2013 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

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Toyota still leads the pack when it comes to electrified models and is asserting that lead with a new contest, the Prius Plug-in MPG Challenge, which pits 30 New York metro region drivers against each other to log the highest MPG over a one-month loaner period. The program kicks off its first wave of contestants today at a key hand-off in New Jersey.

The MPG Challenge underscores Toyota’s confidence in their Hybrid Synergy Drive’s ability to deliver amazing real-world returns, something that marks their models apart from pure EV’s like the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S as well as conventional economy hatchbacks like the Hyundai Elantra GT and Ford Fiesta . Toyota’s point of view in the efficiency debate is valuable. They’re betting that their Prius Plug-in can entice normal drivers to "hyper-mile," a term meaning to maximize potential range through creative (and very slow) driving.

Can the Prius Plug-in Hybrid resolve the range anxiety of EV drivers and the disillusion felt by buyers of small gasoline-powered cars that can barely get near their official EPA stats – no matter how slowly they drive. The idea is to use the MPG Challenge as both a sales promotion and consumer education platform, while also highlighting the latest tech advancements in the 2013 Prius Plug-in Hybrid in the hands of real-life potential buyers.

How is Toyota positioned to weather the current state of evolving eco-car priorities? As the hard-core greens adopt full EV models, will Priuses start coming factory-direct in Taxi-cab yellow with barf-proof vinyl upholstery?

Click past the jump for the full review of the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, including detailed info on ordering dedicated chargers from Toyota’s new home-electricity partner Leviton.

Exterior

Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

The exterior of the Plug-in Prius is immediately recognizable; it shares all body panels with the regular Prius Hybrid models. A number of exterior tweaks distinguish the Plug-in, including “chrome-like” finishes for the door handles, front grille, fuel door and rear trunk accent. Offered in five colors, including the Clearwater Blue shown in these photos, the Plug-in also has unique wheels and LED day-time running lights up front.

The Prius shape is all about practicality and aerodynamic efficiency, themes the Plug-in also embraces. The drag coefficient is just 0.25 and low-rolling-resistance tires are a mainstay feature. The Plug-in’s unique wheels are more streamlined than for aero smoothness and the LED driving lights draw significantly less power than conventional headlamps, all in the name of saving juice.

Out back, Plug-in models feature full LED brake lights that are well known to any city driver who’s sat in traffic behind a Prius. Unfortunately, the Plug-in just does too little to dress up the basic Prius shape. As eco-minded as the Prius shape is, it’s always been very dull and four years after the shape’s 2009 debut it is quite stale.

Exterior Dimensions:

Wheelbase 105.1 inches
Overall length 176.4 inches
Overall width 68.7 inches
Overall height 58.7 inches
Track 60 inches (front) / 59.8 inches (rear)
Curb weight 3165 pounds

Prius Plug-in Hybrid Exterior Features:

  • Projector-beam halogen headlights with auto-off feature
  • LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL) with on/off feature
  • LED tail and stop lights
  • Hybrid Synergy Drive® blue accent headlights and badges with exclusive Plug-in Hybrid badging
  • Color-keyed heated power outside mirrors with folding feature
  • 15-in. 10-spoke alloy wheels and P195/65R15 tires
  • Washer-linked variable intermittent windshield wipers
  • Intermittent rear window wiper
  • Rear window defogger with timer
  • UV reduction glass windshield
  • Rear spoiler with LED center high-mount stop light
  • Roof-mounted antenna
  • In-glass AM/FM antenna
  • Charge port with illumination and charging indicator light Prius Plug-in Hybrid – Advanced trim Exterior Features:
  • LED headlights with auto level control, auto on/off feature and headlight cleaners
  • LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL) with on/off feature
  • Integrated fog lights
  • LED tail and stop lights
  • Hybrid Synergy Drive® blue accent headlights and badges with exclusive Plug-in Hybrid badging
  • Color-keyed heated power outside mirrors with folding feature
  • 15-in. 10-spoke alloy wheels and P195/65R15 tires
  • Washer-linked variable intermittent windshield wipers
  • Intermittent rear window wiper
  • Rear window defogger with timer
  • UV reduction glass windshield
  • Rear spoiler with LED center high-mount stop light
  • Roof-mounted antenna
  • In-glass AM/FM antenna
  • Charge port with illumination and charging indicator light

Interior

Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

The interior is the big action for the revised Plug-in Prius, featuring new info screens and Toyota ’s latest Entune suite of infotainment features as standard. Overall, the interior shares all basic designs with the Prius, including the once-interesting twisted steering-wheel spokes and centrally aligned digital speedometer atop the flat dashboard surfaces. The odd speedo originally fit with the Prius’s technology-driven aesthetic, but in the face of the Tesla Model S , it just looks plastic-y and dated. The Model S moves the interior game forward with its giant 17-inch vertical touchscreen in the center of the dash, plus supplementary TFT screen between the more-conventional dials.

All Plug-in Prius models include some up-level Prius options like the Smart Key System for keyless ignition and Touch Tracer controls for the steering wheel pads. Touch Tracer simplifies using the wheel-mounted switches by calling up the corresponding audio or info displays ahead of the driver.

The optional Advanced trim brings the real developments in comfort and safety technology, but bumps the price more than $7500 versus the standard plug-in and more than $15,000 above the base Prius. Advanced trim includes LED headlights, power seats, a heads-up display, upgraded JBL premium audio and HDD navigation system. Advanced trim also includes smartphone apps for remote climate control and charging, and Toyota’s Pre-Collision System with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and Safety Connect system.

Limiting the application-based features to the top trim level seems misguided: all drivers would benefit from the functionality. Unfortunately, the remote vehicle management technology is impossible to include without wiring the car for the Onstar-style Safety Connect system, which offers automated emergency responses to accidents as well as stolen vehicle tracking.

Overall, the interior of the Prius is boring and cheaply made, but the car still offers spaceous seating for five and a huge trunk. With the seats up, cargo capacity is 21.6 cubic feet (about 8 more than a Corolla ’s trunk), expanding to double that number with the rear seats folded flat. The hatchback makes loading easy, but also creates a boomy effect that amplifies road noise and suspension thunks.

Prius Plug-in Hybrid – Interior Features:

  • Automatic climate control with air filter, dust and pollen filtration mode, electric compressor and push-button controls
  • Remote Climate
  • Display Audio with Navigation and Entune® - includes 6.1-in. touch-screen with integrated backup camera 10 display, AM/FM CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability, six speakers, SiriusXM Radio with complimentary 90-day trial, HD Radio™ with iTunes® Tagging, auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod® connectivity and control, vehicle information with customizable settings, hands-free phone capability, phone book access, advanced voice recognition and music streaming via Bluetooth® wireless technology
  • Entune® - includes Bing™, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable® and Pandora®; real-time info including traffic, weather, fuel prices, sports and stocks. Access to Entune® services is complimentary for three years. See toyota.com/entune® for details.
  • Multi-Information Display with odometer, fuel economy history, average fuel economy, distance to empty, average speed, trip distance, charging timer, EV Driving Ratio, Hybrid System Indicator and energy monitor
  • Touch Tracer Display
  • Fabric-trimmed heated front seats with seatback pockets; 6-way adjustable driver’s seat; 4-way adjustable front passenger seat
  • Cruise control
  • Tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio, climate, Multi-Information Display, Bluetooth® hands-free phone and voice-command controls
  • Electronic shift lever with Hybrid Synergy Drive® blue accent
  • Digital instrumentation with speedometer, fuel gauge, odometer, current fuel economy, shift position indicator and EV2021/ECO/POWER Mode indicators
  • Smart Key System on three doors with Push Button Start and remote illuminated entry
  • Power windows with auto up/down, jam protection in all positions and retained-power features
  • Power door locks with shift-linked automatic locking feature with anti-lockout feature
  • Remote keyless entry system with lock, two-stage unlock and panic functions
  • Center console with armrest, storage compartment, front dual cup holders, removable utility tray, wire-management feature and 12V auxiliary power outlet
  • Overhead console with maplights and shift illumination
  • Passenger-side dual glove compartment
  • Cargo area under-floor storage and side panel storage
  • Cargo area tonneau cover with clasp for under-floor stowage
  • Two front 12V auxiliary power outlets
  • Dual sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors
  • Rear dome light and cargo area light
  • Retractable assist grips at all doors
  • Front door storage pockets with sculpted bottle holders
  • Rear fold-down center armrest with two cup holders
  • 60/40 split fold-down rear seats with adjustable headrests
  • Fold-forward rear outboard headrests
  • Remote hood and fuel-filler releases
  • Charge cable for 120V outlet

Prius Plug-in Hybrid – Advanced trim Interior Features:

  • All Prius Plug-in standard features
  • Premium HDD Navigation with Entune®, including Plug-in Hybrid Applications and JBL® - includes 7-in. high-resolution touch-screen with split-screen capability and integrated backup camera display, AM/FM CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability, eight JBL® GreenEdge™ speakers with amplifier, SiriusXM Radio with 90-day complimentary trial, HD Radio™ with iTunes® Tagging, auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod® connectivity and control, vehicle information with customizable settings, hands-free phone capability, phone book access, advanced voice recognition and music streaming via Bluetooth® wireless technology
  • Entune® - includes Bing™, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable® and Pandora®; XM Data Services including NavTraffic™, NavWeather™, Fuel and Sports & Stocks; Entune® Plug-in Hybrid Applications including Charge Management, Remote Climate, Vehicle Finder, Charging Station Map and ECO Dashboard. Access to Entune® services and Plug-in Hybrid Applications is complimentary for three years. Users will have the ability to opt-in to various levels of services. See toyota.com/entune® for details.
  • Multi-Information Display with odometer, fuel economy history, average fuel economy, distance to empty, average speed, trip distance, charging timer, EV Driving Ratio, Hybrid System Indicator and energy monitor
  • Touch Tracer Display
  • SofTex-trimmed heated front seats with seatback pockets; 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar support; 4-way adjustable front passenger seat
  • Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC)
  • SofTex-trimmed tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio, climate, Multi-Information Display, Bluetooth® hands-free phone, voice-command and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC) controls
  • Auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink® universal transceiver

Safety

Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

The Toyota Prius is an IIHS Top Safety Pick for 2013 thanks to its overall “Good” rating in all categories except driver/passenger head and neck tests. Similarly, the Prius Plug-in earned a four-star rating from the NHTSA – its only demerits again concerning the driver and passenger in a front collision.

Overall, the additions to the Prius Plug-in are minimal and base Prius results can be extended to the Plug-In model.

Despite using often-controversial Li-ion batteries for the first time in the Plug-in Prius, their operation and safety is top-notch with no battery fire incidents.

Prius Plug-in – Safety Features:

  • Star Safety System™ — includes Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA) and Smart Stop Technology® (SST)
  • Driver and front passenger Advanced Airbag System
  • Driver and front passenger seat-mounted side airbags, driver knee airbag, and front and rear side curtain airbags
  • Driver and front passenger active headrests
  • 3-point seatbelts for all seating positions; driver-side Emergency Locking Retractor (ELR) and Automatic/Emergency Locking Retractor (ALR/ELR) on all passenger seatbelts
  • Driver and front passenger seatbelt warning sensor
  • Adjustable front seatbelt shoulder anchors, driver and front passenger seatbelt pretensioners with force limiters Standard
  • LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) includes lower anchors on outboard rear seats
  • Child-protector rear door locks
  • Energy-absorbing collapsible steering column
  • Front and rear energy-absorbing crumple zones with side impact door beams
  • Tire Pressure Monitor System (TPMS)
  • Vehicle Proximity Notification System (VPNS)
  • Hill Start Assist Control (HAC)
  • Engine immobilizer
  • Tire Repair System Prius Plug-in Advanced Trim – Safety Features
  • All Plug-in Prius features
  • Safety Connect® — includes Emergency Assistance, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Roadside Assistance and Automatic Collision Notification. Available by subscription. Complimentary three-year trial subscription.
  • Pre-Collision System (PCS)
  • Head-Up Display (HUD) with speedometer, navigation & Hybrid System Indicator

Drivetrain, Suspension and Brakes

Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

The Prius Plug-in’s major advancements are in efficiency and flexibility of the latest Toyota ’s series-parallel hybrids. The Plug-in has three driving modes and a dedicated EV-only option that can power the car on electricity for up to 11 miles on a full charge.

Performance and Fuel Efficiency:

Peak power - gasoline 98 horsepower
Peak torque - gasoline 105 pound-feet
Peak Torque - Electric 154 pound-feet
0-60-mph 10.9 seconds
Top Speed 108 mph, est
Mileage estimates - MPGe/Hybrid Mode mpg 95/50
Maximum EV Mode 11 mi.
Charging Time - 120V/240V  3 hrs/ 1.5 hrs

Mechanical Features:

  • 1.8-Liter Aluminum 4-cylinder DOHC 16-Valve with Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i), EV, ECO/POWER Modes; 98 horsepower @ 5200 rpm (73 kW @ 5200 rpm); 105 lb.-ft. @ 4000 rpm (142 N•m @ 4000 rpm);
  • Compression ratio: 13.0:1
  • Induction system: Sequential multi-point EFI with Electronic Throttle Control System with intelligence (ETCS-i)
  • Ignition system: Electronic, with Toyota Direct Ignition (TDI)
  • Emission rating: Enhanced Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (AT-PZEV)
  • Electric Motor: Permanent magnet AC synchronous motor
  • Torque: 153 pound-feet
  • Traction Battery Type: Lithium-ion
  • Transmission: Electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT)
  • Drivetrain: Front-Wheel Drive
  • Suspension: Independent MacPherson strut front suspension with stabilizer bar; torsion beam rear suspension
  • Steering: Electric Power Steering (EPS); power-assisted rack-and-pinion
  • Turning circle diameter, curb to curb (ft.): 34.2
  • Brakes: Power-assisted ventilated front disc brakes; solid rear disc with integrated regenerative braking and Star Safety System.

Pricing

Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

The Prius Plug-in is available in base or Advanced trim, priced significantly higher than standard Priuses, which start at $24,200.

  • 2013 Prius Plug-in: $32,000
  • 2013 Prius Plug-in Advanced: $39,525

A Level 2 home charger is available from Toyota partner Leviton for $699, and the charger plus installation for $999. Most newer homes don’t need a special charger as the garages are pre-wired for 240V accessories like refrigerators already. For older homes, the chargers are recommended to cut the charge time in half as well as wire the 240V outlet on its own dedicated circuit. These prices are far lower than market value for the charger system, which is a helpful cost savings brokered by Toyota for Prius Plug-in owners.

Reliability and Recalls

Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

The 2012-2013 Prius Plug-in has a clean recall record and exceptional reliability. A large Toyota recall for the steering column links in 2004-2009 Priuses does not include the latest Plug-in model.

In terms of reliability, previous Priuses show strong residual values and rarely, if ever, need a battery pack changed. This was an initial concern with hybrids but Toyota’s electronic-management software keeps the battery from failing, even with 100,000-plus miles.

Competition

With a price near the $40,000 mark, the Prius Plug-in faces stiff competition from larger hybrid sedans that offer a more subtle eco solution than the overtly nerdy Prius.

Kia Optima Hybrid

Kia Optima Hybrid

The Kia Optima Hybrid also offers four-cynlinder power plus a Li-ion battery system, but is not rechargable from home like the Prius Plug-in. The interior and exterior style of the Optima is world’s better than the Prius, but fuel economy is not as good.

Toyota Avalon Hybrid

Toyota Avalon Hybrid

The Avalon is Toyota’s redesigned flagship model and is available with hybrid drive for the first time for 2013. Despite being so much larger, more luxurious and better equipped, the Avalon Hybrid $35,000 to $41,000 prices directly overlap with the Prius Plug-in. The Avalon is not a plug-in hybrid so the economy returns are closer to the Kia than the Plug-in Prius.

Chevrolet Volt Plug-in Range-extender Hybrid

Chevrolet Volt

The Volt is a much better car than the Prius Plug-in, offering a more technically sophisticated powertrain that can run for four times as many miles in EV mode. The interior feels more special than any Prius, but the large battery tunnel in the center of the cabin limits seating to four and compromises overall passenger-compartment volume and luggage capacity.

Conclusion

Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

The EV-only mode and extended electric range are real benefits versus the standard Prius, but including them has come at a large cost to consumers. In addition to paying more upfront, there is the cost for home-installed charger systems and the time spent plugging in the car every few days.

Additionally, the benefits of the Toyota system seem less-than-cutting-edge compared with the Chevrolet Volt. Unlike the Volt, the Prius Plug-in still returns excellent fuel numbers even without wall charge.

Among die-hard Prius people (yes, they definitely exist), the Plug-in is the perfect evolution of the infotainment and battery technology in the world’s most successful hybrid. There’s a big style and performance deficit to swallow, but for those willing to drive a $40,000 car that looks and feels like a taxi, the Plug-in Prius is just the ticket.

Category RatingDetails
Driving BThe Prius Plug-in is boring to drive, but the EV mode is super smooth and quiet
Performance CVery slow 10.9-second 0-60 time means leisurely progress
Look CThe Plug-in Prius looks too much like other, much cheaper Priuses
Value DLoses the value of base Priuses but keeps the nasty interior
Overall COne for hardcore Prius devotees only
LOVE IT
  • 1000 mile range from 11-gallon fuel tank
  • Updated Entune infotainment; LED DRLs and headlights in Advanced trim
  • Still-large cargo capacity even with bigger Li-ion batteries
LEAVE IT
  • Almost no meaningful style change for the extra $10,000 over standard Priuses
  • Nerdy image; people may think you’re a taxi
  • Too expensive

What is your take?

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