Vital Stats

Engine:
1.8L I4 / 4.4 kWh Li-ion
Power:
134 HP (combined)
Transmission:
CVT
Drivetrain:
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
3,165 LBS
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
21.6 CU-FT
MPG:
49 MPG / 87 MPGe comb. (*est.)
You Say You Want An Evolution?



Here's a game that the first people who buy the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid should play with their other Prius-driving friends: Let them slide behind the wheel and see if they can even tell that it isn't a standard, third-generation Prius. Very few will be able to tell. That's how subtle the changes are between the two vehicles, at least, to someone who isn't looking too closely. After driving the corded Prius in California recently, we can confidently say that from both the outside and behind the wheel, the Prius Plug-in Hybrid looks, drives and feels pretty much like any other example of the world's most popular hybrid. Of course, this Prius does receive some important advances – ones that hardcore fans will notice them right away – but it's more than obvious that Toyota's strategy with its new model is evolution, not revolution.

The changes start with the plug-in's new lithium-ion battery pack. Much smaller than the packs used in the two most popular plug-in vehicles on the market, the Prius Plug-in's 176-pound, 4.4-kWh battery pack offers just enough juice, Toyota says, for an "electric-only driving range of up to 15 miles at a maximum speed of 62 mile-per-hour" (More on how this isn't exactly true after the jump).
For the sake of comparison, the all-electric Nissan Leaf has an official range of 73 miles from its 24-kWh pack and the Chevrolet Volt is rated at 35 miles on a full charge of its 16-kWh pack before the range-extending gas engine kicks in. Of course, in the interest of self-preservation, none of these plug-ins use all of the energy capacity that their batteries can hold, though. That said, even though the Prius Plug-in Hybrid's pack is small compared to other plug-ins, it is clearly light years more sophisticated than the standard Prius' 1.3-kWh nickel-metal hydride pack. If you know nothing else about the changes to the plug-in Prius, this is the one to take note of.

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In side view2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In front view2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In rear view

Sure, there are hints that this isn't a regular Prius before you start driving. Small front wheel well and rear badges now say Plug-in Hybrid instead of just Hybrid, and the model also sports unique wheels. Naturally, this model also benefits from the same modest suite of updates that the regular Prius receives for 2012, including new head- and taillamps (the former tinted blue on the PHEV), as well as a revamped front fascia and bumper.

Powering up the car, which is the same push-button experience that Prius drivers are used to, calls up a new Flash screen. Mostly, though, getting into the Prius Plug-in Hybrid conveys the exact same feeling as getting into a standard one. This is why we can't help but assume that Toyota is targeting buyers who want a better Prius, not necessarily the enthusiastic early adopters who have the wherewithal to pay bigger dollars for a Tesla Roadster or a Volt, or those who desire the all-electric purity of the Leaf. Because that's really what the Prius Plug-in Hybrid is: a better Prius. If you charge it up – which takes just two-and-a-half to three hours from a standard 110-volt outlet (or around 90 minutes with a Level 2 charger that Toyota will sell you for $999) then you can muster a dozen or so miles of city driving without any local emissions. The 24-foot charge cord stows conveniently in a recess below the cargo hold floor.

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In charging port2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In chargers

When you take the car out on the highway, you can cruise for hours using the 1.8-liter DOHC four-cylinder, the same 98-horsepower, 105-pound-feet of torque Atkinson-cycle engine found in the garden-variety Prius. And, because of the way Toyota has made the different driving modes selectable at any time, if you live in the suburbs and your commute starts on the highway before getting into a downtown area, you can burn gas until you exit and then switch over to EV mode. Clever, huh? It's just like a regular Prius, only better.

The Prius Plug-in Hybrid has three driving modes: EV, Eco and Power. Regular Prius drivers will be familiar with these options (surprise!), but the EV mode here operates at higher speeds and for longer distances. The Power mode makes acceleration modestly sportier and the Eco mode emphasizes efficiency (we expect most Prius drivers will keep it engaged whenever possible, especially when gas prices start their next climb).. That leaves us with the "EV" mode, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that turning this on makes your Prius operate like an electric vehicle whenever there is enough power in the battery. You'd be close, but not quite right.

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In engine

As mentioned, Toyota admits that the top speed in EV mode is 62 mph. What the automaker doesn't make as clear is that you can easily engage the gas engine at speeds well below that threshold if you punch the go pedal. Almost any sudden throttle inputs will force the combustion of some of your precious petroleum. If you're cruising on the highway at, say, 60 mph, and let your speed dip to 55 and then nudge it back up to 60, you can do so on battery power. But, if you try to go from 55 to 60 more quickly (in a passing situation, for example), you will, again, burn fuel. It's a shame that one of the most fun things about driving an electric vehicle – instant torque – is missing here, but we doubt this will be a deal breaker for most of the people who consider buying a Prius Plug-in Hybrid. Since Toyota has over a decade's worth of experience figuring out how to sell a simple-to-use hybrid car to the masses, we are pretty sure the engineers and marketers there doubt it, too.

(Note: The Prius Plug-in Hybrid we drove was a pre-production prototype, but the chances that Toyota will alter anything major between now and the initial launch next spring are slim).

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In headlight2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In wheel detail2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In taillight2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In badge

Whether operating on battery or gasoline, the plug-in Prius drives and handles almost exactly like a standard third-gen Prius, love it or loathe it. That means you get the same front-drive traction, the same constant velocity transmission, the same easy-breezy, feel-free electric power steering, and the same combined 134 horsepower from the engine and the pair of high-output electric motors. To its eternal credit, even with its bigger, heavier battery pack, Toyota has managed to keep overall weight gain between the two vehicles to just 124 pounds (3,165 lbs. vs. 3,042). Many tricks were used to keep the weight down, including relocating the charge port. Older development models had a port above the passenger-side front wheel, with wires tailing back to the onboard charger mounted under the front passenger seat, then running to the battery pack in the back. Now, the port and charger are located by the rear passenger wheel, which reduces the amount of internal wiring needed. It will probably take some getting used to for drivers to remember that gas is on the left side, electricity goes into the right side, but different input locations are a reality for every plug-in hybrid – and it really shouldn't be a big deal for owners to get used to.

From the driver's seat, the Prius surrounds you with information. A head-up display is available on the Advanced trim level, and Toyota has also redesigned some of the information you can get from the info screen on both trim levels. There is now a monthly fuel consumption record available, for example, which emphasizes the sort of futuristic, computer-based driving experience that the Prius encourages. Toyota's Entune infotainment system will also be standard equipment, and this marks the point where car and cell phone begin to merge. Entune provides access to Pandora, iHeartRadio, Bing, Movie Tickets and OpenTable. The Advanced trim level will get the following plug-in vehicle-specific apps standard: Charge Management, Remote Air Conditioning System, Charging Station Map, Vehicle Finder and Eco Dashboard. We didn't get to test all of these features out, since they are still being worked on. There will also be a way to log-in to XM Stocks, but if you need to check on all this stuff while driving, you probably shouldn't be on the road while doing so, eh? While most of these capabilities are new, one feature unfortunately remains very much the same: the Prius' reversing beep. Argh.

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In interior2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In energy monitor display2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In consumption display2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In rear cargo area

A welcome change from an earlier prototype we sampled is that no trunk space has been lost compared to the third-gen Prius. Even though there is no Prius V Plug-in (perhaps that's coming down the line), the normal Prius design offers plenty of practicality. There is room for five and plenty of storage in back. Try putting as much into any other plug-in hybrid on the market, like the Volt or – ha! – the Fisker Karma.

Prices for the Prius Plug-in Hybrid start at $32,000 and the top-of-the-line Advanced will cost $39,525; reservations for both start next month. Most buyers should be able to get a federal tax credit of $2,500 to ease the sting. Toyota believes the car will be blessed with a fuel economy rating of 87 mpg equivalent and that it will get 49 mpg (combined) when operating only on gasoline. Compare this to the Volt, which gets just 37 mpg combined (using premium fuel) when the battery runs out (after many more EV miles, granted). The plugless Prius achieves 50 mpg combined, so 49 could be seen as a step backwards, but in real-world driving, it's likely to be a wash. What's more, the Prius Plug-in should also quality for the California Air Resources Board's Enhanced Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) emissions rating. If and when it does, say hello to High Occupancy Vehicle lane cruising, California drivers! For some, this will be all the improvement that Toyota needs to give the standard Prius, since the Golden State's coveted carpool lane exemption for eligible hybrids ran out on July 1.

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In rear 3/4 view

Toyota has yet to announce pricing for the regular 2012 Prius, but 2011 models range from $23,520 to $28,790, with no tax incentives available. If your commute is more than a dozen miles or doesn't involve traffic-packed roadways, will the extra thousands make the charging capability worthwhile? Perhaps not, but we're guessing that won't stop most potential customers from making the leap anyhow. The plug-in Prius will be available in 14 west and east coast states in the spring of 2012 and it's scheduled to roll out across the country in 2013.

How popular will the improved Prius be? Toyota is forecasting 15,000 sales in the first full year (70 percent of which will likely be the base model, 30 percent Advanced). From where we sit, that seems like a pretty conservative expectation, at least if Toyota doesn't have any production constraints (especially considering that that the regular-old Prius netted nearly 141,000 sales just last year). Given Toyota's recent expansion of the Prius brand and a fresh blitz of marketing dollars, some inside the company expect it to eventually become the company's best-selling nameplate. If the Prius family continues to expand and improve at this clip, we wouldn't be at all surprised if they're right.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 105 Comments
      Temple
      • 3 Years Ago
      15,000 cars for the US alone is fairly significant for a plug-in. Especially considering that the Volt sold 302 units this last and the Leaf 1,362. Its priced right, and I'm sure they're going to sell a ton more in Japan and Europe. Hopefully, lihtium-ion battery prices fall, the base Prius will become PHEV as well.
      JRBEINGINEER
      • 3 Years Ago
      “The Prius Plug-in Hybrid has three driving modes: EV, Eco and Power.” Nope! There are FOUR driving modes. When not in EV, Eco or Power Mode, a (normal) Prius is in Normal Mode. I suspect that this applies to the Prius Plug-in Hybrid as well. “Toyota believes the car will be blessed with a fuel economy rating of 87 mpg equivalent and that it will get 49 mpg (combined) when operating only on gasoline.” Nope again! That would be 49 mpg (combined) when running on a combination of the ICE and electric motors. (Okay, okay – I suppose you could make a case that the only input energy is gasoline. I’m not sure if this is true or not.) Disclaimer: As with all Homo sapiens, I suppose that there is an infinitesimal chance that I could be wrong.
      protovici
      • 3 Years Ago
      Just so ugly. I am sure a cool design can be added with good aerodynamics!
        protovici
        • 3 Years Ago
        @protovici
        There must be 7 prius owners who disagree with me. Someday the truth will come out. These cars are just ugly! I would buy a hybrid, but I wanna have my man hood in place if I drive one! BTW, my 1994 civic only gets 10 miles per gallon less, so on that note, I would never buy one!
          kmanning83
          • 3 Years Ago
          @protovici
          Lol, the guy with the 1994 Civic is calling another car unattractive.
          Smooth
          • 3 Years Ago
          @protovici
          If your man hood is jeopardized based on what car you're driving, that speaks volumes on you, not so much the car.
          usbseawolf2000
          • 3 Years Ago
          @protovici
          You are getting old in the 17 years old car. Here is a suggestion. Try something new and open your mind.
      venturamickey
      • 3 Years Ago
      the joke is on all you plug in freaks. Wait til Obama stops coal usage and raises electricity bills to 4 times what they are now. We will have to hook a gas line to a cows behind and run on pure methane and hope bettsy keep farting.
        David
        • 3 Years Ago
        @venturamickey
        I FUQING HATE IT WHEN PEOPLE BRING POLITICS TO A CAR SITE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! RAAWRRR!!!! MUST....SMASH....POLITICAL...DOUCHEBAGS!!!!!!!
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 3 Years Ago
        @venturamickey
        It would still be a comparable price to operate an electric car then. Plus you could get a solar array and make payments on it for 15-20 years, and receive free electricity from those panels for the next 15-25 years.
          Danny Eckel
          • 3 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          While I don't agree with mr extremist you are sadly mistaken. First off the electricity your getting is not free.....that's like buying a gift card and claiming you get free meals. Solar panels do not make sense right now ecnomically, while I agree with the green movement, why is Obama slashing clean coal research when the US is the Middle east of coal deposits
        desinerd1
        • 3 Years Ago
        @venturamickey
        ... or Rick Perry would let all oil companies to merge in Standard Oil. Being a monopoly, they would raise the price of Gasoline to $20 a gallon. Yeah, it could go either way!
      Burabus
      • 3 Years Ago
      good looking car, haters gonna hate
        Renaurd
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Burabus
        ....and liars are gonna lie.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Burabus
        [blocked]
      Car Guy
      • 3 Years Ago
      15 Miles on a charge? Sorry Toyota, you are way behind the curve set by Nissan and GM.
        Dest
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Car Guy
        Except you have to account for the far superior cargo space and far superior price. Different strokes for different folks. This is probably going to be the ultimate short-commute car.
        1701J
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Car Guy
        Have you ever taken a ride in a Chevy Volt? I have, and I have driven a Toyota Prius. The Toyota Prius is deceptively small on the outside (in comparison to the Volt which is deceptively a larger car on the outside) The Prius is cavernous in comparison. which at this time makes it a more practical car, and the Prius IS a proven design.. GM and the others may be on to something, but they still yet have to prove themselves, and make a car that is reliable, balanced and efficient. This Plug in Prius may only get 15 miles on 1 charge.. however it takes far less time for it to charge the car.. once the charge runs out, it runs like a standard Prius giving you consistantly 50mpg on your drive. The Volt will give you maybe 30-35 miles on a charge that takes up to 8 hrs to charge the battery packs.. and then a gasoline engine engages to charge the battery so it runs off of the electric engine at a whopping 32mpg. The setup for the Volt doesn't even hardly sound efficient. I said this before on another post. From an engineering standpoint.. The Volt is for people who may want to do a serial commute daily without using much gas (i.e. To work, to school, to the store, and back home) if you drive say 50 miles or less per day and you want to use little or no gas.. then the Volt may be the car for you. The Prius Plugin seems to be engineered for people who have the short commute or want to have increased fuel economy.. The Prius Plugin seems to be better for people who do short commutes, but also want the freedom of operating with a longer range. In other words.. the Volt is only good until your drive passes 35 miles.. after 35 miles of driving.. The Prius or the Prius Plug in becomes more efficient. Do the basic math.. If a Chevy Volt gets 35 miles on an electric charge you traveled 35 miles.. then a gas engine engages and you get an estimated 32mpg on a 9 gallon tank This would mean your TOTAL range on one charge and a tank of gas = 323 miles. You drive a Plug in Toyota Prius you get 15 miles on an electric charge, and you get an estimated 50mpg on a 10 gallon This would mean your TOTAL range on one charge and a tank of gas = 515 miles. To me efficiency and engineering wise the Prius is the better bet.
          Sukairain
          • 3 Years Ago
          @1701J
          Frankly if you ask me, the Volt is a joke compare to the plugin Prius....... or even a good old regular Prius.
          Rotation
          • 3 Years Ago
          @1701J
          When in extended-range mode, the Volt doesn't work differently than a Prius. It puts power directly to the wheels and into the battery. I don't know where you get 32mpg from for the Volt, it's rated at 35/40/37. The reason the Volt gets worse mpg is because it isn't a total economy car like the Prius. It's larger (although the Prius isn't small) and it's a decent performer, unlike the Prius. If you want to see a similar thing, look at the Prius v. Despite the advanced drivetrain, it "only" gets 42mpg combined. Why? Because it's not designed for efficiency above all else like the Prius is. Same with the Volt. I'm not sure who the Prius plugin is for. See my post above, it's more expensive in total cost of ownership for the first 17 years you down it than a regular Prius is and after that, a Volt is the cheapest of the 3.
          1701J
          • 3 Years Ago
          @1701J
          @Rotation, But th flaw in your argument is that how a car perfoms is what makes it better. Thats not necessarily the case here. Now I will admit that a Volt has superb acceleration, and the interior is not low rate.. however it is not a balanced vehicle in terms of form and function.. its seem to me it is a car that is mostly style with fuel efficiency as an afterthought. The Volt may be a larger car but the passenger space is very sparse. The Prius may not be as pretty, or offer the performance that a Volt may offer.. but it is engineered smarter and its a better car on a proven platform, the car may look deceptively small but there is passenger room and decent space for your cargo. I drove a Prius like I stole it and truth be told.. it wasn't too slow for me, but a drivers needs and wants are subjective. I think the big changes will come for the next generation Prius, as technology and battery pack will become much more advanced coming down the pike in maybe 4 or 5 more years.. perhaps the styling will be edgier. But in these times and me becoming more practical.. the Prius seems to be the winner here, and the more practical choice, its not an offensive car, and no its not inspiring me to want to tear through stop lights and twisty roads.. but as a people hauler, and a day to day driver it does what its supposed to and it keeps it simple.
      --RAfiKi-
      • 3 Years Ago
      no comments about this being an econobox for 32k base...a corolla can be had for less than half. get yourself a cruze eco as the best bet. id seriously ride my bike (as in a human powered bicycle) before you caught me in a prius.
        kontroll
        • 3 Years Ago
        @--RAfiKi-
        I agree, at least they don't make fun of you riding a bike as they would if you drive one of these awfull contraptions.
          • 3 Years Ago
          @kontroll
          [blocked]
        dimcorner
        • 3 Years Ago
        @--RAfiKi-
        Some people just can't do that. I would love to ride a bike but getting to work sweaty is not a good way to keep your job. Also you try to get around here in Miami with a bike and you won't live very long. Also the surprise thunderstorm is not fun in work clothes...
        • 3 Years Ago
        @--RAfiKi-
        [blocked]
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
        psy-q
        • 3 Years Ago
        Please don't even go there...yes the Prius and the Plug-in prius get better milieage than the TDi, but it still not going to sell as much. Trust me I've worked for both VW and Toyota and Diesels have nothing to be scared of. Thats why Mazda, GM are bringing their Diesels States Side and VW/Audi expanding their diesel line up. There are many drawbacks to the prius believe it or not...i've driven one many many miles and I would never, ever recomend one over the TDi or any other good diesel.
          usbseawolf2000
          • 3 Years Ago
          @psy-q
          Hybrids have higher MPG than Diesel on the highway even with gas containing less energy per gallon. In the city, there is no contest. Hybrid components are maintenance-free. Diesel emission equipment is high maintenance.
          wilkegm
          • 3 Years Ago
          @psy-q
          @4540flossy- I was with you until you said hydrogen. Show me a near limitless supply of electricity first. U.til then, 10% energy return doesn't cut it.
        ChrisH
        • 3 Years Ago
        Maybe for VW, but MAZDA supposedly is going to come on strong in the diesel department. What is killing the "TDI" which is most associated with VW is the styling. Well that and their dealers. I have a 2010 Golf TDI and the dealer is reason #2 I won't buy a new one (I do like the Beetle's styling) the #1 reason was the six days in the shop with less than 8k miles.
      Sukairain
      • 3 Years Ago
      Goodbye Volt..... The king of hybrid is back.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Sukairain
        [blocked]
          tvelt92
          • 3 Years Ago
          The prius plug in will no doubt take away from the already pitiful sales of the volt. People just aren't buying them (they only sold 125 last July). Toyota sells thousands of prius' a month, and although the plug in may only make up 20 or 30% of the sales, it will by far pass the volt. Also keep in mind that the prius is over 6k cheaper, gets over 12 mpg more combined, and has a more spacious interior.
      Smooth
      • 3 Years Ago
      Toyota is smart. It's evolutionary. The Prius is an ICON. Yes, icon. Everyone knows it as a very good hybrid. Now you get a plug in version? Nice move. Add in the new wagon one and the smaller Prius too, and the Prius will no doubt be Toyotas best selling nameplate. Prices aren't too bad either..... Now if Toyota could make a sporty hybrid Prius, they may take over the world. Well maybe not, but you know what I mean haha
      usbseawolf2000
      • 3 Years Ago
      Here is a midsize car that can be EV in the city and HV on the highway. It costs less than a pure midsize EV (Leaf) with range limitation. Unlike the compact Volt, it doesn't compromise one rear seat nor interior space. It does not weight like Equinox (Volt does). It is also the cleanest car (E-ATPZEV) that runs on gas and get you into HOV lane.
      Hazdaz
      • 3 Years Ago
      Toyota's approach to slowly, but surely, moving the industry forward has paid of handsomely for them in the past, and honestly I see that continuing into the future. The fact that this is the next (small) step beyond a regular hybrid, and not a full-on EV or extended-range EV speaks volumes to Toyota's evolutionary approach. And in many ways I agree with it. Hybrids have been out for more than a DECADE and yet only now are people just starting to get comfortable with the idea. Making the jump all the way to pure electric power (Leaf) or electric with backup (like the Volt) is probably too big of a jump for most consumers right now. Consumers tend to need to be confortable with a new tech, before they are willing to open their wallets to it en mass. Having a plug-in hybrid that gets people used to the idea of plugging in their car and offering them amazing efficiency for their local drives, is the first real step to then finally getting them to get comfortable with electricity completely powering their automotive needs. Toyota has definitely taken a much more conservative approach here and it will be interesting to see how it works out for them, but with their success with regular hybrids, I am guessing its going to be a winning formula.
        benzaholic
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Hazdaz
        One might say the ability to offer these minor progressions is the benefit of having jumped into the mass production hybrid game first. This allowed the Prius to progress gradually, provides less generational change sticker shock, and as noted in the article, allows consumers the time to accept the technology. The Leaf and the Volt are a big jump from what those manufacturers previously offered, making it harder to predict consumer acceptance. Toyota gave themselves enough time to take baby steps. The result? Over 140,000 units last year, and easy consumer acceptance of this next Prius iteration. I still think putting the driver's dashboard content in the center, instead of directly in front (not counting the heads up portion), speaks worlds about the lack of driver involvement being part of the basic design specs, but there are zillions of people who don't particularly enjoy driving. Big market there.
        Synthono
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Hazdaz
        I imagine that you're right about gradual progression being the plan. I suspect if this does well there won't be a "regular" Prius next update, it'll just be all plugin, with the range changing based on the model you get. Then, in 10 years, they'll offer a pure electric Prius. Just slowly getting people to dip their toes in the water with electric.
        Dave
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Hazdaz
        More like bringing a knife to a gunfight.
          Hazdaz
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Dave
          What's the point of the fight, if there isn't going to be anyone there to watch it?? I think both the Leaf, and especially the Volt, are amazing pieces of technology, but those 2 cutting edge cars might be fighting tooth and nail for a few thousand sales per year (basically the early-adopter crowd). I could easily see this Plug-in Prius getting many times that number in sales. Its an established name, from a company that essentially made the term "hybrid" a household name.
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