Toyota’s plug-in Prius

8 Apr 2011 | 2,088 views | No Comment
  By Will Chamberlain The Toyota Prius is synonymous with hybrid technology and efficiency.  When you think hybrid, normally the Prius is the first car you think of.  It was one of the first gasoline/electric hybrid cars to hit the market and make a giant splash doing so.  Since the first generation of Prius, several different models have debuted but none more anticipated than the Plug-in model that AJ recently got to try out for a few days. It was part of a special program introduced by Toyota, so these aren't for sale yet. In late 2009, Toyota began delivery of 600 Prius Plug-in Hybrid vehicles, equipped with lithium-ion batteries, to participate in a global demonstration program. More than 150 vehicles are being placed with program partners in the U.S. to demonstrate plug-in hybrid technology, educate and inform the public, evaluate performance and better understand the technology's benefits to future customers. "On the consumer side, " Toyota says in a news release, "this program allows Toyota to gather in-use driving feedback and understand customer expectations for plug-in technology. On the technical side, the program aims to confirm, in a wide variety of real world applications, the overall performance of Toyota's first-generation lithium-ion battery technology, while spurring the development of public-access charging station infrastructure." The reason this model is different than most is the ability to charge its own batteries and run exclusively on electric power.  You can plug it into a normal household outlet and charge the car in approximately 3 hours.  After a full charge the Prius has about 13 miles of all-electric driving, which is pretty cool.  Other plug-in hybrid cars on the market like the Chevy Volt have a larger electric range but also requires longer charging times.  The Prius needs a 110/120 volt source to charge where as the Volt requires either a 120 volt or a 220 volt source.  This means installing a separate line in many  cases. After a full charge, I wanted to see just how far I could get so my wife and I took it to church.  The one-way trip is 12.5 miles, so I was assuming we would make it in full electric mode.  Well, we almost made it – 1.5 miles to go and the battery was used up and we were back to hybrid mode. Given the route encompassed 2 fairly large hills and some 50mph+ driving, 10 miles isn’t that bad.  Along with the great mileage you can get withPrius' regular hybrid model, the plug-in version should really look attractive to folks with a short commute to work and mostly city driving.  Given you have a spot to safely charge the car between commutes; most folks can’t charge a car at their office. But technology isn't the only reason you buy a car, right? All the technology aside – does the Prius look good?  Does it have a nice interior and good driving dynamics?   Let’s start with the exterior styling.  It’s almost identical to the previous generations of the Prius.  That boxy, oddly shaped car  you know is a hybrid even before you see the tag on the back.  I’m not a fan of “hybrid looking” vehicles so this isn’t on my top 10 best looking cars list.   While driving I noticed that the rear spoiler and split rear windows are directly in the line of vision and block you from seeing most of what’s behind you. Aside from the exterior styling, the interior is actually a very nice place to be.  Adequate head room, very comfy seats and a simple, well designed dash.  Our tester had a touch screen navigation system that was very easy to use.  The audio system wasn’t very powerful, but I really didn’t listen to it much.  There is a display near the windshield that houses the speedo, fuel gauge, fuel economy and all the other hybrid power displays.  You can select from a few different ways to display your driving efficiency live, what the car is doing at any given moment and the amount of charge left in the batteries.   I selected a graph that showed me where to keep the accelerator to ensure to most efficient use of the car.  I often found myself drifting into the “PWR” section in order to catch up to traffic or get onto the highway.  There are also ECO and PWR buttons on the dash that allow you to lock the car into each setting.  ECO makes the car less powerful but provides the best mileage possible.  The PWR setting turns up the juice and gives you a little more punch for hill climbs, overtaking on the highway or any other situation you’ll need some more push.   The PWR setting also makes more use of the gasoline engine, so it’s not the most efficient setting.  Its kinda fun to challenge yourself while driving to see if you can get the best mileage you can. You can accomplish this by keeping the accelerator in the green, using the engine brake to charge the batteries while going down hills and manipulating the brakes while coming to a stop.   Basically anytime you are not accelerating, the car is charging the batteries in some way.  During my time with the Prius, I enjoyed approximately 40 miles to the gallon.  I drove it fairly aggressively 60% of the time in city/highway and 2-lane traffic situations.  I did however, charge the car twice and got about 10 miles to each full charge before switching back to hybrid mode. If you have a short commute to work and have access to an outlet near your parking spot, the Prius Plug-in hybrid, if they decide to sell them,  may be a good investment-as long as looks and a sporty driving experience aren't high priorities for you.

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