Photo: Brian Merchant
Toyota's plug-in variant of its ubiquitous hybrid icon, the Prius, has been steadily generating buzz since news first leaked that it was under development a few years ago. The car has made the rounds at car shows and left fans of the standard hybrid model anticipating the next step in the electrified evolution of the Prius. So it was a welcome surprise when I found out the Toyota folks were offering the attendees of Poptech 2010, the prestigious culture, technology, and ideas conference, a spin in a 2012 Prius Electric Plug-in Hybrid prototype. I took the car for a drive around town -- here are some initial reactions.
The plug-in Prius looks and handles much like its standard hybrid counterpart. Prius drivers will recognize at once the intuitive dash layout, with, of course, the addition of a battery charge gauge.
This Prius isn't designed to be used as an electric only alternative -- its charge will only get you 13 miles on electricity alone. But for many, that could be the bulk of a daily commute. And it still equates to significant gas savings -- the Toyota rep tells me that driven properly, the car can get 75 mpg. The average driver will easily get 65 or more.
I only drove it in all-electric mode, for a few miles around town. But for the short distance I drove it, the plug-in handled quite well -- perhaps even better than the standard hybrid. Accelerating was silent and seamless, and the braking felt even and comfortable. The aforementioned battery gauge tracks your remaining charge in mileage down to the tenth of a mile, and you can watch as the regenerative braking adds distance to the meter as you coast down hills.
For a Prius, it felt surprisingly light and responsive, but perhaps its notorious jerkiness during braking would return after the electric charge expired. The plug-in looks pretty much the same as any other Prius, and though adjustments could be made, expect the same body type to remain when it finally debuts in 2012.
The Toyota rep said the car would retail for a few thousand dollars more than the standard Prius, putting the price range for the plug-in around $27-28K. The charging equipment is included in the cost. Finally, the Prius is slated to for a second quarter release -- meaning the first plug-in electric models should hit the market around May of 2012.
Though 12-15 miles may seem like a small range for an electric car, it nonetheless stands to translate into some major savings on gas usage -- it could be ideal for close commuters and around-town drivers. That said, it is a pretty significant added cost for a limited electric range, and I'd have to drive the car over a greater distance to pass any real judgment. As it stands, however, the plug-in Prius seems well worth looking forward to.
And here's (an incredibly shaky -- sorry!) flip-cam video of what the car looks like:
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