Toyota introduced a staggering three new additions to its popular Prius family in 2012, with the Prius Plug-In one of the most talked about and most widely anticipated. The 2013 Prius Liftback and Prius Plug-In Hybrid are like fraternal twins, with only a few trim details and badges, and of course, a charge-port door on the right-rear fender, the dead giveaway that under the exterior lies the plug-in Prius.
The Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid is the first of the Prius family members to plug in and recharge its battery pack instead of relying just on the "on the go" charging used by other hybrids. Although not evident from the outside, this Plug-in version's battery pack holds three times as much energy. The Prius Plug-in takes just three hours to charge on a standard household outlet and offers up to 11 miles of all-electric driving. The vehicle seamlessly switches to the gas-powered engine when the electric power is depleted, eliminating any worries of being stranded due to a battery in need of charging.
Unlike the Chevy Volt, however, the Prius Plug-In's electric range is not continuous since the Prius Plug-in switches back to engine-power whenever it needs an additional burst of energy for taking on everyday driving conditions like merging or entering the ramp to a highway. And once its all-electric range is depleted, it sports the same 50 mpg as the classic Prius. Once it has traveled a total of up to 11 miles on electricity alone, the Plug-In Prius will then revert to regular Prius hybrid operation. That means as soon as you press the throttle farther than about a third of the way, the internal combustion engine kicks in and you're using gasoline. So, unlike the Volt, the Prius plug-in is never a completely dedicated EV.
Prices start at $32,000 for the factory-built base Prius Plug-In plug, considerably higher than a comparable classic Prius. Choose an advanced trim model with features like a pre-collision system, navigation, and power driver seat, and you'll soon see that sticker price climb to a level that's comparable to what you'd pay for a Chevrolet Volt. However, keep in mind that the federal tax credit for the Prius plug-in is just $2,500 compared to $7,500 for the Volt and other dedicated EVs.
The Prius Plug-in looks and moves just like the Third Generation classic Prius, but it gives the added benefit of a dedicated electric driving capability. If Prius is the car for you, the growing number of choices might seem confusing. But the Prius Plug-In should be the choice among Prius drivers who take many short trips and have easy access to outlets for charging. Under such conditions, it's possible to never visit the gas pump unless it's time to fill up the lawn mower. On the other hand, if you find yourself regularly taking longer trips or have living conditions that leave you with limited access to outlets, you would be wise to choose from among the other Prius models.
While it may look like the standard Prius on the outside, the plug-in version uses a lithium-ion battery in place of the Prius's regular nickel-metal hydride battery.
The Prius Plug-in became available at participating dealers starting in March 2012 in 15 of the following states: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington. Visit the Toyota Hawaii site for more information on purchasing a Prius Plug-in in Hawaii.MSRP: $32,000
Fuel Economy: 95 est. mpge/50 estimated hybrid-mode mpg