The 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid also has another feather for its metaphorical cap over the 2011 Chevrolet Volt: Familiarity. With tens of thousands of Prii already on the roads of the U.S, we’d expect many existing Prius owners to switch to the new plug-in model rather than switch to the 2011 Chevrolet Volt or 2011 Nissan Leaf - especially if they’ve been Toyota owners for some time.
The Plug-in Prius is also cheaper than both the Volt or the Leaf, making it the more obvious choice for drivers not yet convinced they are ready for a full-blown electric car.
An all rounder? That depends on how you define it
We have to admit that when we entered this week-long test drive we were skeptical, approaching the test-drive with the misconception that the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid would struggle to do anything well.
We were wrong. Yes, the car felt noticeably heavier than its standard non plug-in sibling, but it felt similar enough that even a regular Prius owner felt reasonably at home.
Fuel economy was better than we thought too. In the 1,400 miles we drove the Prius Plug-in Hybrid - including two 400+ mile freeway treks with a fully laden car and countless steep inclines on highland mountain passes - we averaged a respectful 63 mpg.
By anyone’s definition, that’s substantially better than the EPA’s official rating of 51 mpg for the standard 2011 Toyota Prius.
Here’s the crux of the problem. The 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid is only better than the 2012 Nissan Leaf and 2012 Chevrolet Volt if you need to do a lot of long-distance driving.
In this case, we think that equates to anything above 250 miles, at least twice a month. And that’s 250 miles in areas without anywhere to stop for a fast level 2 or rapid level 3 charge.
If your idea of a fun weekend is driving a few hundred miles upstate to a remote campsite, or you have relatives in the neighboring state, then perhaps the 2012 Prius Plug-in Hybrid is for you. That is, if you can make the 13 mile all-electric range work for you on a daily basis and you don’t mind the Plug-in Prius’ lackluster performance in all-electric mode.
But if your commute pushes 35-60 miles, you never leave the metropolis, or you have another car in the garage for those weekends away, perhaps you’re better off going for the 2012 Nissan Leaf or 2012 Chevrolet Volt.
Undoubtedly, the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid can’t compete with the likes of the 2012 Nissan Leaf or 2012 Chevrolet Volt when it comes to range in all-electric mode. but if your weekly driving style consists of lots of very short trips followed by regular long-distance treks, you can't afford to miss testing this car out. It may not have the Leaf's enviromental credentials or the Volt's sharp looks and longer range, but it could save you money in the long term.