Highlights: According to fueleconomy.gov, drivers can expect to achieve a combined 95 miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent in the Prius Plug-In. Since the vehicle runs off of both gasoline and an electric charge, the government measures the vehicle miles in terms of a gasoline-equivalent, as well as the traditional miles per gallon.
Test Vehicle’s MSRP: $31,189 (base model starts at $30,800)
Seating Capacity: 5
Standard Safety Features: airbags (driver, front passenger, seat mounted, knee; and curtain); a collapsible steering wheel; hill start assist (keeps the vehicle from rolling back, when stopped briefly on a hill); LED on/off lights; stability control system; electronic brake force distribution; a tire pressure monitoring system; a tire repair system; and a vehicle proximity notification system.
Standard Equipment: 15-inch wheels; cloth manually adjusted front seats; an automated climate control system with a dust and pollen filtration mode; cargo area cover; 6.1-inch navigation screen; a keyless entry system; a manual tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel; and a push-button keyless starter.
Standard Audio: a 6-speaker AM/FM/HD/CD with XM Satellite for 3 months.
Bumper-to-Bumper Warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles
Hybrid Warranty: 8 years or 100,000 miles
Powertrain Warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles
Bluetooth Compatibility: Yes
USB and iPod Compatibility: Yes
Standard Engine/Horsepower: 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder/98-horsepower
Recommended Fuel: Regular
Standard Fuel Mileage:
Electricity: 95 (combined mileage)
Gas: 50 (combined mileage)
Other Trim Levels:
Advanced Base (Plug-In)
Other Prius Models (a non plug-in hatchback and a wagon/crossover)
What’s New: The Prius Plug-In is the newest addition to the Toyota hybrid family.
Pros: At a starting price of $30,800, this is the least expensive plug-in hybrid in the market place. GM’s Chevy Volt, which is classified as a compact, since it only seats 4, has a starting price of around $35,000. Ironically, the Prius Plug-In offers a significantly higher combined driving range and a slightly lower price point (when federal tax incentives are factored in the calculation).
And, for an additional comparison, the Nissan Leaf and the Prius Plug-In are categorized as midsize cars. The Leaf runs purely off of electricity. The Leaf produces 114 miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent and has no fuel option, in case the charge is running low.
Unlike with the Leaf, the Prius Plug-In gives drivers the option to either run off of electricity or gasoline, providing Prius owners with peace of mind. With the Leaf, drivers must rely completely on the electric charge, creating what is known as range anxiety in the auto industry. The Leaf only has a driving range of about 84 miles, as compared to the Prius Plug-In’s 540 mile driving range. And, it takes about 1.5 hours, using 240 volts to recharge a Prius Plug-In, as compared to 8 hours for the Leaf, which is equipped with a battery that is almost 5 times smaller due to its 11 mile electric driving range.
The Prius Plug-In and the Prius (non) Plug-In produces 95 miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent and 50 miles per gallon, respectively. Yes, the Prius Plug-In miles per gallon literally doubles.
When comparing the Prius Plug-In to a Prius (non) Plug-In, the savings in fuel costs is about $150 a year or $750 over a five year period, according to fueleconomy.gov.
However, drivers can opt to drive the vehicle, using the electricity only, which will drive up the cost savings, especially if charging is done during off-peak hours, when the charging costs are significantly lower. There are also tax incentives from the federal, state and local governments, which could help drive the initial upfront cost of the Prius Plug-In down, too!
Moreover, buyers can opt for upgraded features in their Prius Plug-In, stepping-up into the Advanced Package, which includes a power driver’s seat, pseudo-leather seats, a radar-activated cruise control system, a heads-up display system and projector beam headlights.
Buyers can also pile on Toyota’s Technology Package, too, which will consist of a pre-collision braking system, an automatic on-off headlight system and LED headlights with automatic level controls to adjust to the height and road conditions.
Cons: While the Prius are the most popular hybrids available today, the quirky styling coupled with the premium price tag appeals to an extremely limited segment. In fact less than 3 percent of new cars sold annually are hybrids. To some critics, the Prius Plug-In only offers an 11 miles all-electric driving range, before the gasoline engine kicks in. So, for those who live, work and play within a very close proximity, the Prius Plug-In could be the way to go. Unfortunately, the additional upfront cost of about $5,000 over a Prius (non) Plug-In doesn’t justify the cost.
Buyers may find that they’re better off purchasing a Prius (non) Plug-In, which offers a higher driving range and a much lower price point.
Added to that, in general, based upon consumers continuous reliance on gasoline coupled with today’s more fuel-efficient four-cylinder gasoline (and diesel) engines, which offers more horsepower and a traditional styling cues, consumers as a whole haven’t caught on to going green. Moreover, those ready to go all- electric may have difficulty find charging stations to reboot the vehicles, when away from their home base due to the lack of infrastructure.
Lastly, the cost to replace the hybrid battery once it’s out-of-warranty could be well over $2,000, which is relatively steep for the average buyer.
The Verdict: It just makes good sense that the Prius family adds a fuel-efficient Plug-In to the line up. Toyota needs to work on offering a Prius Plug-In that offers an electric driving range that’s more than 11 miles. The Chevy Volt, which is just a 4-seater offers an electric driving range in the 30s.
Now, although this eco-friendly, fuel-efficient compact hatchback, with its standout bubble-shaped, space-aged design is now considered to be the most affordable hybrid on the market today, we recommend that those who are ready to go green and electric should consider leasing, as opposed to buying. The technology is changing at a rapid pace to make an investment in buying the vehicle. We expect the electric range will be extended soon and the cost of replacing the hybrid battery is out of range for the average buyer, so that is why leasing makes good sense.
Overall, the Prius Plug-In offers the best of both worlds, allowing drivers to fill-up at the pump and/or charge-up, without having range anxiety, as is the case with today’s handful of pure electric vehicles. And, with that being the case, the overall combined city/highway miles per gallon almost doubles, according to fueleconomy.gov, when compared to the Prius (non) Plug-In. The Prius (non) Plug-In goes from a combined 50 miles per gallon to 95 miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent in the Prius Plug-In, which offers the combination of the electric charge or gasoline.
Competition: Chevy Volt (both gas/electric)
Jeff Fortson is an auto analyst and editor of a car-buying website for women and minorities. To learn more about his popular car-buying workshop and/or to price a new-vehicle, drive on over to JeffCars.com. Follow him @ Twitter/JeffCars.