2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Review Behind the Wheel ZipRage-3

Prius nomenclature is getting a bit difficult. Gone for 2012 is the stand-alone Prius name, instead the standard model will now be known as the Toyota Prius Liftback. The naming issues come as the Prius family continues to grow with the larger Prius V, the Prius Plug-In and subcompact Prius C hitting the market. Confusion is further compounded by the fact that four trim models are available — Two, Three, Four and Five, with seven configurations on top of that.

For 2012 a revised front bumper with an enlarged lower grille gives the Prius a slightly less subdued and almost muscular face. The bumper also incorporates new LED daytime running lights and new clear lens headlamps with a revised LED lamp arrangement. The backside is also re-styled wtih new taillights which also include LED lights.

Overall, though, these exterior changes haven’t altered the distinct Prius look much. Whether or not that is a good thing is up for hot debate. I’ve always liked the look of the Prius, so I’m fine with it. It’s like a middle finger on wheels aimed at the Suburbans, Hummers and Expeditions of the world and their drivers and for that I’m grateful.

The Prius cabin design is futuristic and comfortable with high quality materials throughout. Five adults can ridet comfortably and there’s a generous 21.4 cubic feet of cargo room left in the back. With the 60/40 split rear seats folded flat the Prius becomes a surprisingly capable cargo space for groceries, large boxes, or even some lubar.

The front seats are very comfortable and easily accomadate tall drivers. The back seat is roomy and provides ample leg room.

For 2012, Toyota has packed even more technology in the Liftback. In 2010, the third-generation Prius received a Touch Tracer Display, high-tech energy monitor, and a moon roof with solar powered ventilation and remote air conditioning. The updated Prius has an optional Heads Up Display that projects information like speed, hybrid efficiency and navigation details onto the windshield so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road.

2012 also brings Toyota’s optional Entune infotainment system to the Prius. You can easily connect a smart phone via Bluetooth or a USB cable and access your phone contacts, make calls, listen to your music and use Entune’s features via the vehicle’s controls for some services like Bing, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable, and Pandora. Entune data services include a fuel price guide, sports scores, stocks, traffic and weather.

If that isn’t enough tech for you, other high-tech goodies include an optional radar system using advanced millimeter waves for a “Lane Keep Assist” system and a “Pre-Collision System” which retracts seatbelts and applies the brakes in certain conditions when a crash is unavoidable. Intelligent parking helps guide the Prius into parking spaces and a backup monitor provides a view of rear obstacles.

For 2012 the Prius Liftback powertrain is unchanged. The gas engine is a 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle, four-cylinder engine producing 98 horsepower at 5,200 rpm. Together with its electric motor, the hybrid system generates 134 net horsepower. The Prius uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT) to move power to the wheels and the hybrid system uses the engine and regenerative braking to recharge the nickel-metal hydride battery pack. The stop-start system can further save gas by automatically shutting off the engine and restarting it while the car is stopped.

The Prius Liftback isn’t the most inspiring car to drive. It certainly isn’t the quickest, best handling or quietest car you can buy. But, when it comes to fuel economy the car cannot be beat and overall comfort in the vehicle is quite good as well.

The Prius is nose heavy and the electric power steering feels rather dead. Enthusiasts won’t find a lot to love here, but that is not the point. The Prius is a competent urban commuter and family car with a more than acceptable drive.

If sharper handling is a must, Toyota offers a dealer-installed PLUS Performance accessory package. The TRD (Toyota Racing Development) package includes a seven-piece aerodynamic ground effects kit for a more aggressive and lower stance, seventeen-inch forged alloy wheels and track-tuned lowering springs.

One big letdown with the Prius Liftback is noise intrusion. Tire noise, especially, easily enters the cabin space.

Prius Plug In

Toyota – after years of stating that the Prius hybrid system was not compatible with a plug-in system now offers a Prius Plug-in Hybrid. The main difference between the Plug-in Hybrid and standard Prius Hybrid is the charging and electric capabilities. While the Prius can drive in EV mode, it can only do so up to about a mile at low speeds. The Prius Plug-in Hybrid can rely much more on the EV mode for driving. Both models employ the Hybrid Synergy Drive in which the Prius uses both electric and gasoline power to accelerate.

Essentially, the new Prius PHV, or Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle, is a 2012 Prius Liftback with a more potent 4.4-kWh lithium-ion battery instead of the standard 1.3-kWh nickel-metal hydride battery pack, an onboard battery charger and an industry-standard charging port.

Charging the Prius Plug-in is a simple task via the external charging system located in the trunk. It can take anywhere from 2.5 to three hours for a full charge on a standard 120v outlet with a dedicated 15-amp circuit, or 1.5 hours with a 240v outlet. A timer can also be set to charge the Prius Plug-in during off-peak hours, or can be set for both start and end times.

Chrome trim on the door handles, front grille, rear license plate garnish and battery charging door as well as an exclusive trim differentiate the Prius Plug-in from the standard Prius in looks. The new Prius Plug-in also offers a multi-information display that includes data such as distance covered by EV power and possible EV driving range while in EV mode.

Unlike the Chevrolet Volt, acceleration from a stop lacks the zip of of the Volt’s high torque output. For most of my testing period I kept the Plug-In in Eco mode, over the week I was able to average an amazing 76 mpg. If your one-way commute is 10-12 miles and you can plug in at work, you would use little, if any, gasoline all week.

The starting price for the 2012 Prius Plug-in is $32,000, $8,000 more than the base Prius Liftback Two. Besides insane fuel economy you get a “smart key” keyless entry system with remote air conditioning; power windows, locks and outside mirrors; tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio, climate, Bluetooth and voice-command controls; heated front seat; cruise control; Display Audio with Navigation and Toyota’s Entune 1; and an integrated backup camera.