Why do a lot of car enthusiasts love to hate the Toyota Prius? It could be because Priuses have never been in the list of most attractive cars. It could be because they aren’t performance-oriented in any way. Some enthusiasts feel that their owners become smug and feel superior to other drivers for driving a fuel-efficient car (as shown in this video). Then you’ve got the fact that owning one automatically gets you perks that other drivers don’t get, such as: low tax, free access to congestion charging zones, using carpool lanes at will, and special parking spaces. Some argue that this is unfair since the Prius does little to save the environment – especially if you consider the manufacturing process of its batteries. But having lived with the Prius Plug-in Hybrid for two weeks, I was surprised to find myself actually liking the car a lot, and it definitely proved itself to be a standout car.
The Prius Plug-in Hybrid is equipped with the same engine and horsepower rating as the normal Prius, that’s a 1.8-litre petrol-electric drivetrain producing a total of 136hp and 142Nm of torque (99hp comes from the engine, while the electric motor is rated at 82hp). The main difference is the use of a lithium-ion battery in the Plug-in Hybrid rather than the nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery found in the standard Prius, allowing Plug-in drivers to charge the battery through an electric socket for a claimed electric-only range of 25km. The Prius Plug-in also has one of the lowest CO2 emissions of any petrol-engined vehicle at 49g/km. Acceleration from 0-100km/h takes 11.4 seconds, while its top speed is 180km/h.
Impressive as the claimed CO2 output is, a claimed 2.1l/100km figure is even more impressive. No doubt this figure is possible thanks to the range afforded by the lithium-ion battery. Being able to run on battery power alone, theoretically, means that you can do most of your trips on electric power alone, provided that they’re less than 25km. When battery power is depleted, the Plug-in operates like a standard Prius, alternating between electric and petrol power when required, and using regenerative braking to charge the battery. Fuel economy in this mode is still very good too, I averaged 4.3l/100km in the city – easily the lowest fuel consumption of any petrol-engined car I’ve driven.
All Prius Plug-ins are equipped with a charging cable, which is stored in the trunk. Buyers are also provided with a Home Charge Device (HCD) at no extra cost, which can be installed in your garage. Speaking of cost, the base Plug-in Hybrid costs CHF 50,900, while this test car – with the Sol Premium package – costs CHF 60,630. The Sol Premium package includes: leather seats, keyless entry and go, cruise control, a head-up display, satellite navigation, a reverse camera with guidance lines, an eight-speaker JBL audio system, Intelligent Parking Assist (IPA), Pre-Collision System (PCS), as well as automatic LED headlamps.
In Switzerland, the charging cable for the Plug-in Hybrid has CEE 16-3 “camping/caravan” style plugs rather than the T12/13 type found on most electric appliances, meaning the only way you can charge the car is through the HCD or by your local Toyota dealer (free of charge). Toyota claims that using the more common T12/13 plugs can cause them to overheat or even melt. It’s a shame the cables don’t use the T12/13 plugs as there are several free charging points for electric cars here in Geneva, many of which use T12/13 outlets. With that said, an electric outlet of 220V to 240V allows the Plug-in Hybrid to be fully charged in 90 minutes.
When it comes to driving the Prius Plug-in, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how well it rides over city bumps. It soaks up rough surfaces really well – add this to the silence provided when riding in electric mode and you’ve got a very pleasant city car. Its electric power steering isn’t as accurate as I would like, but it is well-weighted and easy to use. Drive is provided by a continuously variable transmission, which responds reasonably to throttle inputs. But, because there isn’t much in the way of horsepower and the car is geared more towards fuel efficiency, throttle response can sometimes feel a bit dull at low speed.
Just because this is a hybrid car, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t any mechanical noises to enjoy. The sound of the electric motor slowing down, in particular, is the one I liked most. The sound it makes reminds me of those futuristic cars you see in science fiction movies set in the future. If you don’t know what I mean, listen to an electric bus or subway train when it’s about to stop – it’s the same kind of sound but a lot quieter and pleasant.
The Prius is also very spacious inside. It’s not just spacious for a car of its size, it's spacious for a car of any size. There’s plenty of legroom if you’re sat behind someone of my height (5’8”), and headroom isn’t an issue either. The trunk can swallow three large suitcases with ease, but care must be taken when opening the rear hatch as it opens up very high, meaning you’ll bang it against low underground car park ceilings if you don’t.
On a hot day, the air conditioning cools down the cabin very rapidly indeed, which can probably be attributed to the fact that it uses an electric compressor rather than a belt driven one. The sound system was quite decent too, and pairing your phone to the car is easy. The Intelligent Parking Assist takes a bit of getting used to though, it’s not as intuitive as other smart parking systems. Most of the time I just parked the car myself, maybe a more patient driver will rely more on the system.
I do admit, I initially didn’t approach the Prius with much enthusiasm, but there is no denying that once you’ve gotten over its looks and lack of performance, you are left with a very good car. Also, “non-car enthusiasts” love the Prius – friends and family absolutely loved the silence, space, and fuel efficiency. The only reservation I have about the Prius Plug-in Hybrid is indeed the price, but whether you’re able to justify the extra cost over a standard Prius (a base one costs CHF 35,200) completely depends on your circumstances and whether you believe 25km of electric power is worth the money. But in terms of its intended function, saving you fuel, the Prius Plug-in Hybrid performs brilliantly.
Written by Alex Kisiri