Socket Fuel: Prius Plugs In To US Market

It’s been 11 years since Americans first set their eyes on the Toyota Prius hybrid. Now, after the Japanese automaker has sold more than 1,000,000 of the cars in the United States, Toyota is introducing another new member of the expanding Prii, a plug-in hybrid model. Prius is of huge importance to Toyota and to that end, the company was meticulous in its preparations, testing at least 125 different prototypes of the new model before declaring it ready for liftoff.

It’s been busy times for the Prius line, as Toyota has recently introduced a Prius Liftback and the new, smaller, sportier Prius C. The new plug-in Prius hits the market with plenty of hype and just as much consumer anticipation. What new bells and whistles has Toyota added? How much better will the fuel economy be? What sort of performance can drivers expect? How much power will come for the electric battery? Let’s get under the hood and take a look!

2012_Toyota_Prius_Plugin_001

image via Toyota

Toyota says the new Prius five-seater is expected to get 87 miles per gallon equivalent in combined driving and 49 mpg in hybrid mode. The electric motor will take drivers up to 15 miles on electricity alone with a top speed of 62 mph before the gasoline engine kicks in. While the electric mode is selectable, the Plug-in Hybrid retains the Hybrid Synergy Drive of the standard Prius model and will switch into hybrid operation at a predetermined state of battery charge, which splits engine power between the drive wheels and the generator, keeping the battery charged – just as in the standard Prius model. A newly developed 4.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack replaces the standard Prius model’s nickel metal hydride battery and fits under the rear cargo floor and is charged via an external 24-foot-long charging cable. A full charge-up will take about three hours using a standard 120-volt outlet and about half that time if you have access to a 240-volt pipe.

Inside, the new Plug-in is quite similar to the standard model. With that heavier battery pack, one might expect the Plug-in to be a bit more sluggish than the standard, but Toyota says it’s been able to trim weight in other places to make up the difference. True, the Prius will never be called sporty, but with the new Entune multimedia system and available smartphone applications including charge management, remote air conditioning, charging station map, vehicle finder and eco dashboard, maybe speed really isn’t everything.

Toyota’s 2012 Prius Plug-in Hybrid will be available in March 2012 with a before-federal-tax-credit price starting at $32,000.

Steve Duda lives in West Seattle, WA with three dogs and a lot of outdoor gear. A part-time fly fishing fishing guide and full-time writer, Steve’s work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Seattle Weekly, American Angler, Fly Fish Journal, The Drake, Democracy Now! and many others.