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2012 Toyota Prius PHEV (photos)

Finally bowing to the interests of owners, Toyota comes out with a Prius hybrid that can be plugged in, and operated as an electric vehicle for about 13 miles.

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Wayne Cunningham
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After much prodding by enthusiasts, Toyota has finally come up with a plug-in version of its Prius hybrid. The advantage of a plug-in is that the battery pack can be charged from the grid, so the car can spend more time running on electricity.

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The plug-in Prius, or Prius PHEV, is a modification of the standard Prius. The car's basic hybrid system remains unchanged, but now features an electric drive mode.

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When the battery is depleted, the Prius PHEV switches to standard hybrid mode, relying on its 1.8-liter gas engine for much of its power.

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Toyota added a charge port to the front fender of the car, making it convenient to nose into a garage and plug it in.

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The charge port uses the standard JA1772 architecture for charging electric vehicles. It includes power transmission and communication protocols.

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Toyota swapped the Prius' standard nickel metal hydride battery pack for one composed of lithium ion cells. Although lithium ion has greater energy density, Toyota had to pack more batteries in to give the car 13 miles of electric range and the ability to go up to 62 mph under electric power.

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The battery pack sits under the cargo floor. It affects cargo space slightly, lifting the cargo floor about half an inch.

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The interior of the Prius PHEV is little changed from the standard Prius. There is an extra light on the dashboard to show when it is charging, along with a new screen in the eyebrow display.

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All Prius models use an electric power-steering unit. There is not much road feel through the steering wheel, as there is in some other cars that have better tuned electric power steering.

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The Prius model on which this PHEV is based is the Prius 2, the lowest trim model. It includes a basic navigation system and stereo, but no iPod integration or Bluetooth phone support.

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The digital instrument cluster includes a number of power displays to the right. This one shows the standard power animation, indicating when the battery is charging or discharging.

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This new power screen shows the percentage of time the Prius PHEV has been driving in EV mode and hybrid mode.

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The drive selector works the same as that in a normal Prius, and there are also buttons for Power and Eco modes. These modes only come into play when the Prius is driving under hybrid power.

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Buttons on the steering wheel control the audio system and let the driver switch energy displays.

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The steering-wheel buttons bring up these somewhat ugly visual indicators, making it so the driver does not need to look down to the steering wheel to see which button is being pushed.

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The DVD-based navigation system does not show traffic, nor does it include charging stations in its points of interest database.

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