Roadshow Video Reviews
2012 Toyota Prius Plug-inThe Prius plays catch-up in the game it started.
-Look, the Prius still dominates the hybrid business trouncing the Insight and the Fusion which are the nearest things to a serious runner up. But in the battle for forward mind share, the Prius has slipped. Let's see if the upcoming Prius Plug-in can recapture the old cache and check the tech. Giving the Prius PR hell these days are the Nissan LEAF electric, the Chevy Volt range extender, and a smattering of other hybrids like the excellent Sonata and Fusion hybrids. Toyota, in its infinite conservativism, chooses to answer a revolution with evolution--a Prius you plug-in to go a little farther on electric power. Now inside a Prius Plug-in, you are gonna feel pretty familiar if you've driven a Prius. This is not dramatically redone inside. This is based on a third gen Prius. You push the button here to wake things up and, with that in mind, you're gonna get this big eyebrow dashboard that wakes up. Let's take a tour from left to right. First of all, you see that light on the left? That means I'm in EV mode. Just to the right of that is my gas gauge then you got your speedometer. You've got an instantaneous MPG gauge, your gear indicator next to that (we'll get to the gear indicator in a minute), and then comes the good stuff--the main display for the hybrid drive system for hybrid synergy drive. You've got several modes. This is the one that I think is the most useful--the hybrid system indicator overall. That battery indicator shows I've got almost a full battery then I've got this sort of bar that goes left to right. The EV icon you see right now says I'm running in EV mode. When you see the small little ramp on the left lit up, that's when I'm regenerating power into the battery. When you see the little bar on the far right lit up, that's when I'm tapping power strongly out of the electric motor and anything in the middle is a blend of electric and gas. Here's your shifter. Pulling it over here and back gets you into drive. Pulling it over here and back after that gets you into B. B is a high regeneration drive. It has a lot more drag or diesel where it's really engaging the electric motor in generator mode more often. These are the last two buttons I wanna show you--Eco mode, Power mode, and in the middle is normal mode which there's no button for. When you're in Eco mode, the car accelerates very gradually. Almost no matter what you do on the pedal, it is trying to recapture and retain all the energy it can. Power mode is pretty much the opposite. It puts more electric boost in there right off the [unk]. You're gonna drain that battery a lot faster. Blank out both of those, you're in normal mode. That's gonna work for most people. In this car, here are the specs. Gas engine--a little side set, a little on 401.8 litre--does about 98 horsepower, 104-foot pounds of torque. You know, a little scrawny little thing but that's all it's supposed to be. Electric motor coupled to it is 80 horsepower and 142-foot pounds of torque. Put those altogether which you can fully combine when you're in full Power mode which is not an economical way to drive, but you can sum those up in that way. Mileage is supposed to be somewhere in the low 70s. This car is not rated yet and that's for a blend of hybrid and electric driving. Compare that a current Prius that does, you know, about 50 or so. Now, of course, you've got two energy doors on this car. Here is the one when electricity goes. The one down yonder is for gasoline. When you open that up, you get the standard SAE power port--that's that multi-pin guy right in there. In there goes what is now becoming a very common and off-scene charging handle on electric or plug-in vehicles; that goes there. The other end of this cable has part of the charging apparatus on it. This brick right here which you would probably typically hang on a wall if you had one sitting at home. Nothing much happens here. This light lights up and it moderates--with the car's internal charging rig--the pulsing of electricity to charge the batteries. Let's go look at those. Now back here-- there we are-- is where the batteries live. The additional batteries in this guy are the storing. This whole panel here conceals a large number of them. These are lithium ion by the way which your current Prius doesn't have. It's still running nickel-metal hydride technology. Lithium ion is the new stuff--better energy density, lighter I believe, and can be shaped and packaged better. What's in this car actually are 3 batteries; 2 that will do electric-only drive--2 really big ones--and a third one that's only used to be hybridized with the gas engine, so they compartmentalize this to manage and keep charge available for different modes at all times. Total battery capacity is a 5.2 kilowatt hours. What that means in terms of charging is it takes about 3 hours on a 110 outlet, 90 minutes on a 220; but remember, you're not driving an electric car. That's where the charge times are relatively short. So right off the bat, you notice, the engines are not starting. It's running like an electric vehicle. That's what a plug-in does; whereas a normal Prius, as soon as you get above about this speed, the engine would kick in-- not this guy. We're gonna run electric for quite a while here, even if I get on it up to 30, 40, 50. The maximum is 62 miles an hour in electric mode for a total range of about 13 or 14 miles. It makes a real difference, as I mentioned being in Eco mode; a little throttle respond which it doesn't really want to; power mode, perky; or normal mode, probably the best blend of the two for responsiveness and responsibility. Okay now, we got the hybrid motor kicked in. So, here we are doing 55, 56--let me see what I can do here and stay EV--59, 60, 1, 2, 3, 4. This car-- There we go. EV just went out. So I got to about 63, 64 before the gas motor kicked in a little bit, so this car is really quite reasonably good for highway speeds on electric; but again, you see my battery is tapping out there. We've lost a full bar out of, what, 5. I don't think it's Toyota's plan but the more I drove this car, the more I thought it should clear the decks and replace the hybrid Prius, not via a somewhat different flavor of it. You see, this and the standard hybrid Prius look real different on paper but in everyday use, they felt like they might start to split hairs. Okay pricing and availability. A little early. This guy is not gonna hit showrooms until q2 of 2012--a little more than a year from our shoot today-- and even then, only in the green 14. The states where you'd expect hybrids to sell. A year later, you'll get the 50-state rollout of this vehicle. Pricing? Also a guess. $3000 to $5000 more is kind of the speculation over the price of a standard Prius hybrid today but that could change a lot with lithium ion battery development that'll happen in the next year. But if you see one of these today, it's because it's part of a fleet of just 150 that are currently in testing here in the U.S. Going forward, I think the biggest challenge of this vehicle is the segmentation of the electric car market. There's an awful lot for consumers to digest here and fitting this particular one into that array, I think, is a bit of a chore. Toyota and other auto makers have their work cut out for them.