Quick Drive: 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid

By Winding Road Staff

April 30, 2012

I ran a fairly extensive test of the Prius PHV last time it was in the office. The results, lower-than-expected battery range and poor mileage, were disappointing to say the least. That being said, I had a suspicion that part of this poor performance was down to the extremely chilly weather we experienced during that test. There were other factors (I still have a feeling that the pre-production nature of that car hurt its overall mileage), but I felt confident pinning most of the blame on Mother Nature.
When I booked a Prius PHV for an early April test, I was excited to test it out in more hospitable conditions. Michigan’s springtime decided to cooperate, with temperatures in the upper 50s/lower 60s while I was testing. The results were admirable: 64.4 miles per gallon over a 50-mile route in a fully charged PHV.
I found this remarkable, as it required very little effort on my part. I wasn’t aggressively trying to hypermile, and I accelerated away from lights at a prudent speed. There were no queues of cars waiting for me to get up to speed. Getting that mileage was essentially effortless.
The three-hour charge time is downright reasonable when compared to a Volt or Leaf, which can take anywhere from nine to 13 hours to recharge (based on our experience). And like the Volt, there’s absolutely no sense of range anxiety, as once the battery is drained, the car becomes a standard, fuel-sipping Prius hybrid.
—Brandon Turkus, Online Editor
This car really got me thinking about how big a difference even a small all-electric range can make. For me, my commute is just about 15 miles each way. I was able to make it home in the Prius PHV, having only used a little bit of gas when I needed just an extra bit of shove to get up to highway speed or pass somebody. Then, if I had to do a little driving in town, it was all very efficiently dispatched. I imagine that if I owned this car, I would very rarely find myself stopping at a gas station during my normal workweek. Only if I were driving to visit folks out of town would I have to use any significant amount of gasoline.
The Prius, in any of its forms I’ve sampled so far, is not an enthusiast vehicle. That’s not to say it’s a bad car, however, or even something that has to be tolerated as a sacrifice for greater efficiency. The Prius offers a lot in the way of comfort and smooth driving. I’d argue that the PHV offers even more in the way of smoothness, thanks to being able to spend more time in EV mode.
And, I even had a bit of fun with the car. I enjoyed seeing how efficiently I could drive. I liked the quiet serenity of cruising through the neighborhood in EV mode. If we were to compare driving to boating, EV mode is, in a way, a lot like sailing. It may not be the ultimate rush, but there’s something sort of special about it, and I don’t come away feeling unsatisfied.
—John Beltz Snyder, Senior Editor
Three-hour charge time on a standard 110V plug is awesome
EV mode offers quiet, smooth, serene driving
Different drive modes make it easier to conserve charge when needed
At only 15 miles, we’d like a bit more battery range
The rear hatch could use a dedicated space to store the charger and cords
Lacks engaging driving dynamics