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.