• Apr 13, 2010
2010 Plug-in Prius Prototypes – Click above for high-res image gallery

It's been two-and-a-half years since we last got behind the wheel of a plug-in Toyota Prius. The name is the same, but today's plug-in Prius is a totally different vehicle, and it was high time to see what changes Toyota has made to their plug-in hybrid (PHEV) in its ongoing effort to slowly get the car ready for the U.S. market.

Back in late 2007, the prototype had a NiMH battery pack and the converted vehicle was based on the second-generation model. The new fleet of PHEV Priuses in San Diego this week as part of Toyota's Sustainable Mobility Seminar are converted 2010 third-generation models, featuring upgraded lithium-ion packs.

Toyota has brought the PHEV Prius fleet to the U.S. to begin a two-year test and monitoring period. The vehicles are equipped with transmitters from Qualcomm that record not only driver behavior, but also how often the car is plugged in. We'll have more information soon with technical details about the mules and an explanation of Toyota's plans to test and sell the long-awaited plug-in hatchback for 2012. But before then, we wanted to grab some seat time.

The short version is that driving a plug-in Prius is almost exactly like driving a standard one, except that it remains quieter for a longer period as the engine is off more often (during short distances) thanks to a larger battery pack and improved all-electric performance. Acceleration, handling, braking – everything feels awfully familiar. Make the jump to find out more, including how you can now go up to 64 mph without using a single drop of fuel.



Photos by Sebastian Blanco / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Sixty-four mph was the highest speed we managed to achieve while staying in pure EV mode, and it turns out that most of our two, 10-mile loops were completed using battery power (we managed 70 percent on the highway loop, then 83 percent on the city loop when we started with a full pack). The newest PHEV Priuses have a maximum all-electric range of around 13-14 miles, compared to the seven miles in the plug-in version of the second-gen Prius.

In the new models, driving on all-electric power is indicated by a green car image that says "EV" in the driver information screen (see below). If the engine kicks in, then this picture turns to a simple, empty outline. This is useful, because when you're traveling at highway speeds, you can't always tell when the engine turns on. When you're driving in quiet locations, then the engine is noticeable, but other than that, the EV light is your only signal that you've moved from electrons to dead dino-juice.


This all reinforces the impression that the new plug-in Prius is just a more advanced version of the regular car you can buy today. You start the car the same way (but now the button is a nice blue color) and shift and steer just like always. The plug-in even has three driver-selectable modes – Eco, Power and Standard – that are similar to the options in the third-gen Prius (there, though, the choices are Eco, Power and EV).

The main feature of Eco mode in the new PHEV Prius is that the pedal becomes more physically difficult to depress, and so the throttle is opened at a smoother rate during acceleration. In practice, this makes the go pedal less responsive, which will annoy anyone who wants to speed away from a red light – an unlikely scenario for the average plug-in Prius owner. In any case, when you really push the pedal down, then the charge/power bar moves all the way into the red on the right side of the screen. This is a visual cue that should be quite familiar to anyone who drives a standard 2010 Prius. Noticing a trend?



Except for the few seconds it takes to plug and unplug the car each day, the current version of the PHEV Prius is the regular Prius, just with better fuel economy. How much fuel does it use? As with all plug-ins, the answer depends on how far you drive each day. For us, on our short routes, the info screens in our test cars read 99.9 mpg. If we had driven much further, we would undoubtedly have seen a serious decrease as we exceeded the car's EV range, but we imagine drivers can expect to get mpg numbers easily in the upper 50s on most days. Thanks, batteries. By the way, those cells take around three hours to top off from a standard 110 outlet and each vehicle comes with a chargre unit that plugs into a standard outlet and feeds the car juice through a J1772 connector.

What else is different about these cars and the regular 2010 Prius? Well, these models have the PHEV-specific blue mica metallic paint color, the trunk floor is raised up about two inches (see here) to make room for an extra 220 pounds of batteries and there are some cooling vents under the back seat. The batteries are in one pack, but are divided into three modules. One module is for the standard hybrid system, while two are dedicated to the EV drive. We don't quite understand why Toyota felt the need to separate the pack into three parts, but asking some questions about this setup is one of many things at the top of our list once we get to spend some time with an engineer. Stay tuned for that, and more.



Photos by Sebastian Blanco / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Our travel and lodging for this media event were provided by the manufacturer.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 28 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      You don't even know what kinda cash car manufacturer's put in trying to keep weight down as low as possible as it is.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Is this more of the same from Toyota? Will this car have software glitches that will leave one stranded in the fast lane? Will the drivers of this car be hit with higher insurance premiums due to shoddy engineering and craftsmanship, resulting in higher incidents of auto accidents and loss of life?

      With more players in the field of hybrid automobiles, let's take the time to educate potential customers that there are better choices than Toyota out there.
      • 4 Years Ago
      How much more than the regular one does this thing cost? And how many miles will one have to drive to get that money back?
      • 4 Years Ago
      Pruis is the ultimate Hybrid...best on the market. The funny thing is...is just going to get better
      • 4 Years Ago
      Honda has stated that they won't produce a hydrogen vehicle for the masses until 2020. The FCX clarity costs honda $500k-$800k to produce right now. I think we can write that one off for the time being.

      BYD.. i dunno.. would you buy a Chinese car? I suppose you wouldn't have to pay extra for the lead & melamine interior package ;)
      • 4 Years Ago
      Lovin' the Reventon-esque wheels. Stay classy Toyota.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I thought Toyota said lithium-ion was too dangerous to use in a car, when GM announced the Volt? I get it, it's only bad when the competition has a head start.
        • 4 Years Ago
        They were using this line when GM was trying to get them to buy into Li-ion at the same time (lowering battery costs). Toyota did not want GM to get that benefit so they stayed NiMH. Now that everyone is getting in on Li-ion Toyota jumps in.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I'm pretty sure they said that Lithium Ion as they existed weren't safe enough for them, but there's lots of different Li-Ion battery chemistries nowadays anyway and I doubt they chose the most explosivetastic lol.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Toyota's been selling Li-Ion (mild) hybrids since 2003 [Vitz], and the Li-Ion Prius plug-in began testing in 2006. Recently All of Toyota's statements about Li-Ion not being ready was nothing more than dis-information as Toyota bought-up lithium mines in Argentina and readied the plug-in Prius for production.

        Think of it as the business version of Ninjitsu. Lull your competitors into a false sense of security by pretending not to be interested in Li-Ion, as you prepare for the sneak attack. Toyota said in December that the Li-Ion Prius plug-in had already had 10.5 million km (6.5 mil miles) of real world testing. This is not something you can achieve overnight.
      • 4 Years Ago
      "Acceleration, handling, braking – everything feels awfully familiar." ..including the inability to stop when the gas hangs up?
        • 4 Years Ago
        Actually, the Prius was mighty low on the list of SUA incidents...til um, Jim "Swinglife" Sikes...couldn't possibly handle all that Prius power...

        Corvette owners everywhere are clearly terrified of this monster!
        • 4 Years Ago
        No, it'll stop when it runs out of cord and the plug comes out of the wall.
      • 4 Years Ago
      my mom drives an m3... I don't think she would would enjoy a prius if it wasn't ugly or slow.
      • 4 Years Ago
      You're also going to have the Focus Electric, Transit Connect Electric, and heck, they might even make a Fusion electric. Hell, the name on that one would sell itself!
      • 4 Years Ago
      Okay folks, yes the Prius is a PHEV and the Volt is a SHEV. SHEV? Yes, SHEV. Series Hybrid Electric Vehicle vs Parrallel Hybrid Electric Vehicle. Please stop saying the 'P' stands for 'Plug-In' it doesn't, no matter how much, even GM, wants to call the Volt a PHEV.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I will probably get voted down for this but ..


      I think the side profile on this Prius looks pretty good.
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