The first 100 kilo­me­tres in our Prius


We’re get­ting switched on to elec­tric mo­tor­ing with our lat­est long-term test ve­hi­cle: a Toy­ota Prius PHV (plug-in hy­brid).

We’re keen to dis­cover the re­al­i­ties of plug-in mo­tor­ing, so we’ll be us­ing it as an ev­ery­day com­mut­ing ve­hi­cle, keep­ing a close check on just how much pure-elec­tric mo­tor­ing we re­ally do and whether the nov­elty of this tech­nol­ogy wears off. We’ll also work in a few road trips – be­cause what’s the point of a plug-in hy­brid if you don’t use all that range oc­ca­sion­ally?

Why Prius PHV? We reckon it’s the clos­est thing on the mar­ket to an ‘‘af­ford­able’’ new plug-in hy­brid.

It’s not ex­actly new, of course. The PHV was never sold as a new ve­hi­cle by Toy­ota New Zealand (TNZ). But with a plen­ti­ful sup­ply of ex-Ja­pan used ex­am­ples now avail­able, it’s been added to the brand’s Sig­na­ture Class ap­prove­dused pro­gramme.

Our 2014-vintage,12,000km, $35,000 ex­am­ple is typ­i­cal of the cars TNZ is bring­ing in. It’s not the lat­est shape, but it is still ar­guably the most ad­vanced Prius you can buy in NZ be­cause it has the plugin ca­pa­bil­ity that the lat­est ver­sion lacks. At least un­til TNZ chooses to launch the Prius Prime.

Struc­turally and cos­met­i­cally, the PHV isn’t a whole lot dif­fer­ent from the standard Prius. In fact, it’s so close it shares the five-star crash-safety rat­ing awarded to the same-gen­er­a­tion non-plug-in (for want of a bet­ter term) Prius.

It just hap­pens to have a lithium-ion bat­tery pack that can be plugged into ei­ther a home socket or a Type 1 quick-charger (the kind you of­ten see at shop­ping malls) for pure-elec­tric mo­tor­ing. Be­yond that, it turns into a petrol­elec­tric hy­brid just like a reg­u­lar Prius. TNZ claims an EV range of 26km and a to­tal of 1000km with the petrol-elec­tric pow­er­train in op­er­a­tion.

It’s early days as I write this: just a few days of city com­mut­ing. It’s fair to say we didn’t get off to a high-volt­age start, as the lo­cally pro­duced JuicePoint charg­ing ca­ble supplied with the car was faulty. Shouldn’t re­ally hap­pen says TNZ, as the cars are given a new ca­ble and then charged with that same cord be­fore they leave the Sig­na­ture Class fa­cil­ity.

First im­pres­sions? The gar­ish ‘‘Tokyo taxi’’ two-tone paintjob is hi­lar­i­ous – def­i­nitely looks like a used im­port but you def­i­nitely know it’s not a reg­u­lar Prius.

Our PHV is the top Prius G grade, so we also have gas­dis­charge head­lights, Touch Tracer re­mote con­trols on the steer­ing wheel, cruise con­trol and key­less en­try/start.

First of­fi­cial duty for the PHV has been a run from my garage to a shop­ping cen­tre 22km away through rush-hour – first to get a gauge on the EV range and sec­ond to get a sense of the speed of city traf­fic.

Iron­i­cally, on a day when grid­lock would have been use­ful, we had a spec­tac­u­larly good run. None­the­less, plenty of idle-time to feel good about driv­ing on zero- emis­sions power as ex­haust pipes were smok­ing all around us and an av­er­age speed of 29kmh for the jour­ney isn’t ex­actly rac­ing.

Now, about that elec­tric power: the PHV only man­aged 17km of EV range on this trip, which is well short of the claimed 26km. It was ac­tu­ally look­ing pretty good to make it all the way on bat­tery for the first half of the trip, un­til we hit some clear mo­tor­way and had to boost up to 100kmh for a few kilo­me­tres. It’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see whether we can do any bet­ter on fu­ture days when it’s busier and slower.

While the car did the last 5km in HV (hy­brid ve­hi­cle) mode, there still wasn’t a lot of petrol power in­volved. The PHV has a por­tion of bat­tery par­ti­tioned off for hy­brid use (so no, it’s not re­ally flat when it switches to HV mode) and it spends a lot of time op­er­at­ing as an elec­tric car even when the plug-in juice has run out.

For that rea­son, it’ll be re­ally in­ter­est­ing to see what our av­er­age petrol con­sump­tion is over the next few weeks and months. Too early to tell right now – the fuel gauge hasn’t moved.

The plug-in ver­sion is hardly dis­tin­guish­able from the reg­u­lar Prius, un­less you count our car’s fetch­ing sil­ver stripes.

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