My Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid in "Dad's taxi service." (Jim Motavalli photo)
It's funny how moments you've been eagerly anticipating don't mean much at all to your kids. I have been reading about the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid and admiring it from afar for what seems like eons, so it was incredibly exciting to get one as part of a loan to "subject matter experts," and take my maiden voyage.
There are 600 plug-in Priuses in test programs around the world (150 in the U.S.), but the car is expected to go on sale in the 2012 model year. The version I drove certainly felt like a finished car, but Toyota might tweak it with information it gets from the tests.
The ride was part of my Dad's taxi service, and the kids were in back, chattering with one of their friends. "Kids, this is your first-ever all-electric ride," I told them. "It's historic!" Their chatter stopped for a minute. I tried to explain what a plug-in hybrid is. "So it isn't really an electric car?" they said, and went back to texting and horsing around. They weren't going to share my sense of moment.
Yes it is an electric car, but it's kind of hard to explain. It has the regular Prius' range on the standard hybrid drive, too. In my experience, the plug-in hybrid Prius has about 12.5 miles of all-electric range, and delivered something over 60 mpg if you look at it that way. We don't really have a good formula for figuring out the mileage of these advanced-technology cars yet. The Volt claimed 230 mpg, then dropped the idea. And the Volt's first government rating is on the gas engine alone, not its entire cycle that includes electric-only driving.
I do know that it's fun to try to keep this new Prius as electric as possible. It has a small 5.3-kilowatt-hour battery pack, and that means both not as much electric range as a car like the Nissan Leaf (with a 24-kilowatt-hour pack) and a much quicker recharge time. Plug the Prius into house current (dead easy, by the way) and three hours later it's fully charged. Watch the video here and you'll see how it works:
I enjoyed the multiple displays, which you can toggle through and get quite a lot of information, including the remaining miles to "EV empty." I managed to drive the car almost all the time on just the battery (how do you calculate "mpg" if you don't use any gas at all for a whole week?), but then upset my average with a long blast on the highway. The gas engine will kick in at speeds over 65.
I was surprised when I heard of the Prius plug-in hybrid's limited EV range. The Volt, for instance, can go 25 to 50 miles on its battery pack, and the Fisker Karma (so far unseen) says 50 miles, too. But the small size of the battery has an advantage in short charge times. I think we're likely to see consumers given a choice: big battery and long recharge, or vice versa. Personally, I didn't mind plugging it in.
Here's Toyota's own Wade Hoyt on his own experience behind the wheel:
My 42-mile New York commute includes the hilly, twisting Depression-era Taconic and Saw Mill Parkways, Manhattan's West-Side Highway and congested mid-town traffic. In a conventional 2010 Prius, I can average about 51 mpg into town (downhill on balance) and 48 mpg or so going home (uphill on balance).
"With a full charge in the Prius plug-in hybrid, I got 73.2 mpg going into Manhattan! That's what those 13 gas-free miles did for me. Since I can't charge up at the parking garage near my office, I was reduced to 48.8 mpg on the return trip. That resulted in a round-trip average of 61 mpg-an 11.5-mpg or 23 percent improvement over the normal' Prius.
"Your mileage will vary. Keep track of it. It's fun!"
I agree. It is. I'll report again when I have more miles under my belt.
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