Toyota Prius Plug-In review
“The Toyota Prius Plug-In has a better zero-emissions range than rivals, but complicated technology also pushes its price up”
- 39-mile all-electric driving range
- Cheap company-car tax
- Quite good to drive
- It’s expensive
- Only has four seats
- Some cheap interior trim
The Toyota Prius Plug-In takes the approach of combining a petrol engine, electric motor and battery pack made mainstream by the regular Prius, but supersizes the latter so all-electric driving is possible for much longer.
Lots more batteries add around 150kg to its weight, but the fact you can charge it up at home or using a fast charger means you can drive for up to 39 miles using no petrol at all. This puts the Prius Plug-In in a select group of cars, with rivals like the Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In, Volkswagen Golf GTE and Audi A3 e-tron. Move away from the hatchback class and the MINI Countryman Cooper S E ALL4 SUV and BMW 330e iPerformance saloon also make for interesting alternatives.
An Audi and BMW? Yes, the Prius Plug-In is fitted with extremely advanced technology and has been priced accordingly, costing around £30,000 even after the government's £2,500 grant for plug-in cars is taken into consideration. Some might find this asking price hard to swallow given the Toyota badge and an interior with some cheap plastics on show.
The Prius Plug-In aims to win over doubters with a fuel-economy figure of 235mpg and 28g/km CO2 emissions. While its official consumption will be hard to replicate away from the laboratory, the Prius is one of the most economical plug-ins we’ve driven in the real world, returning between 60 and 70mpg even without charging the battery pack.
It’s quite good to drive, too, juggling power between its petrol and electric motors to great effect, without coming over as too flustered if you need a sudden burst of acceleration. The handling isn’t quite as sharp as the regular Prius, Audi or Volkswagen, with more body lean on faster roads, but it feels in its element in town where the Prius has always excelled.
There are just two trim levels that come with an eight-inch infotainment display and most essential features as standard. Practicality could be an issue, though, because not only does the Prius Plug-In forgo its middle rear seat, the battery pack has forced Toyota to raise the boot floor, shrinking it to 360 litres in size.
Toyota and the Prius in particular have a good reputation for reliability, but the standard Prius Hybrid only managed an average reliability rating in our 2017 owner satisfaction survey. Safety is assured, though, with a five-star score from Euro NCAP and Toyota’s Safety Sense suite of collision-preventing kit fitted as standard.
Ultimately, as impressive as the Prius is, we don't feel that it justifies a price tag comfortably undercut by its Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In rival. However, for many, the Prius name signifies the original and best and its quietness and surprising driver appeal count firmly in its favour.
See how this car scored on our sister site DrivingElectric
MPG, running costs & CO2
Thanks to its 8.8kWh lithium-ion battery pack, Toyota claims the Prius Plug-In can drive for up to 39 miles before the petrol engine cuts in. Under the latest fuel economy tests, which are designed to be more representative of the real world, the Prius Plug-In could be capable of a headline-grabbing 235mpg.
To get anywhere close to this in the real world, owners will need to top up the batteries as often as possible and take short journeys. Do so, and it’s possible hardly any petrol will be used at all. Drive longer distances without a full charge and fuel economy will gradually fall, but the Prius Plug-In will still manage over 60mpg. That’s actually not bad considering the extra weight of its battery pack, so if you’re away from home and charging points for a while, at least economy will still be respectable.
Aside from drinking less fuel, a big reason to choose the Prius Plug-In is its 22g/km CO2 emissions. This is comfortably within the lowest 9% company-car tax band – the same Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) figure as an all-electric car like the Nissan Leaf. It puts the Toyota slightly ahead of its closest rivals, with the Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In the closest with 26g/km and the Volkswagen Golf GTE emitting 40g/km. The standard Prius hybrid emits 70g/km and sits in the 13% BiK band.
Such low emissions mean the Prius Plug-In is exempt from the London Congestion Charge and will almost certainly ensure cost savings if and when new tariffs and local charging zones are brought in over the coming years to tackle pollution.
After the first year's CO2-based road tax (generally included in the on-the-road price), the Prius Plug-In costs £130 a year to tax. Toyota offers fixed-price servicing to help owners budget for maintenance, costing from £15 a month or payable in one go. Alternatively, an intermediate service costs around £180 and a major service comes in at just over £330.
The battery pack can be fully charged in two hours using a 3.3kW Type II connecter, while using a standard household socket requires just over three hours. A solar roof is also available for the Prius, charging the battery pack while the car is parked and supplying the on-board electrics with power as you drive. According to Toyota, it can add up to three miles of all-electric driving each day, working out to around 400 miles a year.
Engines, drive & performance
Under the bonnet you’ll find a 1.8-litre petrol engine producing 97bhp and an electric motor rated at 71bhp. A second electric motor found near the gearbox also adds some power, for a total of 120bhp and acceleration from 0-62mph in 11.1 seconds.
This is a little slower than the Prius hybrid, mainly because it weighs around 150kg more, while its closest rival – the Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In – is considerably faster, too. Despite this, the Prius feels plenty quick enough around town, thanks to its electric motors helping it accelerate swiftly from a standing start. We were also impressed by how well the Toyota switches between its petrol and electric motors almost imperceptibly.
If you want to tailor the driving experience, you’re well catered for. EV mode keeps the Prius in zero-emissions setup – unless you plant the throttle or reach a high speed. HV mode lets the car decide what to do, essentially turning it into a hybrid on steroids, while Battery Charge mode uses the petrol engine as a generator to recharge the battery pack. EV City mode reduces the power available for the ultimate in economy driving.
Owing to its use of a CVT automatic gearbox, the Prius feels less like a 'normal' petrol car than its Hyundai rival. Its gearbox doesn't have 'fixed' gear ratios; instead, it varies the gear ratio to best suit the power being generated by the engine. In theory, this means it's always in the right gear at the right time – but it doesn't always work like that.
If you want an extra burst of speed, the Prius will hesitate before delivering what you want, and response isn't as immediate as from a regular or dual-clutch automatic gearbox. And such is the way CVT gearboxes tend to keep engine revs constant, there can be quite a lot of noise from the engine.
While the Prius isn't in its element when speed is called for, it's far more agreeable around town, where its braking system is far more willing to allow you to gradually bring the car to a smooth halt. The steering feels quite natural, too, while the suspension is soft enough to provide a comfortable ride, while still allowing confident fast cornering should the mood take you. Despite its lack of straight-line speed, the Prius Plug-In is actually more enjoyable from behind the wheel than the Hyundai Ioniq plug-in.
Interior & comfort
Toyota has a reputation for designing tough, functional but rather dull interiors. However, on the evidence of the Toyota C-HR crossover and the latest Prius, this could be a thing of the past. The fascia continues the Prius tradition of placing the instruments in the middle of the dashboard, but now features a striking eight-inch infotainment screen that rises up from the centre console and has air vents sprouting from the top.
On the whole, the infotainment system is easy to understand, but the touch-sensitive controls at either side aren’t as easy to use while driving, as actual buttons and the heated-seat controls are hidden out of sight. By positioning the tiny gear selector on the dashboard, Toyota has also freed up lots of space for cup-holders, mobile phones and your wallet between the front seats. The door bins are also well shaped to hold drinks containers upright. Cheap plastics are easy to spot, though; the Prius Plug-in fails to convey the upmarket feel of the A3 e-tron or even the Golf GTE.
There are only two trim levels, called Business Edition Plus and Excel, with the former getting dual-zone climate control, smart entry, adaptive cruise control, Toyota Touch 2 with sat nav, DAB radio, Bluetooth, a reversing camera, a colour head-up display, heated front seats and LED headlights. Excel adds front and rear parking sensors, a system to make parking easier, leather upholstery and a stereo upgrade.
It’s easy to get a good driving position, but the seats are rather firm, flat and unsupportive. This isn’t too much of an issue when you hop in for a short drive across town, but becomes noticeable on twisty roads or long motorway drives. Here, the Prius Plug-In generally impresses with how smooth and quiet it is, but the one fly in the ointment is the road noise from the fuel-saving tyres, which can frustrate.
Practicality & boot space
There’s no getting away from the fact the Prius Plug-In is less practical as a result of its fuel-saving battery pack. For a start, there’s no middle back seat, so the Plug-In is actually a four-seater to make room for the complicated electronics required for the car to function.
Instead, the middle section has been turned into an armrest and two cup-holders. Like the regular Prius, rear headroom is also tight for adults, while front occupants should find they have plenty of room.
The boot floor has been raised by 160mm to accommodate the batteries, so shrinks to 360 litres. Still, this is 10 litres more than the Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in and unlike the Hyundai, there’s a dedicated place to neatly store the charging cable. It also beats the Golf GTE (272 litres) and Audi A3 e-tron (280 litres), although it’s worth noting all three competitors have five seats and more rear headroom.
Reliability & safety
The standard Toyota Prius was well received by customers, coming 34th out of the 75 cars covered in our 2017 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey. Despite this, its reliability was only described as average, with 11.54% reporting at least one fault in the first year of ownership. Customers were delighted with the engine, gearbox and low running costs, but were less impressed with practicality and the infotainment system.
Independent crash-test body Euro NCAP awarded the Prius five out of five for safety. It performed especially well for adult occupant protection (92%), while receiving 82% for child occupants and 77% for pedestrian safety.
The Prius comes with Toyota Safety Sense as standard. This is a raft of systems designed to help avoid and mitigate accidents by alerting you or even applying the brakes automatically. It can monitor the road ahead for obstacles or pedestrians and keep you from straying out of your lane.
Price, value for money & options
The Toyota Prius Plug-In costs from just under £30,000, after the government’s Plug-in Car Grant of £2,500 has been deducted. This is around £2,500 more than the equivalent trim level of Prius hybrid and slightly more expensive than the Volkswagen Golf GTE. Both the Audi A3 e-tron and BMW 330e cost several thousand more than the Toyota.
While the Prius Plug-In boasts the longest all-electric range and best real-world economy of its peers, there’s no escaping the high price tag given its Toyota badge and middling interior quality. This is exposed by the Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In, which offers a great deal of the Prius’ qualities, but starts from around £25,000. We suspect customers might also be tempted by a plug-in hybrid crossover, with the MINI Countryman Cooper S E ALL4 leading the charge. It has four-wheel drive, excellent performance, qualifies for the same 9% BiK band and costs almost the same as the Toyota.
If you want to upgrade the Prius Plug-In, by far the most important option is the solar roof. This is only available with the Business Edition Plus trim, increasing its price by around £1,500. Rear parking sensors are also a worthwhile addition to the Business Edition Plus trim for £250. There aren’t too many options – quite unlike the MINI or Audi – but metallic paint costs around £550 and there are various iPad holders and DVD screens available to entertain passengers, costing from £400 right up to £1,250.