InDepth look at the Toyota Prius Plugin Hybrid

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TOYOTA Prius Plug-In Hybrid

In-Depth look at the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

September 20 2011: The Green Piece Column.

At this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show there have been a host of exciting concept cars that put the emphasis firmly on green driving. However, while many of these offerings are inspiring and offer a vision of the future, naysayers may continue to raise eyebrows about the chances of them ever capturing a serious market share.

None of those doubts however, can be labelled at the Toyota Prius. The leading hybrid car had sold more than one million units in North America by April 2011, and a further one million units on its home turf of Japan by August. So when a new version of the Prius is launched it’s not just those with green interests that sit up and take notice – it’s the mainstream motoring media, and buyers, too.

Back in May we devoted a Green Piece Column to the new Prius family (see article ) – but now the head of that family, the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, is ready to hit the road as it will go on sale in October in 14 US states through Toyota’s online ordering system before deliveries are made in spring 2012. So if you’re thinking of jumping on the bandwagon, what can you expect?

Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid: Vital statistics

Based on the third-generation of the Toyota Prius, the Prius Plug-in Hybrid will have a starting price of $32,000 in the USA with the advanced grade plug-in Prius starting at $39,525.

The vehicle seats five and is expected to achieve 87mpg in combined driving and 49mpg in hybrid mode (these are official US MPG figures). It features a 4.4kWh lithium-ion battery pack with an electric range up to 15miles at speeds up to 62mph. However, it also retains the Hybrid Synergy Drive of the standard Prius model with a 1.8litre engine, third-generation hybrid transaxle and power control unit.

It was the centrepiece of a global demonstration programme that involved 600 plug-in Prius vehicles in late 2009 across Japan, Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China and the United States. With the experience gained from that test phase, a number of changes were made to improve the engineering and features of the vehicle.

For example, the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid has a completely new battery design. Toyota’s goal was to reduce the cost, weight and volume of the pack from the NiMH system that was originally used. As such, it was replaced with a lithium-ion battery pack that is almost half the weight of the original pack with increased electric vehicle range; and electric vehicle mode now user-selectable.

Other changes include the use of a charger timer that allows the owner to set the charge start and finish time; and a charge port that is moved from the front driver-side to the rear passenger-side to create a shorter distance from the charge port to the charger/battery, helping to reduce weight.

Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid: Key features

Let’s take a look at some of the crucial features and elements of the Prius Plug-in Hybrid:

— Engine: The plug-in Prius boasts a 2ZR-FXE 1.8litre DOHC 16valve VVT-I engine that develops 98hp at 5,200rpm and 105lb-ft of torque at 4,000rpm. It includes an Atkinson combustion cycle, exhaust heat recirculation to heat the engine coolant, cooled exhaust gas recirculation and an electronic throttle control system with intelligence. The overall fuel efficiency has been boosted by lower exhaust heat and enhanced heat efficiency.

— Charger: The on-board charging system is compliant to SAE J1722 standards with charging time at 110V taking around three hours. For customers in North America, the Leviton home charging system has been tailored for Prius Plug-in customers with pricing starting at $999 for level two customers.

TOYOTA Prius Plug-In Hybrid

— Driving modes: The vehicle has a user-selectable electric vehicle driving mode, as well as two hybrid modes: Eco and Power. Eco mode maximises fuel savings in all conditions, while power mode increases throttle response in the middle range.

— Displays and information: There is a multi-information display on the Prius that includes: an electric vehicle driving ratio, indicating driving distance covered by electric driving; a hybrid system indicator covering possible driving range in electric vehicle mode; and an eco savings record screen that allows drivers to measure their savings against a comparable vehicle.

— Weight optimisation: A number of steps have been taken to optimise the weight of the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, including: a tyre sealing kit and inflator in place of the spare tyre; the use of aluminium in key areas including the bonnet and brake callipers; while the new battery pack is half the weight of that used in the demonstration phase vehicle.

Our verdict – the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

There is certainly a lot to be positive about when it comes to the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, which marks a substantial advance on the original hybrid model. However, will it really be compared to its predecessor or will it be compared to the next generation of green cars such as the Chevrolet Volt (Vauxhall/Opel Ampera) range extended vehicle and the battery-electric Nissan LEAF?

When placed against these rivals the all-electric range of 14miles seems a little short, and with the plug-in Prius claiming less acceleration and less electric only top speed the Volt and the LEAF appear to have some significant advantages.

Nevertheless, with the Prius brand so well-established with more than three million vehicles sold worldwide, not to mention a competitive price tag for the plug-in hybrid, the competition may still have a lot to fear.

Faye Sunderland

TOYOTA Prius Plug-In Hybrid
TOYOTA Prius Plug-In Hybrid
TOYOTA Prius Plug-In Hybrid

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