driving around town, the car might have hit Toyota’s predicted 94 miles per gallon, especially when it warmed up. (The mule gave me 84.1 MPG in town.)
The bad news? This car costs $40,628. Even after federal and any state income-tax credits, that’s big money for an econo-car, even one with all this standard equipment. It might not come back in savings at the pump, at least until gas hits $5 a gallon again, but what price do we put on spewing less carbon into the atmosphere?
Toyota Lends Gamesa Prius PHV for Tests In Spain
Plug-in hybrid Prius will be used by Spain's leading wind turbine manufacturer over six month period to test viability of its technology in Spain.
CleanTechnica 26 Apr 2012
Increasingly, it seems, wind and solar energy companies are teaming up with car companies to advance electric vehicles (EVs) and clean power. Just earlier today I shared news of a SolarCity–Tesla partnership to advance off-grid living. We’ve also got news that Spanish wind company Gamesa, a world leader, and Toyota Spain are teaming up to advance EV uptake in Spain.
“Toyota Spain is lending Gamesa a plug-in hybrid vehicle for a six-month period so it can test and verify the car’s technology, identify potential limiting factors and analyse its charging requirements in order to facilitate the mass market rollout of vehicles of this nature in Spain in the near term,” Gamesa writes.
The folks at Gamesa will be test driving the Prius Plug-in Hybrid for Toyota. It will do so in both an urban environment and at one of the company’s wind farms.
“During the pilot period, Gamesa will share the data compiled during the vehicle’s test drives regarding the car’s technology and energy saving performance with Toyota Spain in order to furnish information for the Movele initiative, coordinated by the IDAE (acronym in Spanish for the institute for energy diversification and savings), of which Toyota is a member. This initiative is working on demonstrating the technical, energy and financial viability of this class of cars.”
Why Pick the Prius Plug-In Over Volt or Leaf
John Voelcker explains the rationale for going with the new plug-in version of the Prius.
Green Car Reportss 05 Mar 2012
Last month, Toyota said that it had 2,100 pre-orders for the 2012 Prius Plug-In Hybrid.
Now, with first sales of that car being logged this week and dozens of them delivered to dealers, we have a third viable, high-volume plug-in car available to U.S. buyers.
Consumers can now buy a pure battery electric vehicle (the Nissan Leaf), a range-extended electric (the Chevy Volt), or the first plug-in hybrid (the plug-in Prius).
Their EPA electric ranges are 73 miles for the Leaf, 35 miles for the Volt, and 11 miles for the Prius Plug-In. Each is priced between $32,500 and $40,000 before incentives.
Given all that, we'll be very curious to see what the sales mix of these three plug-ins turns out to be--and how buyers evaluate each car against the other two.
One reader and early buyer of a Prius Plug-In Advanced model, Jim Bradbury of Rowlett, Texas, agreed to share his thoughts with us:
I test drove a Nissan Leaf, which is a little small. The range anxiety kept me from buying one. I liked its dash and the futuristic sounds.
It's nice to know I can drive the Plug-In Prius across country, and where there IS a charging station along the way, I can charge up and save a little gas.
What helped make the decision against the Leaf is the fact that DFW Airport is 43 miles from my home. I can't make it there and back in a Leaf, even on a full charge, but I can in the Plug-In Prius.
As for the Chevrolet Volt, I test-drove it. It's only a four-seater; the Prius has five seats. And I'm a big guy, so it was harder for me to get in and out of the Volt. There's more headroom in a Prius than a Volt.
While the Volt will go up to 40 miles in electric mode, the engine doesn't drive the wheels, and the Volt only gets 36 miles per gallon when it runs out of battery--while the Prius Plug-In gets 50 MPG.
Finally, the Chevy Volt looks too much like an ordinary car. The Prius Plug-In and Leaf are both unique looking and make a statement about "Being Green". The Volt looks too much like a Chevy Cruze, and the average person doesn't notice the difference.
But the Leaf and the Volt are both good cars. I spent a lot of time looking at the cars and their features. I have test driven a Prius twice now, and it's a fun car to drive.
I wish the Prius had a bigger battery so it could go 20 miles or more in all-electric mode, but it's only 3 miles from my home to the grocery store, the bank, and the post office.
So, the 11+ miles of electric range for the Plug-In Prius is adequate to run those errands in pure EV mode.
I teach at a community college 11 miles from the house. There are charging stations at a recreation center 2 miles from the college where I can charge my car on the way home while I exercise. I won't use much gas on those 23-mile round trips.
I'm a Digital Systems Engineer and I like the Prius from an engineering perspective. The regular hybrid Prius has been around for 13 years, and has a proven track record for quality and reliability.
And there you have it: one man's clearly articulated reasons for choosing the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid over a Leaf or a Volt.
What about you? How do your travel patterns and views of the three cars' relative merits differ?
Chevy Volt Versus Prius PHV: Which Is Better?
David Magee sees new plug-in Prius plug-in giving GM's Volt a 'big run for its money.'
Int'l Business Times 21 Sep 2011
The Toyota Plug-in Hyrbrid Prius just announced by the company will be the first alternative to pure gasoline combustion automotive engines that provides the best of plug-in and hybrid combined in one.
Sure, the Chevrolet Volt is more plug-in than hybrid, and Nissan's Leaf is all plug-in, with zero emissions, but the new Prius will offer the best combination of both technologies -- and it will cost some $8,000 less than the Volt.
The newest version of the Prius, announced late last week from Toyota, will get more fuel efficiency, and longer electric range, while selling at a lower price that competitive pure electric or range-extender vehicles including the Volt and the Leaf. In hybrid mode, the car is estimated to get 49 miles per gallon -- near the same as current Prius models.
Thus, the biggest difference is the extended electric range allowed via plug-in.
Two models will be available, including the Plug-in Hybrid base model for $32,000 MSRP and the Plug-in Hybrid Advanced, with premium features, for $39,525 MSRP. Both models are expected to qualify for the $2,500 federal tax credit.
Initially, Toyota's new hybrid will only be available in 14 states, beginning in October. Those states include: California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia. The company will have a national roll out of the new Prius Plug-in hybrid in 2013, the company said.
Toyota's new car promises to become a competitive handful for Chevy's Volt, costing less and effectively mixing both hybrid and plug-in. The Volt, which gets good reviews, runs father on electric power -- some 25 miles or more. And that's one major advantage for the Volt.
But even though the Plug-in Hybrid Prius will only run about 15 miles on just electricity, the electric engine can be charged in three hours while the Volt requires 10 to 12 hours of charging when a standard home connection is used.
Another advantage for Prius is that the car was the first mass produced hybrid to find success in the U.S. -- and the brand already has a long, successful customer following considering Toyota invested almost $1 billion to develop and launch the Prius in the 1990s while U.S. automakers focused on gas-guzzling SUVs.
Nissan is trying to establish its all-electric Leaf in the same way -- leaving out the hybrid while attempting to leapfrog straight to pure plug-in. And while reviews and sales of the Leaf have been good, the fact that the car does not use hybrid technology leaves it out of the competitive race now on between Toyota's Plug-in Hybrid Prius and the Chevrolet Volt.
GM has a lot invested in the Volt, but with a lower price, an established brand and Toyota's leading hybrid technology -- the Plug-in Prius will give the Volt a big run for its money.
Plug-In Prius Pays Off at the Pump
Steve Schaefer with San Leandro Times tries the plug-in Prius for his daily commute finding it delivered 6 mpg better economy than standard model.
Castro Valley Forum 04 Jul 2011
Over the last decade, the Toyota Prius has become America’s most recognized hybrid vehicle. Its popularity comes from being a roomy, five-passenger car that’s normal to drive but that delivers the best fuel economy — and cleanest emissions — of any car that uses gasoline. Despite other companies’ entries in the marketplace, the Prius is the “Kleenex” of hybrids — the acknowledged leader whose name is practically synonymous with the product.
Well, the marketplace has matured, and today, people want a little more from their green vehicles. The new Chevrolet Volt and Nissan LEAF offer new ways to drive environmentally. The Volt is a plug-in hybrid that you can charge and drive up to 40 miles before using gasoline. The LEAF is an all-electric vehicle, whose only limitation is range. It goes less than 100 miles on a charge and has no alternative means if you run out.
Toyota is introducing a plug-in version of the Prius. Recently, I was one of the lucky journalists who got to spend a week driving the Prius PHV (Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle). Like all hybrid cars, the PHV is a compromise, but it solves the problem of all-electric vehicles, which could strand you if you happen to run out of juice out on the road. There’s no AAA truck that can deliver a gallon of electricity if you run out.
The Prius PHV looks and feels just like a Prius, because that’s essentially what it is. My tester was part of a small fleet that’s being offered to journalists and some other fortunate folks in the parts of the country that will sell the car next year. It has prominent decals on it that will not be part of the production vehicle (although Toyota might be smart to offer them as an option).
The Prius, in any form, is not sporty but is quite solid and quiet, going about its duties without complaint. However, rather than simply using electricity that it generates itself, the PHV has a great big lithium ion battery where the spare tire would normally live that takes a charge that will last you about 13 miles at up to 60 miles per hour. If you live six miles from work, it’s possible you could travel gas free.
My commute is 22 miles, but I was able to drive the first seven miles — all on city streets — completely on electricity. Also, the car switched into electricity-only mode for significant periods of time on the freeway under conditions that didn’t require strong acceleration.
Electronic gauges at the front of the dash, below the windshield, let you monitor your fuel consumption and display where the power for moving the car is coming from. You can watch the motor working — or the engine — or both — or neither, if you’re stopped at a light. And, you can see how much electricity remains.
It was exciting to zoom along blissfully in silence for nearly 15 minutes without using a drop of fuel. But, the show always came to an end eventually and it was back to plain hybrid life — which isn’t all that bad, really. The thing is, with this car, even more than with the standard Prius, the game becomes, how far can I go before the engine turns on?
I was able to extend a little farther each day by adopting smart driving practices. I accelerated gently, using less power, and braked often, which charges up the battery. I coasted when I could. I stayed at or just below 65 miles per hour on the freeway (yeah, I kept to the right lane).
Plugging in to charge was easy, but of course I had to remember to do it. I ran the heavy cord out of my garage and into the plug, which sits behind a door in the left front fender. The battery charges fully in just three hours on normal household 110 volt current.
Pricing is likely to be in the low to mid $30,000 range. The car’s due out next spring, but folks are already signing up for their Prius PHV now. Go to www.toyota.com/upcoming-vehicles/prius-plug-in/ to register to be one of the first owners.
At the end of my test week, I had averaged 55.8 miles per gallon — about 6 mpg better than a normal Prius. One of the instrument panel screens shows what percentage of the time the car was an “EV” or a hybrid. Driving 44 miles a day, plus various other small trips, about 11 percent of my travel was as a pure electric vehicle. However, someone else who drives on short jaunts every day could possibly turn that number around and drive 89 percent electric. Then the Prius PHV would really pay off.
Plug-In Prius Runs Short on Range
Chicago Tribune does test drive of plug-in Prius demonstrator and finds battery depleting at 10 miles.
Chicago Tribune 16 May 2011
Toyota is going to battle General Motors' Chevy Volt in the plug-in battery car segment with a special edition Prius.
No need to polish the artillery or load the weapons yet, however, since the Volt is sold in limited parts of the U.S. now, but the Prius plug-in won't bow until early 2012.
There's another difference between the rivals that consumers have to consider — and that's range.
The Volt can travel up to 50 miles in battery-only mode before a small gas engine comes into play to power a generator to create electricity to keep the car going 300 more miles.
But the Prius plug-in is limited to a mere 13 miles before the battery hiatus, and the car then goes into hybrid mode with a 1.8-liter gas engine teamed with a separate lithium ion battery pack.
Charging the Prius takes 3 hours using 110 volts or 1.7 hours using a 220-volt outlet. The Volt charges in 10-12 hours at 110 volts, 4 hours at 220.
We found firsthand that 13 miles is optimistic, especially in cold weather. When testing a Prius plug-in prototype, we got only 10 miles before the battery pack expired.
To replenish the energy supply at home that night, we removed the heavy and stiff 3-pronged charging cord with a big metal power box outside of its carrying case and plugged it into the front porch 110-volt outlet. A power box light signaled the unit was ready to plug into the car, which meant pulling the car onto the lawn so the cord would reach the socket behind the door cover in the left front fender.
Toyota better have a lock on that door on the production model to keep vandals from tampering with that lifeblood socket.
It would have been easier if the car was plugged into the wall socket within the garage, but the wife's car and assorted boxes ruled that out.
And nope, you can't run an extension cord from home, porch or garage out to the driveway or street — even if you have dibs — and plug the recharger cord into it and then into the fender socket since an extension cord can't handle the heat.
While getting 13 miles without gas is rewarding, it's not much of a jaunt in a car.
Toyota says 13 miles is better than nothing, and while not revealing battery-pack cost, says its system is much cheaper than the $14,000 estimate for GM's unit.
Besides, Toyota notes, when the battery pack is drained, the gas engine ensures about 400 miles of motoring before having to recharge. If consumers eventually demand more than 13 miles, range can increase, Toyota says. Higher-power, lower-cost, longer-range batteries are being developed.
For now, 13 miles is more realistic in Arizona than Chicago.
The plug-in initially will be offered in 14 states (Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Virginia and New Hampshire) where nearly 60 percent of all Prius models are currently sold and either boast warm weather or very strict emissions regulations on gas-powered cars. Snow Belt states wait another year.
No price yet on the car that starts at $24,000 to $28,000 without the plug-in feature, nor any mileage rating, though it should top the 51 mpg city/48 mpg highway of the current Prius hybrid without plug-in battery capability.
Plug-In Prius Prototype Has Room for Improvement
Irish journalist gets to test Prius PHV electric hybrid, but is disappointed by its 'miniscule' electric range.
Independent/Ireland 24 Jan 2011
SHORTLY before Christmas, an electrician arrived at my home to put a special socket on its own circuit in my garage. It would work off the mains but would enable me to safely charge electric cars.
I was very excited. The house which had been built before there were such things as automobiles would now be ready for the next stage of their evolution. I proudly showed off the socket to visitors and family alike. I could hardly wait until some 12 days ago when I would pick up the first vehicle which I could plug in to recharge.
As so often -- and despite an awful lot of experience -- my enthusiasm didn't prepare me for the eventual let down.
I was picking up the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid which tries to be the best of all worlds by having an electric motor, the 1.8 litre petrol engine, a generator and the high-performance lithium-ion battery which is larger than the one in the normal Prius so that it can be plugged in and recharged from an external source.
The electric motor alone powers the drive wheels when the car is operating in EV (electric vehicle) mode. This range unfortunately is only 20km at the very most. However, once the EV battery charge has been consumed the car automatically operates as a full hybrid until recharged from an external supply. This, of course, gets over the limited range constraints of a conventional EV. However, there is a cost element and many people will wonder why they should bother for 20km. Yet, the use of the recharging system enables CO2 emissions to come down to just 59g/km and combined fuel consumption to 30 per cent less than the conventional Prius.
And remember that that 20km range is very much on the optimistic side. Air-conditioning, lights and even the on-board computer are going to take their cut. The bar chart showing the range very visibly shrinks every minute. As my foot and driving style got lighter, I was able to get a bit more out of the car before the rest of the system kicked in but my first trip from Park West off Dublin's Naas Road to Talbot Street exhausted the charge as did school trips from Phibsborough on Dublin's northside to Rathgar on the southside. It does charge up, to give another 20km range, in about 90 minutes or around 80 per cent of the range in about a third of the time. But that basically means finding an on-street or forecourt charge point or returning the car to your garage or drive and plugging it in.
As somebody whose intellectual energy was sidetracked by the Eagle magazine and its massive centrespread cross-section of tanks, warships and planes, the Prius was like a second coming. Various displays will tell you what part of the energy source is driving the car, what percentage of your journeys have been done using such and such a system and what your consumption is minute by minute or the consequences of a heavy foot on the accelerator.
The Prius is also very well-equipped with Bluetooth, sat nav and other creature comforts although as said before, you can graphically see them affecting the energy source. It has now put its early evolvement as a rather boxy, uncomfortable but right-on green vehicle firmly behind it and become a comfortable family saloon in its own right.
Even with government subsidies, hybrid and electric vehicles aren't cheap and the Plug-in Prius will have a considerable premium of around €4,000 on the ordinary Prius models which come in at €27,125 for the basic model and another €1,200 for the luxury edition.
The Plug-in Prius is interesting and good but it is probably too much of a test-bed as part of a demonstration programme than the finished article which will be brought to the market in 2012. The miniscule range is just ridiculous despite the company quoting statistics that the average daily commuting journey is just 15.8km. However, Toyota must be congratulated on always marching forward with their technology since the first Prius (which means "to go before" in Latin) was launched in 1997. The car has become the darling of the concerned Hollywood fraternity and a total of 2.8 million hybrid vehicles have been sold by the company worldwide, accounting for about 80 per cent of the global hybrid sales.
There is no doubt that electric power will be very much part of the mix in powering vehicles in the future and I believe the plug in my garage will be increasingly used -- at least I hope it will. But there needs to be more work before this Prius makes it in its own right as compared to the conventional petrol/battery hybrid. But it is getting there. As ever the optimist, I look forward to 2012.
Driving Toyota's Prius PHV Electric Hybrid
Winding Road takes electric hybrid version of the Prius finding that it makes 'sense for commuters that can take advantage of its abilities.'
Winding Road 21 Jan 2011
If there has been one trend that has heavily influenced the automotive industry, it has been the march towards increased environmental responsibility, and consequently increased fuel economy. This effect was especially noticeable at this year’s North American International Auto Show, where both Porsche and Mercedes-Benz displayed hybrid-electric supercars (Porsche 918 RSR, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG E-Cell).
While it certainly isn’t as sexy as an SLS, Toyota’s Prius PHV, which was on hand in Detroit, is arguably more important. Not only is it Toyota’s first plug-in hybrid, it is a representation of a hybrid class that should grow considerably in the next few years. And, Toyota isn’t the only manufacturer with a plug-in on the way; Ford has already announced a PHV version of its C-Max people mover.
Our PHV was part of a fleet of 150 cars in the United States (and another 350 worldwide) that Toyota has been loaning to members of the media as well as government agencies and utility companies for testing. The data that is being collected from these cars will be used to perfect the production models when they arrive sometime in 2012.
In reality, the Prius PHV differs mechanically and dynamically only slightly from the third-generation car that it’s based on. The biggest mechanical change centers around the battery pack, with the single nickel metal hydride battery being replaced by an advanced lithium-ion batteries.
Lithium-ion batteries have a considerably higher energy density than traditional NiMH batteries, which makes them a better option for the high demands of the electric drivetrains in plug-ins and EVs. The Prius PHV uses three batteries, two of which are dedicated to the EV mode, while the last pack functions as a normal part of the hybrid system.
The standard Prius allows drivers to press a button for EV mode, and drive for about a mile under electric power. The PHV, when fully charged, extends that EV range to 13 miles, and to a theoretical top speed of 61 miles per hour (before the gas engine switches on). Charging with a 110-volt outlet takes about three hours, while a more powerful 220-volt setup will fill up the batteries in about half the time. Once the batteries run out of juice, the PHV reverts a normal hybrid mode, and according to Toyota, will hit about 50 miles per gallon.
The downside to this setup is that the PHV weights about 300 pounds more than the standard car, which certainly didn’t help with handling. When we last drove the third-generation Prius back in Winding Road Issue 45, we were pleased with the dynamic improvements that were made between generations. The steering had more feel to it, and while it was hardly an Ariel Atom, the Prius was at least capable of hitting corners at speed.
Those feelings of confidence go away when you drop so much extra weight into the car. The Prius still had decent steering feel, but we really noticed the weight shifting about when we pushed it. The standard Prius felt lighter on its feet and more agile than the PHV.
During a recent, long, and wintry weekend, we covered a total of 278 miles, with an average trip length of 18.5 miles. We will cut the drama and just come out and say it; the mileage we saw wasn’t what we were expecting. The third-generation Prius carries and EPA rating of 50 mpg on the highway (we were able to hypermile the car to over 70 mpg during the launch event), so we’d assumed that 50-plus would be easy for the PHV. And yet, we could only muster 45.6 miles per gallon over our long weekend, with one trip netting a high of 51.3 miles per gallon. Now, we don’t think this is all down to the car. Hybrids tend to get the best mileage in low-speed, urban conditions, where the drivers can use electric power for gentle acceleration and start/stop technology when at a standstill. Driving on freeways and at constant speeds (the majority of our driving) forces the gas engine to kick in, nullifying the advantage of a hybrid drivetrain.
This likely had a good deal to do with our relatively poor numbers. We were rarely presented with conditions where we could use the Prius’s natural advantages to generate the best economy numbers. Even driving around in Eco Mode netted little in the way of economy. The weather certainly wasn’t on our side either, as we were experiencing some of the chilliest days of the Michigan winter (so far) during our test.
We suspect that the twenty-degree temperatures had a significant impact on the performance of the batteries. We never saw Toyota’s claimed thirteen miles of EV power; we usually only made it about seven or eight before the engine kicked to life. Even driving the car in Eco Mode (which we did for the majority of our time with it), we found it difficult to keep the car in EV mode. It would often power up the engine of its own accord, and with no way of forcing the car into EV mode, we were really at the mercy of the computers.
Oddly, with careful throttle inputs, we were able to exceed Toyota’s 61-mph speed limit in EV mode. More than once, we hopped on the freeway with a full charge and once up to speed, comfortably cruised at 70 mph on nothing but electricity. This kind of treatment did drain the battery quicker than usual, but for short jaunts down I-75, it was fine.
While the mileage certainly wasn’t what we were hoping for, we have to commend Toyota on just how normal the PHV feels. Even when fully charged, it drives just like a normal Prius. The transition between pure EV and hybrid is extremely smooth. In fact, most Prius owners probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference from behind the wheel.
According to a 2007 report by ABC News, the average American commute is about sixteen miles, which is just a bit beyond the Prius PHV’s range. Assuming the driver gets the full thirteen miles of battery power, and could recharge their batteries at work, they would still only travel about six miles per day (or thirty miles per five-day work week) on gasoline. Even with the relatively poor numbers that we saw, that figures to be only about two-thirds of a gallon of fuel per workweek.
That’s pretty outstanding, but it gets better. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the average new car sold in the United States in 2009 (the most recent data available) can achieve 32.6 miles per gallon. Using the same sixteen-mile trip to work means that the average driver will be going through a gallon of fuel per day, and five gallons per week. So even though we didn’t have the greatest experience with the PHV, it still makes a great deal of sense for commuters that can take advantage of its abilities.
2012 Toyota Prius PHV
Engine: Lithium-ion battery with electric motor, I-4, 1.8 liter, 16v
Output: 178 hp/256 lb-ft
Weight: 3350 lb (est.)
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 48/51 mpg (est.)
On Sale: 2012
First Generation Prius Still 'Young' After 206,000 Miles
Consumer Reports borrows 2002 model and finds its performance similar to new when it was new.
Consumer Report 20 Jan 2011
To see whether an aging Toyota Prius has lost a step, we borrowed a 2002 model with 206,000 miles on the odometer. Then we put it through some of the same tests we ran almost exactly 10 years earlier on a nearly identical 2001 tested car with 2,000 miles. We checked whether the battery had worn down, which would be expensive to fix because a new one costs $2,300 to $2,600 from a dealer (more like $500 from a salvage yard). We timed acceleration. And we determined whether the mpg was as high in the aged car as it had been in the new one.
Gas mileage in the old Prius was virtually the same as it had been in the new. Acceleration was just slightly slower, which could have been due to weather or to the fact that the old car wasn't tuned up. Specifics are in the table below. Testers who drove the older car said it drove essentially identically to the one tested 10 years ago, and it had no squeaks or rattles.
The Prius that traveled 206,000 miles still acts like a youngster. Its expensive battery has not worn out, and its performance was similar to that of a new Prius tested 10 years ago.
Prius Best Selling Toyota Model in Japan in 2010
Company sells 315,000 units, besting Corolla for first time in 20 years.
Japan Today/Japan 20 Jan 2011
Toyota Motor Corp sold more than 315,000 units of its Prius gas-electric hybrid in Japan in 2010, making the car the nation’s bestselling vehicle for a single year to replace the automaker’s Corolla for the first time in 20 years.
The previous annual record marked by the Corolla was about 300,000 units of sales in 1990.
On the back of the government’s subsidies and tax incentives for environmentally friendly cars, the Prius sold strongly also with its high gas mileage and relatively cheap price compared with conventional hybrid cars.
While domestic new vehicle sales are believed to have totaled less than 5 million in 2010, compared with some 7.78 million in 1990 when Corolla marked the previous record sales, the Prius’ favorable sales suggest consumers’ increasing preference for greener cars.
Prius sales through November last year totaled 297,563 units. As of Dec 28, the car marked another 18,000 units of sales, marking record sales of new vehicles in Japan for a single year.
Specific numbers of sales will be announced by industry bodies such as the Japan Automobile Dealers Association on Jan 11.
In December alone, the Prius is estimated to have remained the best seller for the 19th consecutive month, but its sales were down about 20 percent from a year earlier, following the September end of the government’s program to offer subsidies for the purchase of ecologically friendly cars.
Toyota's Prius Is Still King of the Hybrids
Orange County Register's Matt Degen finally takes a spin in third general Prius.
OC Register 01 Jan 2011
How is it that I’ve driven every kind of “green” and alt-fuel car imaginable, yet hadn’t set foot in Toyota’s latest Prius? In the past year I’ve piloted everything from a right-hand-drive, Japanese-spec Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric vehicle to Honda’s hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity, not to mention various diesels and the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf. Yet somehow I hadn’t gotten around to reviewing the car that is synonymous with the word “hybrid.”
That finally changed when I test-drove the all-new, third-generation Toyota Prius, and after a week in the thing, I can see what all the hoopla is about.
I mean, 50 miles per gallon, seriously? Yes, seriously.
And, perhaps more importantly, this high-mileage champ feels, functions and drives like a really good car. I can see why Toyota has sold so many of these things (during a decade in the U.S., it is the most popular hybrid with over 800,000 sold), and why it feels so far ahead of its competitors.
For 2010, the Prius received a makeover, growing a little roomier and offering even better gas mileage than the second-generation, which was made from 2004 to 2009. This latest version is rated at 51 mpg city/48 highway, with the combined rating hitting that magic five-0 figure.
According to the EPA, the Toyota Prius is the most fuel-efficient car on the road. To drive the car 25 miles costs $1.49, according to the government agency, and annual fuel cost for 15,000 miles is pegged at $894 with a gallon costing $2.98. Here in Orange County, we’re paying an even higher price than that, and if trends continue, that cost will only be heading north.
The five-passenger, front-wheel-drive Prius hatchback attains its amazing mileage via a system that uses both a 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor. The car can run on the gas engine alone, battery alone powering the electric motor, or a combination of both.
The gas engine is good for 98 horsepower and the electric motor kicks in a few dozen more, making for total horsepower of 134. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but the Prius does just fine, even when hustling to freeway speeds.
I was initially wary of this, thinking the Prius would be very pokey and put me at risk of whatever was flying down the freeway as I got up to speed. As it turned out, the worry was for naught (Toyota pegs its 0-60 mph time at 9.8 seconds).
Still, just to be safe I put the Prius in “power” mode when launching up particularly short on-ramps. The mode allows for extra gusto when accelerating or passing, just as the “eco” mode tones things down to eke out maximum fuel economy. There’s an EV mode, too, that allows you to drive on battery power alone for about a mile. Maybe that’s helpful if you run out of gas?
There’s also a “B” engine-braking option on the gear shift that helps slow the car when traveling down steep grades and provides additional regenerative brake energy.
For the most part, I just kept the car in “normal” mode and traveled just fine.
The first thing I noticed driving back to Orange County from Toyota’s U.S. headquarters in Torrance is just how quiet and supple the Prius was, even at freeway speeds. All that wind-tunnel work that Toyota brags about definitely paid off.
For the price of this car (it starts around $23,560), it was quiet and drove very comfortably.
When first stepping into a Prius, the experience feels a little futuristic. There are all those screens showing details of the car’s power-management system, and then there’s that tiny nub of a shifter for the automatic transmission, which looks and feels like some kind of video game joystick. There’s not even a traditional parking brake lever, but rather a button one pushes to engage and disengage it.
My top-of-the-line Prius V model came in at $33,079 and was loaded with extras such as navigation (which was rather slow to respond), radar-based cruise-control and heated seats, whose under-dash activation button was hard to reach.
Still, almost immediately I felt comfortable in the vehicle, despite the visible differentiations and all the technology that was going on under the metal to get the gas mileage it does. By the end of the week, this car felt like any other, except that it just happened to get twice the fuel economy or better.
And therein lies its success: While it may still look quirky – “hybrid-y,” I dub it – the Prius feels like a normal car. If one didn’t watch the wizardry on the monitor that shows engine power seamlessly being directed from the wheels to the battery and so forth, you’d hardly know it was happening.
Things should be getting even more interesting for the Prius next year. In January, Toyota is set to unveil a “Prius family of vehicles” at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
After a week in this hybrid of hybrids and being consistently impressed with its fuel economy, driving behavior and utility, I can’t wait to see what Toyota cooks up for its coming line of gas-misers.
Future Prius Drivers Will Get Charged Up By PHV Option
The plug-in version of Prius has 21km blended EV range, which matches nicely with average 16km commute in Canada.
Montreal Gazette/Canada 26 Nov 2010
Electric car enthusiasts will get yet another driving option when Toyota releases the plug-in version of its popular Prius hybrid, expected by 2012.
It's a logical evolutionary step for those who may not be quite ready to go solo on electrical power, yet would like to do the majority of their driving on emissions-free electrical power. The Prius PHV (plug-in hybrid vehicle) has a driving range while only using electrical power of about 21 kilometres.
"In Canada, the average daily commute is about 16 kilometres," said Stephen Beatty, Toyota Canada managing director. This means the Prius could theoretically operate as a pure electric vehicle and never use its backup gasoline engine.
The big difference between Prius PHV and the current third-generation Prius is a lithium-ion battery pack that can be recharged from an external source.
"Lithium-ion gives better packaging efficiency compared to any other battery pack," said Beatty. So, even though it's a much larger capacity battery, there's only a small sacrifice in cargo space.
The lithium-ion battery fills the space under the cargo area where the spare wheel is located in the current Prius and an emergency kit is provided instead of a spare wheel.
The drive system is essentially the same as the current Prius, which allows both series and parallel operation. In other words, the gas engine can directly drive the wheels or the electric motor can directly drive the wheels, or it can use a combination of both.
The Chevrolet Volt, also due to arrive next year, is a series hybrid. An electric motor drives the wheels and the gas engine is used as an onboard generator to charge the battery pack. Not that any of this really matters too much to the average car owner, as long as the end result is the same.
The visible change to Prius PHV is, of course, that little door in the side of the front fender. Behind it is a standard SAE plug that allows the owner to hook up to either a (120-volt) electrical outlet or a fast-charge (240-volt) outlet.
A warning light appears on the dash to indicate that the charger is hooked up and it cannot be driven while this plug is attached. With a fully discharged battery, the Prius PHV will recharge in less than three hours when hooked up to a standard 120-volt outlet. Hooked up to a 240-volt outlet, it will recharge in less than 1.5 hours.
"A full charge equates to about 18 cents worth of electricity, based on current BC Hydro rates," said Beatty. So the savings are substantial in the EV mode, which is the default-mode of the Prius PHV. Top speed in EV mode, however, is about 100 km/h and above that it becomes a conventional hybrid.
New Zealand University Gets Pair of Prius Plug-In Hybrids
Toyota has shipped three Prius PHVs to New Zealand, with two to be trialed by Massey University.
North Shore Times/New Zeland 28 Sep 2010
New Zealand's first plug-in hybrid vehicle was unveiled at Massey University where it will be part of a three-year global trial.
Toyota New Zealand has received three of the 600 Plug-in Hybrid Prius and two of them will be trialled in Massey's vehicle fleet.
One will be based at the Albany campus and one at Palmerston North.
Toyota corporate account manager Jamie Hanna says the car plugs into a normal 240-volt powerpoint commonly found in the home.
It can travel as an electric-only vehicle for up to 30 kilometres, achieving highway speeds of up to 100 kilometres an hour.
For longer distances it functions as a conventional petrol-electric hybrid.
There are no fully electric plug-in cars in New Zealand.
Mr Hanna says there is no price on the car yet but it will likely cost around $50,000.
Massey University information systems associate professor and environmental committee member Dennis Viehland says the car falls into the university's plan to become more sustainable. He says the three Ps of sustainability are people, profit and planet and the car covers all three.
Massey's annual petrol bill is $240,000 which can be reduced through the use of this vehicle, he says.
He's excited about taking the car for a test run.
"I'm looking for a good excuse to take it for a drive," Mr Viehland says.
Test Driving the Prius PHV in Ireland
Admittedly 'lazy' test driver in Ireland finds excuses not to plug in the Prius.
Independent/Ireland 04 Aug 2010
By Eddie Cunningham
Imagine yourself stretched out on the couch for hours, blissfully alone with uninterrupted viewing of your favourite programmes.
Then a repeat of Oireachtas Report clunks on to the screen and you realise the remote control isn't working any more and there's no one around to physically change channels for you.
Somehow, the volume seems to increase by the minute. But you are so cosy, so comfy that the effort of leaving the nest is appalling. So you try to ignore the noise, snuggle down and cover your head with a cushion.
In effect you are balancing comfort/laziness against discomfort/activity for the rewards of change and choice. How long can you hang on?
I've been put on a similar spot with a new hi-tech car.
It is a new sort of Toyota Prius. I drove it as part of a global customer feedback sweep before they swing into full production for 2012.
Effectively you can charge it from your home socket -- if you'd only get up off the couch -- to get 20kms of 'pure' electric-vehicle driving.
By nature and nurture I think most of us are 'passive green' motorists.
But this has provided a glimpse of 'active green' driving.
And I'm here to tell you that I . . . . well, let's leave that for a minute.
Passive is so easy. Like lying on the couch.
It is one of the reasons film stars such as Cameron Diaz, Julia Roberts and Leonardo DiCaprio pour into and out of the Prius. It is a sort of emblem of their commitment to the so-called green dream.
But will they get up and plug in to the new active era?
As you know, the 'standard' Prius has a petrol engine, an electric motor, and a bank of batteries. They are all orchestrated by a central control unit which decides when the different components work solely or in combination.
It means you get 55mpg-plus quite easily (Toyota claim 10mpg or so more) because the petrol engine is not in use all the time.
The critical thing -- for me -- is that I don't have to do anything, except gloat about my fuel consumption figures. Incidentally, I do the same with diesels who rival such frugality.
But now this variation of the Prius will sift the committed from the passive, the couch green potatoes from the channel changers.
It's called a Prius Plug-in Hybrid. The plug-in bit is where you hook up to a socket in your home -- or anywhere -- for a maximum 90-minute charge that will cover 20kms for you.
It only takes a few seconds. Are you up for it?
That's the challenge I faced.
It is the same as the current Prius in every way -- looks, room, engine, equipment, hybrid drive the lot. Only it has a special connection point (neatly stowed away under a flap on the left front flank) and a seven-metre cable (in a bag in the boot) that allows you to charge it from an ordinary socket.
Ideally you cover the first 20kms on the strength of that electric charge. By my reckoning, that means my 40c or so worth of electricity covers each kilometre for 2c.
Then it is supposed to revert to its on-off petrol/electric motor hybrid routine.
About 13 kilometres after I took over, the engine kicked in -- fair enough, considering the way I was driving.
After a while, I got the seven-metre connection out of the boot and yoked it up. It was simple. I charged it at the house for an hour and a half (that gets you maximum boost in the lithium-ion batteries).
Technically I should not have used an extension cable; just straight to the plug. I think they might need to lengthen their cable.
Off I went again. I had around eight kilometres' worth consumed (there's a little metre to show you what's left) by the time I got to a friend's house (for tea and Twix bar). That involved ascending a fairly steep hill and the engine never kicked in once. This time we threaded the supplied cable through the side window of the house, had our tea, chatted, reminisced for 30 minutes and off I went with about 15kms' worth 'in the tank'. That got me around a lot. I thought I covered more than 15kms, probably because I was driving slowly and more evenly. Then the engine kicked in for a while, and then the electric motor took over and I was back in good old passive, green, hybrid driving mode as the sun set.
And then, frankly, I reverted to type. I didn't plug it in any more. I had more excuses than a politician on Oireachtas Report. It was raining. I was tired. I had my good clothes on. I'd do it later. None was true and the cable was spotless but I just hadn't got my head around 'active'.
Truth is, I am a lazy so-and-so who has become spoilt by technology doing everything for me. Even getting out the calculator to show how much money I could have saved didn't spring me from my doldrums.
I mean that 40c electric charge could save €500 a year, a €1,000, more? Think of what that's worth before tax. All for a few seconds every day.
And yet there I was not just wasting money but spurning a real technological advance.
All because I could not switch on to the thought of taking the connecting cable out of the boot and plugging it in morning and night.
Which is why I asked: If you do not have a car port or garage and it is raining, freezing or you have a bad tummy, are you going to religiously plug in?
By the same token, if you can get to and from work for 40c or even 80c (assuming a round trip of 40kms), are you not mad to do so, considering it only takes a few seconds?
Would I do it for 40km of a charge instead of 20km? I don't know.
Maybe I was 'lazy' because I knew I had all that reassuring back-up from the petrol hybrid. In contrast with pure electric vehicles, I had no range anxiety. I wasn't worrying about having enough electric charge left to get me home.
And simply put, that's where the Plug-In wins. You can skimp and save with your night-time lower rate electric charge; and you can take the family to Kerry next weekend because you have petrol-tank coverage -- the best of many worlds.
When I checked back on the car's computer (including a couple of short drives preceding mine) the following stats, in miles and mpg, popped up: 100mpg over nine miles, 100mpg over seven miles, 55mpg over 172 miles, 100mpg over seven miles and 75mpg over 674 miles.
It goes to show what a little bit of active green driving can do.
But you need to get up off that couch and switch to the Green channel.
Taking on California's Big Sur In A Pair of Toyota Highlander Hybrids
EV World's editor in chief takes 4x2 and 4x4 versions of Toyota's new Highlander Hybrid SUV for test drives down California's Big Sur coast and finds reviewing cars is as difficult as reviewing wines.
EV World 18 Apr 2005
I love wine, but like "Jack" in Sideways, I am no connoisseur, which is to say I don't have all that discriminating a palette. I probably couldn't tell the difference between a premium-priced Napa Valley pinot noir and its cheaper, Chilean counterpart.
The same thing applies to how I review cars. I like 'em, or I don't.
That little piece of personal insight was driven home while I rubbed shoulders with some of the best automotive writers in the business at a dinner party hosted by Toyota in Carmel, California last November. These guys make a serious living at automotive journalism, which is to say they get so many cars to test every year that they don't have to buy their own vehicles.... lucky sobs...
Toyota had generously invited me out for the Long Lead Press Preview of the new Toyota Highlander Hybrid and their new flagship Avalon. While nibbling on hors d'oeuvres and sipping a nice, fruity red wine from a local vineyard, I listened with rap admiration as they bantered about subtitle performance differences in the various cars they had tested over the last year.
Being one of the few electric-drive only guys at the party -- along with Ron Cogan -- I've not had the same opportunities. At that point in time, you could count on one hand the number of electric-drive vehicles available on the market.
While I test drove -- courtesy of Toyota's Bill Reinert -- one of the first Japanese model Priuses for nearly four months, I've only had an hour or so in the new Prius and half of that was observing. I've had even less time in the Honda Accord Hybrid. I did drive the Civic Hybrid down California Highway One back in 2002 as part of the first Fuel Cell Rally. I own one of the first Honda Insights ever built, and Ford informed me this week that I am now scheduled to have a new Escape Hybrid delivered to my door for a week's test drive about the time you read this.
So, an expert automotive evaluator I am not. My focus is on how 'green' is it? How fuel-efficient is it? How safe is it?
I also have to say that I am not a big fan of sport utility vehicles as fashion statements or status symbols. Give me the choice between a Prius or a Highlander and out of principle, I'd choose the former.
California's Big Sur was a thrilling backdrop for EV World's test drive of Highlander Hybrids.
But then if I lived along the rugged California coast south of Carmel where I test drove both the two-wheel and the four-wheel versions, I might just opt for the Highlander. If I can afford property there, I can afford a Highlander, which stickers out at $33,030 for the base 4X2 model and $34,430 for the 4X4 version. Upgraded Limited editions of each are closing in on forty grand. Chump change on the Monterey Peninsula.
There are, of course, lots of folks who seem to have a need for this class of vehicle and if you need to own an SUV, then you're going to want to seriously consider the Highlander Hybrid, which not only gets excellent fuel economy for its class, but has the power so many find important today.
I took my first test drive with Mike Michaels acting as my navigator; he is the manager of Toyota's external corporate communications program. The company had set up a number of different test drive courses around the Carmel-Monterey, California area. The only real 4x4 test drive, however was down Highway One about twenty miles to the famous Bixby Bridge.
4X4 Highlander Hybrid reflected in roadside mirror at sharp curve on road back into the Funt Ranch
Here, just beyond the bridge we turned left on to a narrow, winding black-top road that switch-backed up the side of the mountain and back into a secluded valley where the late-Alan Funt, creator of "Candid Camera", had his private ranch. Just on the other side of the ranch supposedly was the old, originally California Coast road. It resembles some gravel roads I've driven while scouting for elk and deer in Northern Idaho.
But before heading down the coast, we had to drive through the town of Carmel Valley, one of those pleasant little communities whose Hollywood celebrity-scale real estate prices belie its quaint, pedestrian demeanor. I took the opportunity just outside of town to see what Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive did for the 4X2 Highlander, which is Toyota's first conventional model to offer a gasoline-electric option.
Not being all that sophisticated an automotive aficionado, I first made sure no one was behind us and then slowed down on the four lane road east of town just enough to get a sense of how the two-ton SUV would accelerate.
With all clear, I stomped it!
The latest marketing ploy by Toyota and Honda is to sell their newest hybrids not as fuel-miserly eco-machines, but as tire-squealing, road-eating, "virtual V-8s". The Highlander lives up to that billing. It just flat out gets and goes. Zero-to-sixty is 7.3 seconds, courtesy of 288 volts of NiMH battery chemistry, boosted to over 600 volts.
Satisfied, I slowed back down to the speed limit and chatted amicably with Mike as we drove through the center of town, avoiding the seemingly around-the-clock bottle neck where the highway T-junctions into Highway One.
Heading south along the incredibly beautiful California coast, Mike and I talked about the latest episode of "West Wing" and the importance of not breaking the embargo by publishing this review before the March 28/May cover release date. I think I am safe now.
Based on the Camry car platform, the Highlander is a comfortable, nice handling machine, which is what I'd expect from Toyota. It seems at home in just about any setting, including a bumpy gravel road, though I wouldn't want to take it elk hunting in Northern Idaho, its a bit too citified for that... and much too expensive.
And in a way, that's the problem with most SUVs today, including the Highlander. They have morphed into a vehicle that tries to co-exist in both worlds, sort of the "super-dad" who's sensitive and tough at the same time. I doubt its anywhere near as rugged as my father-in-law's old International 4X4 -- though I'd hope its a heck of a lot more dependable -- and its really more car than is needed in most suburban-urban environments. It's advantage over the old fashioned family station wagon is its "command-of-the road" stance, placing the driver above other conventional cars... until everyone else is driving one, of course.
On the plus side, it's easier to get in and out of than my Insight, and has a heck of a lot more hauling capacity. Toyota says the Highlander has a 3,500 pound towing capacity. My Insight has trouble hauling my bike.
Returning the 4X2 model back to the Carmel Valley Ranch Resort, I eventually picked up the 4X4 model and Sandy Kayse, another really nice Toyota PR person. Again, I opted to drive back down to the Funt Ranch, which is now a not-for-profit environmental education center. I traversed the same route up the mountain, into the valley, through the ranch, out the back gate and then left down the mountain. Eventually we arrived back at Highway One, but on the north side of the Bixby Bridge.
Rugged Big Sur valley looking east towards the Funt Ranch in the distance on the right.
The jaunt through the Funt Ranch wasn't anywhere near demanding enough to require 4-wheel drive, which in the Highlander Hybrid means the rear axle is driven by a separate electric motor -- one of three in the drivetrain -- rather than a mechanical differential. It's comforting to know that it's there, especially in really bad weather on really bad roads, but I doubt most buyers will every really need it.
Personally, I've always been of the philosophy that says why bother? If it's that bad out, I probably shouldn't be out there anyway. If you have to, however, its nice to know you've got an additional 45 kW (62 hp) of power instantly ready to leap to your command, in addition to the 206 hp, V-6 up under that hood.
That being said, the smart driver will exercise caution using all that power, especially in demanding driving conditions, which is why Toyota gave the 4X4 Highlander Hybrid the world's first "intelligent" four-wheel-drive. Through the magic of computer programming and electric drive, the system senses the road and responds accordingly. And unlike conventional 4X4's, it also doesn't compromise fuel efficiency.
With respect to safety, the 2006 Highlander Hybrid incorporates an advanced version of the company's Star Safety System introduced in 2005. The new Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system "anticipates vehicle instability in virtually any direction and make stabilizing corrections while allowing higher dynamic capability", quotes the press release. Part of VDIM includes a new Electronically Controlled Braking system (ECB) that "translates brake pedal stroke and pressure and generates the precise amount of combined electric regeneration and hydraulic pressure needed for virtually any driving condition".
Add collision avoidance and GPS guidance and someday I won't even have to steer this thing. I'll just tell it where I want to go and whosh, we'll be off.
For parents with young children, the 80/20 second-row seat comes equipped with a Child Restraint LATCH System that provides top anchor tethers for all three seat positions and lower anchors for the two outboard seating positions. The driver and passenger are protected by advanced dual-stage front airbags that inflate according to the severity of the collision. Passengers are protected from rollovers and side-impact collisions with side airbags and side curtain airbags with rollover sensor.
The EPA rates the 4X2 Highlander Hybrid at 33 in the city and 28 on the highway. The 4X4 version is rated at 31/27. During my brief, 40 mile romps up and down the Coast highway, I got a solid 28+, verging on 29 mpg. That's without the air conditioner, defrost or heater running, of course. Your mileage is likely to vary.
Finally, just as important as fuel economy, the Highlander Hybrid is a jewel when it comes to emissions. In California, it's rated as SULEV, "super ultra low emission vehicle". That's actually better than my little, two-seat Honda Insight. Proving that is it possible to be both "mean" and "green".
If you need an SUV and want something with more room than the Ford Escape Hybrid, check out the mid-sized Highlander Hybrid come this June when it starts arriving at a Toyota dealer near you. Of course, if it sells anywhere near as fast as the Prius, you may have to pay a premium for the privilge.
So, California or Chilean pinot noir? Does it really matter? I liked it.
Here's Toyota's offical specs on the 2006 Highlander Hybrid.
EV World editor Bill Moore during test drive of 4X4 Highlander Hybrid with Bixby Bridge in background.
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