2012 Toyota Prius PHV First Look, Review, and Road Test

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My week with the Prius PHV was in February and cold temperatures reduce battery power and cause the gasoline engine to cycle on more frequently in order to maintain coolant temperature, somewhat reducing fuel economy. Nonetheless, I found the Prius PHV to be extremely fuel efficient.

The dashboard display happily displayed the ratio of EV driving (i.e. when the PHV is in all-electric mode) to normal hybrid-electric mode driving, the distance (in miles) remaining on electrical power alone, and the condition of the battery.

While the interior is spacious, it’s not particularly comfortable. It took me a few days to find a reasonably comfortable driving position and I still find the split rear windshield unpleasant to look at through the rear-view mirror while the car is in motion. (It’s hard to describe, but it makes me feel somewhat seasick.) Some frequently-used switches are inconveniently placed, such as the switch that controls the heated seats. Materials used, especially the hard plastics, look inexpensive and do not befit a car that sells for a premium price. The Prius would somewhat inexplicably beep inside the cabin when in reverse but the beep was not audible to passers-by, where it could be of some benefit.

On the road, one doesn’t so much as drive as be transported. Similar to the standard Prius, the steering transmits little road feel and the suspension, while soft and tolerant of the imperfections of most roads, does little to inspire confidence.

There are three driving modes, EV, Eco, and Performance. EV is battery only. Eco is laid back and pokey (with better fuel economy) while performance is a bit faster but fuel economy suffers.

Charging the Prius PHV is easy. Simply plug the recharge cable into an outlet, press the test button to ensure that the electrical leakage detection function is operative, open the recharge inlet door, open the inlet cap, insert the recharge cable into the inlet, and check to see that the recharge indicator is glowing on the dashboard.

Do not connect the cable via an extension cord or power strip warns Toyota. A driver in Boston recently short-circuited the charging system by using an extension cord during a recent snowstorm. Almost as an afterthought, the manual states that the power outlet should be of the GFI (Ground Fault Interrupter) type, although it doesn’t make clear how using a GFI outlet differs from the electrical leakage detection function of the charger cable.

After charging the Prius for three hours, it was time for a half-hour drive to Whole Foods. On my 19.3 mile (30.7 km) drive, I managed to go 13.1 miles (21 km) in electric vehicle mode. My average speed was 40 mph (64 km/h). My range increased several times when I braked, thanks to the car’s regenerative braking system, which recaptures the car’s kinetic energy when braking and converts it to electricity that can be stored by the car’s battery.

On the drive over, I got 93 mpg (2.5 l/100 km). My total drive was 35.8 miles (57.6 km) and overall fuel economy was 63 mpg (3.73 l/100 km) with an average speed of 41 mph (66 km/h).

The drive itself was unremarkable except for the fact that I was only using battery power. Acceleration in EV mode was slower than normal but it was reasonably tolerable.

While underway running only on the battery, you will notice an EV icon (shaped like an electrical plug) on the information display. The display will show EV-specific information, such as how much farther you can go in EV mode, what your EV to conventional hybrid vehicle ratio is, and what the fuel consumption is.

The Prius PHV is an excellent choice of vehicle for those who take relatively short trips and who have ready access to an electrical outlet on one or both ends of the commute.

2011 Toyota Prius PHV
Price, estimated $30,000
Drivetrain Front engine, front-wheel drive
Engine 1.8 l/98 hp/I-4
Motor 80 hp permanent magnet synchronous motor
Battery Lithium-ion
Transmission CVT
Curb weight (lbs) 3,342
Wheelbase (inches) 106.3
Length x width x height (inches) 175.6 x 68.7 x 58.7
0-60 mph (seconds) 11.3
Fuel economy (mpg) (estimated) 50-80 mpg


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