2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid: Is It An Electric Car, Or Not? Page 2

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2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, Catskill Mountains, NY, Oct 2012

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, Catskill Mountains, NY, Oct 2012

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The plug-in Prius will travel all-electrically at much higher speeds than a standard Prius hybrid. We saw 61 mph at one point, though in general the engine kicked on under medium-to-hard acceleration, above roughly 50 mph, and going up even gentle hills.

We experienced a couple of judders and audible clunks from the powertrain, something we’d never had either in the previous plug-in Prius or conventional Prius hybrids.

Not an electric car

The pack can be recharged either using the 110-Volt charging cable it comes with—housed in the small well at the back of the load-bay floor—or using a 240-Volt Level 2 charging station.

To make our peace with the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, we concluded that it shouldn’t be viewed as an electric car—or treated like one behind the wheel.

It remained frustrating enough to keep the car in all-electric mode that we gave up halfway through our test.

Instead, we simply drove the car to keep up with traffic, ignoring the engine noise (a muffled howl under heavy acceleration) when it switched on.

And we resolved to ignore the electric-range estimate, which usually started at 11.0 miles and quickly declined—a disadvantage to showing range in tenths of a mile. (Though being able to add 0.2 miles back just by careful braking before stop signs was rewarding.)

A slightly better hybrid?

As a Prius hybrid, the plug-in Prius works fine. It definitely has more electric range and can operate electrically at higher speeds.

But we continue to wonder: Is that enough to get owners to plug it in regularly—and often—for the limited electric travel it offers?

For some buyers, that’s exactly what they want--and it's important to check whether the numbers add up. One reader explained recently why he chose the Prius Plug-In over the Volt and Leaf—because it fits his driving patterns best.

We wonder whether there will be drivers who buy the plug-in Prius—especially in California, for its single-occupancy HOV-lane access—and never bother to plug it in at all.

Under those circumstances, it’s simply a much more expensive Prius hybrid.

Dated display

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid - production model

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid - production model

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Other that being a not-very-electric car, the Prius Plug-In had all the virtues and vices of the third-generation Toyota Prius we’ve tested several times.

Now in third year of its life, the Prius Multi-Information Display on the horizontal screen high up in the center of the dash is beginning to look dated against the full-color graphic displays of other plug-in hybrids and electric cars.

It scatters numbers, diagrams, and icons across a long horizontal monochrome display, and it’s simply less intuitive—let alone visually pleasing—than displays in plug-ins from Ford or Chevrolet.

We’ve never been big fans of the high “flying buttress” console design, which swoops down from the center of the dash and offers an awkward storage space underneath.

Functional flaws

The plug-in Prius uses differently patterned and, to our eye, more attractive dark plastics than a standard Prius hybrid for its dash and interior trim.

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