Well, now we've driven a prototype of the 2012 Prius Plug-In Hybrid that Toyota will sell in the U.S.
What's it like? It's just like driving a standard Toyota Prius hybrid. Only more so.
The 2012 Plug-In will be the first Toyota that can be plugged into the electric grid to recharge its battery pack since it sold several hundred RAV4e electric vehicles a decade ago.
But unlike the RAV4e, the Prius Plug-In Hybrid carries the entire Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain of a conventional Prius.
Its battery pack is larger, and it uses lithium-ion cells rather than the older nickel-metal-hydride chemistry of its conventional brethren. (Toyota has decided that particular lithium blend, however, is a dead end; production 2012 Plug-Ins might use a different variety.)
The Prius Plug-In runs in electric mode for longer, and at higher speeds, than a standard 2010 Prius hybrid. But like the stock vehicle, it recharges its battery using spare power from its engine and through regenerative braking.
The Prius Plug-In Hybrid we tested is one of 150 that will be distributed in a handful of regions before the car's 2012 rollout. We drove it in mixed weekday afternoon traffic outside San Diego.
prototype 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, April 2010Enlarge Photo
STYLE: Stickers aside, little difference
All Prius Plug-In Hybrids are painted in a unique silvery blue color called Blue Mica Metallic. Toyota also proudly highlights the silver finish on the door handles and the crossbar of the rear hatch.
There are also the visually busy lower side stickers, which include a plug-and-sun graphic and the words "Plug-In Hybrid." Also, three separate phrases: "Advanced Ecological," "The Evolution of Hybrid for Sustainability," and "Toyota Plug-In Hybrid Technology."