Firstly, let’s clear the air… I’m a petrol head, or even a diesel head, and even though I embrace modern technology, I have been for a long time worried about the way cars and commercials have been going over the past few years. It all started a little while back with duel fuel cars – I wasn’t convinced and wasn’t particularly impressed with the “Heath Robinson” look at some of the conversion jobs I had seen under the bonnet. Going back a little further, I had a first hand experience of LPG Gas powered buses and was equally non-plussed about the way they worked – or in my experience… how they didn’t!
LPG conversions on old petrol clunkers such as classic Range Rover’s and the like are okay and make common sense, but so far as a modern car matters, hybrid power is pretty much like Peter Kay’s description of garlic bread – it’s the future. The Toyota Prius has been with us a very long time and not only is it the first mass produced vehicle of its type, it’s beyond doubt the most popular. Following a review of Toyota’s UK produced vehicles, I was offered the chance to sample some overseas built vehicles – and the first one to be delivered to my house was the recently launched Toyota Prius “Plug In” Hybrid.
Upon first look, the Prius looks like any other 5dr hatchback – if a little awkwardly styled (some stated from a rear ¾ angle it look like a MK2 Focus) and high in stance. The small wheels don’t help the overall picture either with their plastic wheel trims, although they serve a dual purpose of protecting the expensive ultra light magnesium alloy rims and giving a cleaner airflow thus aiding aerodynamics. Apart from the new badging, the clues are not one but two filler flaps – the nearside being for petrol and another on the offside but clearly marked for electricity. The plug in has two methods of charging which is either from a road based charge point which are popping up all over the country or from your home mains supply via a 10A 240v wall socket.
Toyota claim this version of the Prius can travel up to 15.5 miles on pure electric power though the best I could muster was just short of 12. Once the pure battery power has depleted, the car reverts to hybrid mode alternating between engine and electric power as an when required. Charging from a home / mains supply via the supplied lead takes around 1.5 hours costing roughly 50p a go. Should you live on the edge of a City and commute to an office where you can re-charge the batteries – the plug in Prius makes perfect economic sense. For motorway or out of town usage, the VVTi engine provides ample power through the CVT gearbox and traction motor. Coasting and brake applications bring in a useful degree of power re-generation as the traction motor becomes an alternator to convert kinetic energy into electricity.
As a family sized car, the Prius fares quite well. The interior is reasonably space efficient, the seats, though looking a little drab in tone are very comfy, while the cargo bay is good enough for the family shopping or business goods and chattels. The drivers area is more like the helmsman’s desk at the controls of the U.S.S Enterprise and yet ergonomically speaking … all very easy to fathom out. Underneath the centre console hides a floor mounted tray which is useful but very awkward to retrieve items – especially at night.
For some unknown reason, you also find the 12v socket and switches for the heated front seats positioned down there – very odd and very annoying. The front door pockets, at best, have room for a bottle of water or a can of drink but the lift up armrest reveals some welcome useful clutter space and a brace of cup holders.Another curiosity is the overall interior build quality. On one hand it’s very sleek and modern with good panel gaps and no rattles with some items feeling granite tough to the feel.
Open the glovebox though and there is no illumination, no non slip felt and the small cubby lid above the main glove box has a nasty flimsy feel which is cold, scratchy and bone hard to the touch which makes a horrible “snappy click” noise when you open or close it. The last time I felt something that cheap inside a car was inside a Lada Samara. If this is in the order of weight saving, I would rather add a few grammes here and there to boost the quality of items you touch and use every day – it really is very poor. But items such as the main dash and door armrests or steering wheel feel typically Japanese and made to go the distance so it’s not all a bum steer in the quality stakes.
One or two passengers commented on the seemingly “aftermarket” look of the wheeltrims. Well, they actually serve a purpose owing to the fact the road wheels behind them are made of ultra light (and expensive) magnesium alloy, not steel as some people might think. They not only protect them from kerb rash but aid the aerodynamic efficiency overall – a fact proven in wind tunnel testing. In fact, the slippery shape most certainly shows its advantages through the pleasant lack of wind noise when driving at speed say along motorways. The plug in Prius is actually a nice thing to drive thanks to having instant available torque from a standstill and a well planted feel due to the energy cells being mounted low down within the bowels of the car making the vehicle feel weighty but with a low centre of gravity.
On pure electric mode its whisper quiet with only a hint of high pitched whine coming from the electrical system and traction motor as you pull away. Once speeds have reached around 60mph in EV (electric vehicle) mode, the engine kicks in and take over, but unless you have the pedal pushed hard, the transition is barely noticeable. The same happens when the pure electric power is depleted, the car turns into a petrol hybrid with no fuss – only a light on the dashboard lets you know. You soon become accustomed to the hush when driving around town or on quiet lanes with little traffic, the progression even in light footed driving is good enough to avoid feeling embarrassed. Its only when you plant the throttle into the carpet that reminders come into place that there is a petrol engine there too.
The revs increase to a noisy buzz as the speed catches up through the CVT gearbox – it isn’t ear splitting in volume but never the less a little rowdy and harsh. For 90% of the time, the Plug In Hybrid Prius remains composed and quiet – after all, this car is not designed to be raced or rallied though it will lift up its skirt and run when asked to. Economy wise, my time with the Prius involved a couple of dashes up to the Midlands and a sprinkling of urban drudgery which revealed well over 60mpg despite some hurried driving home. Expect much more than that if purely running around the doors and charging up the cells for EV driving involves nothing more than running a cable from you hallway wall socket and plugging it in via the plug supplied. By the time you have done this, had your tea and watched the early evening news its fully charged and bursting with watts in an hour and a half – the cost is roughly 50 pence!
Cost wise, the Plug- In Prius comes out at £28.890 that included metallic paint and a Government Electric Vehicle Grant of £5000 – which isn’t cheap but has many good things going for it. The car is well equipped with climate, cruise, all round electrics, Sat Nav, Bluetooth while also being both V.E.D and congestion charge exempt. As a business aid it makes common sense too, especially if you ply your trade in the big cities – drive it around in EV/HV mode and the potential is there to hit 130mpg, in HV mode alone a driver should be able to reach in excess of 75mpg. Even my hard driving over the week returned figures a diesel vehicle would be pleased with, so… for a business driver or retail customer doing above average miles, the Prius comes into its own just on cost alone. But forget about the cost for a moment, what about the package overall?
Its very nice to drive, has good brakes, for most of the time is whisper quiet, enjoys tidy handling and is very very comfortable for both driver and passenger although I am not convinced about the overall styling.
For me, the most impressive thing is the technology and intelligence the car possesses – it just works right from the box and if you’ll excuse the pun – is simply (un)plug and play. Nothing is complicated, nothing causes alarm and even though I may not be fully convinced enough to buy one, I now understand why Toyota have sold so many.
THE HUMBLE OPINION:
For a high milage user, ecologically sensitive driver or someone who likes impressive usable technology, the Prius has to be considered. You cannot help but appreciate the cleverness of the whole package and the comfort its overall refinement brings. Its not cheap and its in my opinion clumsily styled from some angles too but none the less, a truly impressive vehicle once acclimatised to. Having spent some quality time with it, I enjoyed the ride and found it fascinating but some quality issues are obvious and it badly needs refreshing visually.
The Prius plug in is not cheap either, but that 5K grant takes the sting away and as mentioned earlier, for those who do a few miles in the urban jungle, its a very decent and comfortable option but it wont set your soul on fire!
OUR RATING? 7/10
The Low Down
Toyota Prius Hybrid Plug – in 1.8 CVT
Price: £28.890 including Government grant of £5K
Drivetrain: 1.8 VVT-i Synergy Drive with 98bhp
Gearbox: Electric CVT
EV drivetrain: 81K/w electric motor
Suspension / Steering: Struts – Torsion beam / Electric rack & pinion
Brakes: All round discs with ABS – EBD and foot operated handbrake
VED banding: A
Benefit in kind: 5%
Economy / Co2: PHEV combined – 134.5mpg HV combined – 78.5mpg (63mpg on test)
Maximum Cargo Capacity: 1120 Litres
For more information on Prius CLICK HERE
For information on the Government OLEV vehicle grant CLICK HERE