Toyota Plug-In Prius

Toyota Plug-In Prius

Toyota is preparing to launch a plug-in Prius for the 2012 model year. It will be offered in addition to the regular Prius, the most successful gasoline-electric hybrid in the U.S. The plug-in Prius will compete with the Chevy Volt.

The standard Prius recharges the battery pack that powers an electric motor that can either aid or supplant the gasoline engine, which also runs the generator to recharge the battery. There is no way to plug the car into a wall outlet.

Some owners, however, have added batteries and converted their Priuses into a plug-in hybrid which extends the distance that can be traveled on electric power alone. Even in Connecticut, with electricity costing about 18 cents a kilowatt hour, it is cheaper to run this car on electricity than gasoline.

A prototype Plug-in Prius we tested, loaned to us by Toyota, gave us 12 miles of range. The cost came to 5.25 cents a mile. A comparable gasoline powered Prius would have cost 7.5 cents a mile. The Plug-in Prius’ gasoline engine helps the electric motor power the car when speeds reach 60 miles per hour, when the battery pack is depleted or when the driver calls for maximum acceleration. At these times, it works much the way a standard Prius would.

This Plug-in Prius would be ideal for people who travel within a five-mile radius of home. Driven carefully and with a recharge after every trip, fill-ups at gasoline stations could be separated by months, not weeks.

The Plug-in took nearly 3.5 kWh of energy from the wall outlet. A complete recharge of the battery pack took about three hours using a 120-volt outlet. A 240-volt outlet cuts this time in half.

It would make little sense for people who take frequent long trips to look at a Plug-in Prius as most of the journey would be powered by gasoline. The savings from driving the first 12 miles under electric power would be minimal.

The good news is that this Plug-in Prius mimics the performance of the regular Prius that is owned and loved by thousands of people. It seats up to five passengers and can travel more than 50 miles on every gallon of gasoline. Acceleration is adequate, with 60 miles per hour arriving in just over 10 seconds from a stop, and its handling is secure. Either version, when the Plug-in arrives, should be able to serve a family well.

Toyota has not announced pricing yet, but there is sure to be a premium over the regular Prius, which starts at $23,050. The significantly larger lithium-ion battery pack guarantees that the Plug-in Prius will represent a step or two up the financial ladder.

Toyota Plug-in Prius: Arriving for the 2012 model year, pricing, specifications and EPA numbers to be determined.

Next week: Cadillac CTS-V Coupe


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