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Some stunning mileage numbers, quick and convenient plug-in battery charging, a surprisingly roomy cabin, a wealth of standard amenities, a decently comfortable ride and standard Entune multimedia/Internet capabilities make Toyota's debuting Prius Plug-In a singularly attractive offering.The Bad
Tepid acceleration and a hefty MSRP, as well as an oddly located and over-endowed gauge and instrument cluster, shorter all-electric range than its closest rival and some distinctly underwhelming cabin materials may keep this primo plug-in hybrid from achieving true greatness.
The CarGurus View
In the automobile manufacturing world, it's a question of advance or die. Toyota's brand-new 2012 Prius Plug-In has all the tools to challenge Chevy's once-unique Volt for over-the-top efficiency and performance in the plug-in hybrid/electric automobile segment. When (not if) Toyota comes up with a way to lengthen this debuting hatchback's range, beef up acceleration just a tad and maybe lower its somewhat inflated MSRP, this gas-sipping Prius should quickly become the equal of its legendary forbears.
At a Glance
Toyota's venerable, indeed ground-breaking Prius is taken to the next level with the introduction of its brand-new, 5-passenger 2012 Prius Plug-In midsize hybrid hatchback. This new kid on the block offers traditional, ÃÂthough not always perfectly balanced, ÃÂgas/electric performance, along with a mileage-enhancing plug-in feature, which means, of course, even better fuel efficiency than the regular Prius, with longer and speedier trips on electric power alone. Then, too, a few extra bells and whistles for some added comfort and convenience won't hurt this debutant, either.
Available in 2 trims, Base and Advanced, this high-falutin' hatchback can, at least according to Toyota, journey up to 15 miles on electric power aloneâat up to 62 mph, no less. Alas, real-time figures are, according to a number of reviews, somewhat less impressive. What is certain, however, is the fact that this precocious Prius can be recharged in about 3 hours using an available 120-volt home charger unit, and if a heftier 240-volt charging system is used, the time, naturally enough, drops to about an hour and a half. Thus it's conceivable that a tank of gas will last about a month with short commutes and nearby shopping excursions.
Unfortunately, hybrids, especially of the Prius variety, are not going to burn up the track. Hybrid/electric technology still relies on ponderous battery packs that take up space and pile on vehicle weight. The Prius Plug-In packs a heavier and pricier, albeit more advanced, lithium-ion battery that feeds a pair of electric motors to take some of the load, Âand thereby some of the fuel gluttony, Âfrom the traditional inline 4-cylinder (I4) gasoline engine. However, acceleration still leaves much to be desired, as does agility.
In any case, those who want to buy American can check out Chevy's Volt, which goes further faster, at least for the moment, while others might want to take a look at the more traditional (and cheaper), if somewhat less fuel miserly Kia Optima Hybrid or Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. Though the technology still isn't perfect, rechargeable vehicles like the Prius Plug-In are decidedly the future, and this Japanese-made midsize 5-door can look forward to a bright one.
Flaunting the same gasoline-burning 1.8-liter I4 powerplant as its more traditional Prius sibling, the Prius Plug-In mates this variable-valve-timed (VVT) four-banger with a pair of 60kWh electric motors and the traditional continuously variable transmission (CVT) for a total of 134 hp at 5,200 rpm and a relatively paltry 105 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm.
Mileage, meantime, is estimated at 51 mpg city/49 highway, which is about as good as it gets, while regenerative braking, along with plug-in recharging and, of course, the four-banger all contribute to battery recharging. Additionally, as with traditional hybrids, the Prius Plug-In boasts auto engine stop/start technology that also contributes to those impressive fuel-economy numbers.
Tests of the 2012 Prius Plug-In have it going from 0-60 mph in a plodding 10.1 seconds, about the same quasi-pickup as the next-gen Prius III. A distinct clamor from the I4 has a number of reviewers wincing when they step on the gas, but all-electric range and alacrity, not to mention those astounding efficiency numbers, keep reviewer complaints to a minimum.
Ride & Handling
Sprung like its more prosaic namesake, the 2012 Prius Plug-In flaunts a front independent suspension bolstered by MacPherson front struts, a torsion beam rear end and a stabilizer bar at both front and rear. Additionally, both the Base and Advanced versions of this midsize hybrid hatchback roll on 15-inch alloy wheels mounting low-rolling-resistance tires.
Reviewers are quick to note that the Prius line, in all its various versions, is a touring automobile, thus its ride is usually described as wallow-laden but relatively comfy over all but the roughest of roads.
As with its more traditional siblings, the Prius Plug-In suffers from over-boosted electric power steering that, according to most reviews, eases low-speed maneuvering but ultimately results in much body lean and noseplow in all but the most gentle of corners.
Reviewers also point out that the regenerative braking systems common to hybrid/plug-in technology will take a lot of getting used to, with the system aboard the Prius Plug-In especially bothersome. Tests did, however, find the Prius Plug-In stopping from 60 mph in a class-average 130 feet, some 12 feet less than its lighter-weight siblings, thus stopping power isn't an issue, but pedal feel might be.
Cabin & Comfort
Say what you want about hybrid vehicles, but the various makers of such creative conveyances do like to use these platforms as showcases for their more lavish amenities, and the 2012 Prius Plug-In is no exception. The Base trim, for instance, boasts a rear spoiler and heated power-adjustable outside mirrors on its familiar profile, with cloth upholstery, heated front seats, a height-adjustable driver's seat and a simulated alloy steering wheel mounting audio and cruise controls. Simulated alloy cabin trim provides a touch of class, while power windows and remote power door locks, a rear-view camera, a hybrid performance display and telescoping tilt-wheel steering ensure some added convenience. Climate control, of course, embraces all these baubles, while standard HDD navigation, Bluetooth technology and Toyota's touted Entune multimedia system includes such internet abilities as Bing, Pandora radio and iHeart radio, all via smartphone apps.
A single-CD player, finally, boasts 6 speakers, satellite radio, auxiliary iPod integration and a USB connection.
The upscale Prius Plug-In Advanced, meantime, adds an 8-way power-adjustable and height-adjustable driver's seat with power lumbar support, leatherette upholstery, a universal remote garage door opener, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and JBL premium audio components, including 8 speakers. Additionally, an upgraded Entune system in this top-shelf trim includes post-crash alerts and stolen vehicle recovery assistance, while a redundant head-up display shows speed and efficiency numbers right on the windshield.
Options-wise, both trims are eligible for such available equipment as the Preferred Premium Accessory Package with carpeted floor mats, cargo mats and nets, and a first-aid kit. Standalone add-ons include all-weather floor mats, an emergency assistance kit and various exterior protection and exterior trim enhancements.
Reviewers find the accommodations aboard the Prius Plug-In to be roomy enough, with better-than-adequate small-item storage facilities. However, virtually all reviews complain that low-rent materials and overly plush seats detract from this hybrid hatchback's appeal, especially considering its price. Road and engine noise, too, can be distracting, according to many reviewers, while the unconventional dashboard cluster takes some getting used to and crams too many buttons, gauges and switches into an area that's just too compact for easy accessibility.
Finally, tall rear-seat headrests and a blatantly useless solid strip framing the rear window compromise visibility to the rear (though the standard rear-view camera helps immensely in this regard), and a few reviewers say that the Advanced trim's redundant head-up display ought to be standard on the Base trim also.
Toyota's famed Star Safety System, of course, comes standard in the 2012 Prius Plug-In and includes 4-wheel antilock brakes (ABS) with electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency braking assist, along with traction and stability control. As with its more prosaic siblings, this plug-in Prius also boasts front and rear head airbags, dual front side-mounted airbags, a driver's-side knee airbag and front head restraint whiplash protection, along with the added blessing of daytime running lights.
The Prius Plug-In Advanced, meantime, offers such extra standard safety equipment as front fog/driving lights, post-crash alerts and stolen vehicle recovery assistance via the enhanced Entune technology, as well as front fog/driving lights and self-leveling LED headlights.
No testing results are available for the 2012 Prius Plug-In from either the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) or from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The similarly equipped regular Prius, however, gets high marks in front and side impact testing, as well as roof strength tests from the latter, while the former gives it a top-notch 5 stars for overall safety and side-impact protection, with a second-best rating of 4 stars for front-impact and rollover protection.
What Owners Think
Owner complaints regarding Toyota's introductory Prius Plug-In run the gamut from iffy cabin materials to a distinct lack of oomph from the hybrid powertrain. Some frustrating clunks and hesitation when the drivetrain shifts from gas to electric operation and back also disappoint a number of owners, while others are unsure what to make of the cluttered and distracting dashboard arrangement. Finally, the poor rearward visibility, though ameliorated somewhat by the standard rear-view camera, still bugs a number of owners.
On the Plus side, owners praise the gas mileage they get from this plug-in Prius, while the standard navigation system, quiet cruise, roomy cabin and the hefty all-electric range and speed also draw plenty of owner commendations. Ride comfort also draws its share of owner kudos, as does this brand-new plug-in's quiet cruise. It should be noted that much of this customer appreciation contradicts the majority of reviewer's opinions, thus those in the market for an eco-friendly and fuel-miserly hybrid might want to put the Prius Plug-In at the top of their tire-kicking list.
Have Laptop. Will Travel. I'm retired and travelling the country in a 34' motor home. I'm really digging meeting people . . and sometimes their cars . . . getting a sense of what makes this nation tick. The plan is to visit all the national parks in the continental US, then cruise to Alaska to visit Denali, and to Hawaii to check out Haleakala and the Hawaii Volcano's national parks. Anyhow, when I'm not horsing the motor home around the roadways, I'm tooting around in the 2012 Ford Focus that we tow behind, or making runs to Home Depot and various malls with the 2004 F-150 that just won't die.
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2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Top Comparisons
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Looking for a Used Prius Plug-In in your area?
CarGurus has 94 nationwide Prius Plug-In listings starting at $6,975.
Toyota Prius Plug-In Questions
After my car went in for 2 weeks and over $9,000 in front end body work, mostly cosmetic and some frame straightening after I hit a piece of a truck's tire on the highway at 70 mph, my battery capac...
I will not be plugging in for around 6 months, will this cause any battery problems?