A few months ago - maybe a year, I don't do well with time frames relative to the past - I was lucky enough to take a behind the scenes look at a Prius Plug-in before the first model was available to anyone, be it a dealership, pre-order customer, or an average Joe (. This allowed me a unique position to evaluate the new technology, not from a sales point of view but rather from that of a cross between consumer and Toyota employee; naturally my job makes me far less than impartial, but at the same time I don't get paid to put you folks into cars (directly at least).
That being the case, a five minute test drive and insider
Toyota information is nothing compared to actual first hand driving
knowledge. Thanks to
the ignorance of a local
Franklin County texting-and-driving motorist, I was
lucky enough to get a Prius Plug-in as my Toyota Rent a
Car; here are my honest to goodness impressions.
Before I divulge my true feelings, as a side note when someone wrecks your car and their insurance accepts fault you are given access to a rental car and the coverage of any accrued cost from said rental. Gas of course is still your cost, however, since had this idiotic driver not plowed into my car's back bumper I would be paying for gas as per usual. My point is that while coming into Handy Toyota that day - knowing full well I would rent a car from the hand that feeds - I considered the likelihood of me receiving a Prius for a rental to save gas. After hearing there weren't any cars available short of a 2WD Tacoma and Sienna and sales consultant Doug Jacques had already locked one of the two down before I started using my claim, I figured I'd be in a Swagger Wagon - not a great look for a 27 year old who's fond of rap music - or the Tacoma which, two-wheel drive or not, wasn't going to fit my "save gas money" hopes. So when service manager Joe Luneau said "... you probably wouldn't want a Prius Plug-in would you?" in a skeptical, almost defeated tone, it was amusing to me that not only would I be getting a Prius but I'd get to actually test the new Prius PHV and save even more gas than I believed (I live within two miles from Handy Toyota, mind you).
Anyway, let's get back to the Prius Plug-in and my impression of the car after a day's use.
The first thing I have to discuss is the intelligently portrayed and, more importantly for large scale acceptance of the electric vehicle, easy to understand heads up display or HUD. As per the Prius norm, the center of the dashboard towards the bottom slope of the windshield houses an LCD screen with a huge quantity of information: from current fuel consumption to battery recharge rates derived from the advanced regenerative braking system or the combustion engine to time, temperature, and more, the HUD is amazing, and far more so than I realized during my aforementioned five-minute test drive.
I assume that you, like me previously, are wondering aloud focusing on all that information sounds dangerous! I thought so to when reading the same explanations in blog form, but in practice everything is fairly illustrated, or in other words the pictures are concise and informative but obvious as well. For instance it's not hard to understand that arrows going from the battery symbol to the engine symbol - which themselves are incredibly clear and well known to anyone who has ever sat in a car, let alone operated one - and a sliding meter that goes from "EV" to "HV" to "GAS" also doesn't take a degree in physics nor a history of art peddling.
Taking what I say as fact, your next thought is likely "okay, if it's so easy to understand all of these things how do you see them all at once?!" Again, Toyota ingeniously put the Prius Plug-in together to handle this exact situation, giving you several screen cycles housing all the various efficiency, driving proficiency, and other HUD displays in a way that makes it clear (to a near-blind fellow such as myself even) and easy to switch.
Using the steering-wheel mounted controls - not "audio" controls, exclusively - a driver can press the "Display" button on the right side of the wheel without ever leaving a proper "9 and 3" steering wheel (grip) position, but at the same time a bright blue display comes over the juxtaposed monochromatic greens of the Prius' heads up display for a very obvious, eye catching look. This blue display is a digital replica of the wheel-mounted controls the driver just pressed with an added orange indicator lighting up whenever another button is touched. In short, not only can you change your HUD to suit your needs but you don't have to look down at the console or steering wheel for even an added second.
To switch gears - pun sadly intended - I'd like to talk for a moment about the brakes. I stated above that the Prius PHV has advanced regenerative braking, and unlike the original Prius, Prius c, or Prius v, all of which use regenerative braking to great success, the Prius PHV needs energy to make its mark on the hybrid AND growing EV world. The new brakes make a mark alright, and I'm here to warn you that they take some getting used to.
This is not a negative mind you, just a preemptive warning for any of you who hop into a Prius Plug-in now or in the future (and maybe even another EV), and while I first noticed it at my test drive session back a few months ago, now that I've gone faster than the 15 miles per hour I traveled around the University Mall in Burlington, VT, I can tell you the brakes are fierce! Just a tap is literally all it takes to feel some serious pressure, and without damaging the car - again, this is a Handy Toyota service rental, not my own for beating - I've accelerated a bit and hit the brakes (sub-skid) to get a feel for how intense they are.
Again, this is a GOOD thing; not only does this add serious juice to your battery power (eclectic juice you can literally see funneling back into your Prius Plug-in's battery pack thanks to the HUD), but you have some of the most aggressive brakes in terms of sheer stopping power I've ever come across. The Tundra Platinum with a TRD Big Brake Kit here at Handy's has a similar feel, but even the power of the TRD Big Brake Kit coupled with the power that is the Tundra's 5.7L V8 iForce engine feels a LITTLE less intense than the Prius PHV! You'll have to come in and try it to see what I mean, but just be warned!
I will get to actual driving impressions after this second to last topic, but first I need to explain the toys of the Prius Plug-in. The top end Prius hybrid vehicles like the 2011 Prius Four or the 2012 Prius Five have always been available with toys a-plenty, featuring leather, premium sound systems, and so forth. The Prius PHV, available in either a base or Advanced model, ups the ante with a slew of standard equipment. From premium audio with booming base to XM Satellite Radio and Entune, the Prius PHV really packs a punch in terms of equipment. I was amazed, even having seen an Advanced model with JBL's GreenEdge audio platform, HDD Navigation, and eco-friendly "leather" made out of non-animal material (and it's not pleather!), but the supposed "base" model is also very nicely equipped. Kudos to Toyota for making a couple lone models to start, sprucing up the already world famous Prius platform with an electric engine, and selling it for a reasonable price (starting around the low $32,000 area).
Okay... now the part you want to know most of all: how does it drive? Sorry for the letdown (if you were looking for some negativity), but aside from when you're cruising in pure EV mode nothing's different from the Prius hybrid. When you hit the gas (or perhaps the phrase "press the accelerator" needs to be used hence forth, eh?), the engine kicks in seamlessly and you're off; when you start it, it's silent until your battery runs out of juice or you push the accelerator pedal with some force the vehicle pulls right out into oncoming traffic with the best of them (forgive the dangerous term; I use it simply to convey the possibility). All in all, it handles as well as any other Prius.
As another way to rate it, here is what I would say the pros of each of the new Prius family vehicles are:
- Prius hybrid - 50 mpg combined, large cabin and trunk space, sporty ride with the new Prius Plus Performance Package upgrade available
- Prius Plug-in - 50 mpg combined or 95 MPGe, 15 miles of gas-free, EV driving, rides equal to the original Prius
- Prius c - over 55 mpg, sporty ride due to small size, easily maneuvered through tight traffic, city driving, etc., pricing sits in the high $19,000 or low $22,000 range
- Prius v - 45 mpg and more cabin and cargo space than most SUVs, built off proven Prius and Hybrid Synergy Drive technology
Honestly, after having this car for a single day I am sold. I was never a Prius fan - not even close. I can appreciate high fuel economy and an interesting design, but I simply never had time to play with one. I have a Corolla S, and being a gas-powered car I would expect there to be some differences between the feel of each, at least due to the stigma alone, but I'm shocked at how smooth and natural the entire EV process is thanks to the Prius PHV.
I'll leave you with this: I attended a Toyota University training seminar way down in New Hampshire regarding the technology behind the (then upcoming) Prius family, specifically the new Prius PHV. Being trained by Toyota Motors officials you'd expect some bias, but in the end it was explained as follows: "this isn't rocket science folks. Toyota's not reinventing the wheel with a full EV like Nissan's Leaf. We're not turning the Prius into an all new vehicle. We're taking proven, record setting, and best selling technologies from a car we've understood well for well over a decade and implemented an EV component. That's it."
Come on down to our St. Albans, VT new and used Toyota dealership at 39 South Main Street in St. Albans, VT and see the Prius family at Handy Toyota today, as we currently stock all four varieties in several trim levels.
St. Albans, VT 05478