2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In review:

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In

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Our 2012 Prius Plug-in was a base model, lacking the Advanced's integrated fog lamps, LED headlamps, SofTex-trimmed seats and steering wheel, head-up display, adaptive cruise control, JBL Green Edge audio system, and the 7-inch Premium HDD Navigation with a special version of Entune that features Plug-in Hybrid Applications. Plug-in Advanced drivers can even use the Entune app on a smartphone to remotely control the hybrid's climate controls and schedule and monitor charging.

However, the base Plug-in still features a healthy list of standard cabin tech equipment, including a push-button starter and smart-key entry, the Prius-standard monochromatic eyebrow display with Touch Tracer steering-wheel controls, heated seats with eight-way power adjustment for the driver, automatic climate controls, and a respectable array of dashboard infotainment tech.

At the center of that dashboard is a 6.1-inch color touch display, which is home to the Prius' Entune-powered infotainment system. This isn't the same Entune system that's present in the Advance -- it uses a much more basic navigation system, which I'll get to momentarily, and lacks a few key Entune apps.

The standard audio system is based around an Entune-powered 6.1-inch display. Josh Miller/CNET

Place the Prius in reverse and here is where you'll find the view out of the rearview camera displayed, but the screen is also home to a basic navigation system, the Bluetooth hands-free calling system, and controls for iPod, USB, and A2DP Bluetooth audio streaming. An analog auxiliary audio input, AM/FM/XM radio, and a single-slot CD player round out the available list of audio sources. Toyota locks the driver out of many parts of the touch-screen interface while driving, so you won't be able to browse your phone's address book or search for a destination while on the move. (Presumably this is for driver safety, but I find it odd that this same system makes you perform three taps to even see the map.) However, you are given a fairly comprehensive voice command system that allows you to call a contact by name and enter an address via a series of spoken prompts.

All audio is played through a system that has been optimized to draw as little power as possible from the Prius' battery pack while in use, but also to deliver big sound. It's not the best car stereo that I've tested, but it is still rather good. Bass reproduction is particularly good at moderate volumes. Boost the bass level of the three-band EQ too much or crank the volume too high and you will hear an obnoxious rattling coming from all over the Prius' cabin. Unless you like distortion and buzzing, I'd suggest that you keep the bass at just one or two ticks above flat and the volume below three-fourths. Thankfully, the Prius is quiet enough at most speeds that listening above moderate levels is mostly unnecessary. High frequencies did seem just a bit muted to my ear, but that's nothing that couldn't be fixed with the EQ. Three or four ticks of treble boost seemed to be about right, but your preferences may differ.

The basic navigation is rudimentary, but can be fleshed out with data provided by a smartphone running Entune. Josh Miller/CNET

Earlier I called the navigation system "basic"; that's because it doesn't feature traffic data or a built-in destination database -- at least, not on its own it doesn't. However, you can gain access to these functions and others by pairing your Internet-connected smartphone via Bluetooth to open up the Entune app functionality, pulling this data from the Internet via Bing. After connecting and logging in, the Entune system can download traffic updates, sports scores, and stock prices, search Bing for local destinations, and stream Pandora Internet radio. This system is essentially the same as the one tested in the 2012 Prius c, so check out that review for more details. Out of the box, this lower-level Entune system lacks the Advanced's OpenTable, MovieTickets.com, and iHeartRadio app hooks, but an over-the-air update that is scheduled to happen after this review is posted should add them to the mix.

In sum
Starting at $32,000 before the $760 destination charge, the 2012 Plug-in Prius's base price is $8,000 more expensive than the entry point for the standard Prius Two (base model). However, the standard equipment included on the base Plug-in means that it actually matches better with the $25,565 Prius Three model, reducing the price premium to $6,435. Depending on how close you think you can get to the magical 95 mpge number with city driving and regular recharges, that may be money well spent. However, if you're more of a freeway cruiser, maybe save a few bucks and stick with the standard line of Prii.

The 2012 Prius Plug-in is more expensive, but it can also be much more efficient depending on your driving habits. Josh Miller/CNET

Tech specs
Model 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in
Trim Base
Power train 1.8-liter Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive with plug-in lithium ion battery pack
EPA fuel economy 95 mpge, 50 mpg highway/city combined
Observed fuel economy Approx. 60 mpg
Navigation Basic w/ Entune traffic and weather
Bluetooth phone support Yes
Disc player Single-slot CD
MP3 player support Standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connection
Other digital audio SiriusXM Satellite Radio
Audio system Basic
Driver aids Rearview camera
Base price $32,000
Price as tested $32,760

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