After years of development capped by a painstaking study of 600 pre-production cars around the world, Toyota is finally ready to launch the plug-in Prius, which goes on sale in the spring of 2012.
As expected—and like the pre-pro cars—the plug-in is basically a Prius sporting a bigger, pricier lithium-ion battery pack with a capacity of 4.4 kWh. Contrast that to the standard Prius’s nickel-metal hydride pack, which can hold 1.3 kWh. The bigger battery pack also gets a heavier-duty cooling system, with the heat exchanger, cooling fan, and inverter all being upgraded. And that’s about it. Toyota made no changes to the car’s 98-hp 1.8-liter four-cylinder internal-combustion engine or its 80-hp electric companion. Somewhat surprising, however, is the fact that Toyota managed to slash more than 200 pounds compared to the pre-production model we drove nearly two years ago. The plug-in model’s claimed 3165-pound curb weight is only 123 pounds more than that of the standard model.
Toyota says that the battery pack needs 2.5 to 3 hours to fully charge from a 120-volt source, or about half that when using a 240-volt outlet. With all that extra juice on board, the Prius is programmed to go farther and faster using electric power alone: Toyota claims 15 miles and up to 62 mph. That said, even in the driver-selectable EV mode, the gas engine will kick in under hard acceleration. Based on our past experience, that means anything more than about quarter throttle, although the programming could have changed since we drove the pre-production car.
The point of all of this, of course, is reduced fuel consumption. Toyota claims that the plug-in will achieve an EPA combined rating of 87 mpge when using EV mode, and 49 mpg in regular hybrid operation. The latter number is 1 mpg shy of the standard Prius’s figure; blame the extra weight.