The Toyota Prius: Just a car for tree-hugging hippies, vapid HollywoodA-listers and smug holier-than-thou environmentalists, right?
Of course not. Theres no doubting that a select few owners mightconform to the above stereotypes, but over two million have been sold- and four million Toyota and Lexus hybrids in total - so for a greatmany customers, the Prius is simply a reliable, spacious andeconomical method of transportation.
Not that the formula cant be improved upon. With rivals like theChevrolet Volt snapping at its heels, Toyota has given its flagshiphybrid a kick in the batteries, resulting in the Prius Plug-In. Beloware five things we learned during our quick drive.
1. The same, but different
If youre expecting a revolution with your evolution, you might be alittle disappointed. Outwardly, theres little to obviouslydifferentiate the new, improved Prius from the regular model soldalongside it. You do get some token silver trim to glitz up the doorhandles, front bumper and tailgate, but to our eyes these look a bitlike stylistic afterthoughts - which is exactly what they are, infairness.
The love-or-hate styling hasnt really aged, and still results inplenty of interior space, good aerodynamics and has a pleasinglyhigh-tech look which befits the technology within.
The interior itself is as swoopy and futuristic as ever, and the seatsare comfortable and supportive where it matters. Boot space hasntbeen compromised to any measurable degree by the larger batteries.
2. Its easy to use
Do you have an accessible plug at your house? If not, stop reading andgo buy a diesel. If you do have a plug, you may pass
Toyota has struck a deal with British Gas, who will set up a dedicatedcharger on the side of your house or in your garage. A simplethree-pin job will cost 375, and a fancier gun-style setup costs799. The car will plug into a regular three-pin socket with itsincluded five-metre charging cable, but Toyota does recommend getting a dedicated electric circuit for the car.
Once you have somewhere to plug it in, charging is no more difficultthan charging your phone. Remember to plug it in, and come back in 90minutes when its done.
3. Easy to drive, too
If youve not driven a Prius before, youre in for a treat. Notbecause itll set your pants on fire, but because its blissfullyrelaxing to drive, and absorbs the stress of modern-day driving like abig, hybrid-powered sponge.
Press the starter button, listen for the sound of well, nothing, andyoure ready to go. The car defaults to electric power, and Toyotaquotes a 15.5 mile range on the new lithium-ion battery. Its smoothand quiet, and all the cars controls conspire to make driving aseffortless as possible.
Theres nothing to get wildly excited about, but nobody buys a Priuslooking for sports car handling or Veyron-rivalling speed. It steers,stops and goes. What more can you ask? A new EV City mode even meansyou can hoof the throttle a little harder without the engine kickingin - useful for cut-and-thrust city driving.
4. Its definitely economical
Official quoted economy is 134 mpg on the combined cycle. After around25 miles of driving on our brief test, the trip recorded a figure of125 mpg. Thats the combined efforts of around 11 miles on purestelectricity, and the rest on the typical Prius mix of petrol andoccasional electric running. With conscious effort, you couldcertainly do better - a few other testers have managed 140mpg or more.
Essentially, the more use you make of the electric running, the lessfuel youll have to put in it. And a full charge from the wall costsaround a quid, so even using frequent electric running will hardlydent your fuel bills.
5. Its a little expensive
Theres no dodging the fact that 27,895 (including the governments5,000 low-emission vehicle grant) is a lot of money for a Toyotahatchback. This alone will be enough to put off some potential buyers,who might not make the most of the extra electric range. These peoplewould be better off saving some money and buying a regular Prius, orthe excellent Yaris Hybrid.
Still, everyone gets to benefit from the free road tax (courtesy ofCO2 emissions of only 49g/km) and zero congestion charge. Take that,Boris.
Business users benefit too. Where the regular Prius gets a Benefit InKind figure of 10 percent, the Plug-In cuts this to 5 percent. Forsomeone earning over 35,000 per year in the 40% tax band, thats thedifference between paying 1,056 per year BIK for the regular Prius(and 752 car fuel benefit), and 657 a year (376 fuel benefit) forthe Plug-In. Thats over 50 a month in your back pocket, rather thanwhizzing away into the ether.
Should you buy a Prius Plug-In? If the numbers above look good to you,by all means buy one. Wed certainly advise testing a Chevy Volt orVauxhall Ampera before you make your decision, as those cars offer agreater electric range and a slightly more luxurious feel, but thePrius has merits too, and once your batteries die on either car, thePrius remains the more economical over longer distances.
Get past those ingrained tree-hugger prejudices and you come toappreciate the Prius Plug-In for what it is - a very capable andsupremely economical vehicle.
For more information check out our full summary of the Toyota Prius alongside reviews, stats, photos and videos!