Review: My Experiences With the Plug-in Prius

My kids sitting in the back of the Toyota Plug-in Prius
My kids sitting in the back of the Toyota Plug-in Prius

On September 16, 2011, Toyota officially unveiled the Plug-in Prius, pricing, options and its availability.  This is particularly exciting to me, because we have been using one of the early prototypes from Toyota’s test fleet at work.  I have had the opportunity to drive it several times and on September 17th, I took it to a festival for the second time.   Toyota is loaning the Prius to my City (I work for the City) for us to evaluate and to help us learn more about plug-in cars.

When I took the Plug-in Prius to a festival in August the main questions I got were:
 – How many miles per gallon does it get?
 – How far does it go?
 – When can I buy one?
 – How much will it cost?

With these two press releases, I am now able to answer these questions! 
Prius Pricing Press Release 
2012 Plug-in Prius

Plug-in Prius vs Regular Prius
The Plug-in Prius drives operates and drives very much like a late-model Prius.  If you have had the opportunity to drive or ride-in one, then you will find the experience very similar.   I usually drive a Toyota Camry Hybrid (mid-size sedan) and a Toyota Sienna (minivan), and my parents lease a Prius, so many of the features were very familiar to me.  Some notable differences are that on the dashboard there is an icon that tells you if you are running on electric mode “EV” or hybrid mode “ECO” or “Power”.   From my Camry hybrid I know that “ECO” means it prioritizes fuel efficiency/range over the effectiveness of the air conditioner (but we rarely notice) and “Power” means it prioritizes the air conditioning (Even with a small baby we didn’t find this necessary in New England).  Another notable difference is that the Plug-in Prius has a place to plug it in (obviously).  The location on the release models is different from on the prototype I drove, but the important part isn’t changing – it uses a special cable to plug into any 3-prong outlet.  We were able to plug it into an existing outlet on the outside of where we work.

It takes about 3 hours for a full charge on a regular outlet, or you can get a special charger installed at home (a level 2 charger) for about $1000 that will charge it in under 2 hours. 

My Experience With the Plug-in Prius

rear view mirror in Toyota Plug-in Prius

When I drove the Plug-in Prius, the experience was actually very similar to driving my parents’ Prius.  It had a smooth ride, sportier than riding in my Camry and lower to the ground than I’m used to (but not sports-car low).  The pickup seemed sufficient when entering the highway and the optional feedback about whether I was charging the battery or using electricity and how much was feedback that affected how I accelerated, braked, coasted and generally drove the vehicle.

I enjoyed it!  My seven-year-old rode in it recently and she said “it was fun!”  She was mostly excited to be in an electric car.

Why Should You Buy a Plug-in Prius?
Well, it depends on your driving needs.  The electric motor engages by default. When you go over 62 MPH or need lots of acceleration or when its battery is depleted, then it switches to the hybrid motor.  Both motors recharge the battery while you drive, such as when you brake.   The electric motor battery is designed to last for about 15 miles – but depending on how you drive, it could be more or less than that.  If you get in your car in the morning and then hop on the highway for a 30+ mile drive to work, then you will not benefit from the plug-in features of this car.  However, if you do mostly local driving, then you will benefit greatly from an electric car.  The nice thing about the Plug-in Hybrid is that it has the flexibility to do both when you need it.

How Expensive Is It To Charge?

standard plug-in cable 3-prong to SAE-J1772 for Toyota Plug-in Prius
Standard Plug-in Cable 3-prong to SAE-J1772

Where we live electricity costs about $0.15 kWh, a full charge on the electric car battery costs about $0.45 and will get you about 15 miles.   If you drive less than 15 miles a day, and plug in every night, then you would rarely have to put gas in the car.   Gas currently costs about $3.79/gallon here.  If you compare that to a 30MPG car the same 15 miles would cost you $1.89 and on a 20MPG car the 15 miles would cost you $2.84.  

Why Not Purely Electric? Why the Gas Motor?
Peace of Mind.  What if I forgot to plug it in? Or what if I had to go farther than expected? What if there wasn’t an outlet when I needed one?   There are also technical issues around balancing the weight of the car with just batteries vs the efficiency of the motors and batteries.  I’ll let you read a technical page for that information.

Would I Buy One?
We have three children.  You can fit three children in this car, if they are not in carseats.   If they made a plug-in Camry Hybrid, we’d consider trading up.  If they made a plug-in minivan, we’d be the first in line to switch.  Sure, it’s a bit to remember to plug it in when you get home, but between the money savings on gas and the good feelings from not having to depend as much on gasoline and the reductions of noxious fumes our car puts out every day, it would be absolutely worth it to me.

What Are the Answers to the Questions You Get?

  • How many miles per gallon does it get?  They say 87 MPGe – Miles Per Gallon Equivalent.  The one we have been using went just over 800 miles on the tank of gas it arrived with.  The tank is a little over 10 gallons.
  • How far does it go?  About 15 miles on pure electric, but it really depends on your driving style.  However, it can go indefinitely on gas.  Just fill ‘er up!
  • When can I buy one?  You can order them now. They will be available for pickup in March 2012 on the East and West Coasts, and in 2013 everywhere.
  • How much will it cost? $32,000 base price.  $39,525 “Prius Plug-in Hybrid Advanced”  plus you can always add stuff…

Happy Driving!

What do you drive?  Tell us!

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  1. Sending love from exposure 99% hope to get some back. Join us Wednesday for our FB hop. Also, we would love to feature your blog on Mom Blog Society.

  2. Can you really not get 3 carseats in, or just not the ones you have right now? I would expect that there is some combo that works. I haven’t invested in narrower carseats for our car since we have only 2 kids, but it’s kind of penny wise pound foolish since a few hundred dollars spent on car seats could mean a lot of gas and environmental costs saved on carpooling…

  3. We just traded our 10 year old Dodge minivan for a Toyota Sienna. I love it, although the gas mileage is not the greatest. I would have loved to get something more fuel efficient but it seemed like ALL of the mini vans got about the same MPG. I have 3 children and although they would fit in a smaller vehicle, I would never be able to take any of their friends with us and vacations would be difficult. I wish auto makers would improve the MPG on minivans – its been the same for at least 10 years! I would be right behind you in line for the plug-in mini van!

  4. Sometimes you have to take a step back from a problem to see it… We are now looking at booster seats to find ones narrower than what we have so we can take all 3 kids in the hybrid!

  5. I found an amazing shop in San Luis Obispo that has everything bamboo, the best selection of bamboo clothing anywhere. So cool! Really nice website too –

  6. $32,000 is a small price to pay to save on gas and the environment. I wish there are more ports where I could charge my car though.

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