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Production Toyota Prius Plug-in gets more range, lighter battery, tax-credit, and carpool access

Consumer Reports News: September 21, 2011 09:23 AM

Plug-in hybrid technology is developing at an accelerated pace, resembling that of the computer electronics industry, if the plug-in Toyota Prius is any indication.

We’ve driven two plug-in Priuses in the past, each progressively more capable.

Now that Toyota has released details of its final production version, the company is claiming it will be significantly more capable still.

The biggest advances are coming in battery technology. In the year between the prototype we sampled last year and the production car, the battery shrank to half the weight and stores 15 percent more energy. That gives the new plug-in Prius a claimed 15-mile all-electric range, versus the prototype’s 11 miles.

The battery also weighs half as much as the previous version, shaving 200 pounds off the cars’ overall weight. And where the 11-mile electric range took us 2-1/2 to three hours of charging, Toyota claims that this version can be charged in just 1-1/2 hours on a 240-volt Level 2 charging station. (That jibes with the introduction of a supplier-sourced 6.6-kW onboard charger, due out on the Ford Focus EV in January, and the 2013 Nissan Leaf.) The Prius Plug-in is simply a standard Prius with an additional lithium-ion battery under the trunk floor and a charge port in the right rear fender. The Plug-in Prius also saves weight (and makes room for the battery) by eliminating the spare tire, carrying a sealing kit and pump instead.

Toyota is providing a 24-foot 110-volt charging cord that can recharge the car in three to four hours, and the company is working with charge station supplier Leviton to provide optional Level 2 charge stations to Prius Plug-in buyers.

Unlike the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, the plug-in Prius uses a conventional hybrid drivetrain that can derive power from the electric motor and gasoline engine simultaneously, once the plug-in battery is depleted.

2012-Toyota-Prius-Plugin-pr-r.jpgToyota has said that the production Prius Plug-in will have an EV (electric vehicle) “preserve” mode that can keep the electric power on hold and the driver can choose when to use it. For example, a driver could save the electricity on a long commute to use once into a city where using electric power is more efficient and where reducing local air pollution is a more important consideration.

The Prius Plug-in will have two trims: base model ($32,000) and Advanced ($39,525). The Advanced model will add Toyota’s Entune Internet connectivity system, as well as Safety Connect telematics, a Pre-Collision system, radar-guided cruise control, a navigation system and HID headlights. Toyota expects a federal tax credit to reduce net prices by $2,500 for both trim levels.

Now that standard hybrids have lost their privileges to use carpool lanes solo in California and other congested areas, Toyota is reportedly hoping the buyers who adopted older Priuses early will step up to the Plug-in version to regain access.

Updated 9/21/11

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Eric Evarts

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