CNET got an early preview drive in the new Toyota Prius Plug-in. With its grid-rechargeable lithium ion battery pack, the new Prius promises 87 mpg equivalent.
For years, individual owners have been modifying the Toyota Prius to be rechargeable from the grid, and boasting of fuel economy of 100-plus mpg. But Toyota was hesitant to endorse this idea, until now. The new Prius Plug-in joins what Toyota plans as an expanding Prius family, with four models to be sold under the Prius brand in 2012.
For the Prius Plug-in, Toyota swapped out the Prius Liftback's nickel metal hydride battery pack for one composed of lithium ion cells. The lithium ion battery pack has better energy density and can handle deep discharging. The Prius Plug-in retains the 1.8-liter gasoline engine, which can also propel the car. If you drove the car without ever plugging it in, Toyota says it would get 49 mpg.
With a full charge obtained from the grid, Toyota says the car can travel 15 miles on electricity alone, as long as you keep it under 62 mph and don't accelerate too hard. Using the EPA's fuel economy calculation for plug-in hybrids, the Prius Plug-in gets 87 mpg equivalent. Of course, this number will vary considerably depending on how much a driver can keep the battery charged from the grid.
Toyota includes an adapter cable that plugs into any 110-volt outlet. The end of the cable that plugs into the car uses the standard J1772 electric car charging port. If you use a 110-volt outlet, the car will charge up in 3 hours. From a 220-volt outlet, the battery charges in just 1.5 hours. The Prius Plug-in can also be plugged into a level 2 charger, which should take only minutes to fill the battery pack.
As a subtle note for the Prius Plug-in, to differentiate it from the Prius Liftback, the headlight lenses get a blue tint. Further, a fully loaded Prius Plug-in with the Advanced package swaps out the standard headlamps for LEDs, which consume much less energy and should increase electric range at night.
The cabin of the Prius Plug-in looks very similar to that of the Liftback, with the same control surfaces, but there are a few differences. The Prius Plug-in will allow remote air-conditioning control, letting you cool down the car while it is still plugged in to the grid. It will also come standard with Toyota's new Display Audio System, a full-size infotainment screen that includes the new Entune app system.
One refinement over the preproduction Prius Plug-in we drove previously is the restoration of cargo space. Where the preproduction version's cargo floor rose a little above the bumper level, an improved battery pack allowed Toyota to restore the load floor to the same level as in the Liftback. In addition, there is a compartment under the load floor for the charging cable.