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2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Long Term Review

Reviews Toyota Prius Plug-in

So I have been driving my 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in for more than 6 months now, and now that that I have experienced both warm and cold temperatures, I thought it was time to post a quick mini review of my experiences with this car. Keep in mind that this mini review is about the Plug-in specific features, as there are thousands of reviews about the regular Toyota Prius itself.

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About
When you take a look at both the exterior and the specs on paper, it looks like the Plug-in feature of the Prius was just an afterthought. In fact, I had this same impression, even during the first few days of ownership, but then as I started to drive it more, it started to sink in that Toyota isn't that crazy, and some of their thinking does make sense.

The Toyota Prius Plug-in is somewhat of an odd duck. It's a regular Toyota Prius first, and an electric vehicle second, but since the battery pack is so small, it doesn't fit in the same class as the Chevrolet Volt either, which is another hybrid+EV car (although a different type of design).

Battery
The Prius Plug-in is a regular Prius, with a 4.4kWh Li-Ion battery in the trunk, which can be recharged via a standard SAE J1772 plug. Since the battery is small, it takes only 3 hours when using a regular 110V outlet, or 1.5 hours via a Level 2 charger.

The battery pack is under the trunk floor, so you don't lose any visible space, but you do lose the spare tire, which has been replaced with a small portable tire patch/compressor kit. I recommend against using this kit, as it doesn't contain TPMS-safe slime, so you are supposed to replace the TPMS sensors after using this kit, which isn't cheap. The proprietary refill bottle which connects to this compressor is very expensive as well, which is another reason to avoid using this.

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2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Tire Inflation Kit

Your best choice is to replace the kit with some better parts such as a regular 12V compressor and a separate TPMS-safe slime bottle, and an tire plug kit. This recommendation goes for other makes & models as well.

The battery is supposed to deliver around 11 miles before the car switches to regular hybrid mode. In hybrid mode, the car is supposed to get a best-in-class 50 MPG, but I was closer to 60 MPG.

There is some confusion when it comes to range, since the EPA states the battery range is only 6 miles, but this is because of their testing methods. Plenty of people get 15 miles, with several drivers getting more than that. There are people out there who have thousands of miles on their odometers, and are still on their first tank of gas.

My main complaint about the EV technology in this car is that it has a mind of its own. You really have to 'baby' it if you don't want the engine to kick in (thus ruining your EV experience). Here are some things that really bother me:
  • The engine will kick in when you really don't want/need it. According to the manual, the engine will kick in when it's too cold, or when accelerating briskly. I have had the engine kick on when I was just trying to move the car 5 feet, with plenty of charge in the battery. Nothing is more frustrating than hearing that engine start up when there is no 'obvious' need for it. In fact, when dealing with freezing temperatures, turning the car off before the engine gets a chance to warm up will result in a loud banging noise when you start the car up next time. This is a known issue, but doesn't seem to cause any permanent problems.
  • If you decide to save the EV miles for later, and start your commute with the engine, it will use up to 2 miles of your battery range anyways. I'm guessing this has to do with trying to keep emissions down (as this is something Toyota really focuses on) while the engine is warming up.
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That said, even the advertised 11 miles was enough for me to get addicted to the idea of Electric Vehicles. The quietness, the ability to fuel up at your home using clean energy such as hydro, nuclear, wind (or solar if you have it at your home) is extremely appealing, and might eventually allow us to stop relying on foreign fuel sources completely.

Many people have been asking me if I have noticed a difference in my utility bill, and oddly enough, I have not. Granted, I only charge it once a day, which would make it barely noticeable since everyone's bill fluctuates a few percent every month. I'm considering charging at work, but I have my cable mounted in a semi-permanent way, which allows me to keep it in really good & clean shape.

Numbers
So with a daily 2-way commute of 42 miles, people have been asking me if the 11 miles really makes that much of a difference, and I am happy (and a little surprised myself) to say that it really does. In good weather conditions, I have been able to reach 100MPG by the end of my commute, but with all the other driving I do during the weekend, etc., my tank average seems to be around 76MPG so far in good weather, and dropping 'as low' as 60MPG during the cold winter days, which is still rather impressive considering how bad the weather gets in Oswego County (New York).

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I do want to mention that while the Prius is supposed to get 50 MPG as a regular hybrid, I seem to hit 60 MPG (without using EV mode that is), which is rather impressive, and makes it one of the most efficient plug-in hybrid vehicles on the market.

Features
The Plug-in comes in 2 different models. The Base and the Advanced, with a significant price difference, but no performance difference.

To be honest, I don't think too many people can justify the steep premium for the few extra features the Advanced offers you, unless you really love the Prius, or are getting a killer deal.

The best part about the Base model is that you are getting the features of a regular Prius model 3. It comes with heated seats, backup camera, smart key, satellite navigation and more. There are also some unique Plug-in design features, such as the blue accents, unique wheels, and more.

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If you manage to get your hands on the car whenever Toyota is running their promotions, you might actually pay less than what you would pay for a regular Prius.

One 'feature' I almost forgot about is the Reverse Beeping. For some reason, Toyota thought it would be extremely useful to let the driver know that the car is in reverse by playing a loud beeping sound over and over inside the cabin. People outside can't hear this, and unless you ask the dealer to reprogram the car (or do it yourself via an OBDII connector & software such as Torque), you are stuck with this. I really don't understand Toyota's reasoning behind this one. I ended up changing it to a single beep, which is more than enough.

Interior
The interior is pretty much the same as the regular Prius, so there isn't much to say from a Plug-in perspective.

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The only major complaint I have is the extremely dated look of the console, and the lack of smartphone support for the Base model (the Advanced model allows you to remotely monitor/control the car via your phone). The most impressive part is that you don't have to give up usable trunk space because of the battery pack (take a look at the new 2014 Honda Accord Plug-in, or the Ford C-Max Energi, and you'll see what I mean). I do hope Toyota finds a way of including a spare tire again in the next generation.

Performance
It's a Prius, what do you expect? Coming from a RAV4 with a V6 (which is quick to begin with, but feels like a race car now), both my wife and I were worried the Prius was dangerously slow.

Eventually we both learned how to properly use the Eco/Normal/Performance modes, and haven't really had any problems since.

In fact, driving the Prius has made me a much more relaxed driver, and I do try to avoid driving below the speed limit whenever someone is behind me.

As mentioned before, whenever you accelerate too fast in EV mode, you will risk turning on the engine, so this is something you will want to avoid.

Conclusion
The Prius Plug-in competition/category is growing rapidly. Ford offers a 2 hybrid plug-in vehicles (Ford Fusion Energi and the Ford C-Max Energi), while Honda also offers the Accord Plug-in now. And let's not forget the Chevrolet Volt, which pretty much started this rat race. All of them seem to offer a better range on battery but none of them seem to be able to match the gasoline engine efficiency of the Prius.

This Prius is my 2nd car, I'm ready for my next car to be a pure EV, and if I were to pick a car right now, I would select the new 2013 Nissan Leaf (the new cheaper model S is really affordable now), or the Honda Fit EV if you are willing to jump through some hoops to get it. The RAV4 EV, with the Tesla Model S powertrain, would be my ultimate choice, but is only available in California (they really do have some great deals on those right now) and is still a little too expensive (Toyota if you are watching, I would be more than willing to drive one around with a large Toyota ad/banner printed on the side [HINT!]).

If you do need more than 100 miles once in a while, but don't need the space or gas efficiency of the Prius, then I would take a closer look at the Chevrolet Volt, as it does offer a better battery range.

I do think that by using the existing Prius platform, Toyota made the right call, as they now have all the data they need to figure out what people want, with a minimum investment (instead of building an EV from the ground-up, which meant we might have had to wait for several more years). Now they have no excuse to build that 'perfect' plug-in hybrid (or whichever platform they end up going with). Toyota could have made some better decisions (more EV range, less ICE activations) to make it more competitive, but with the killer deals, think of it as a loaded Prius with a free Plug-in EV option.

In the last few months, I have been getting requests to complete very large surveys from Toyota, about features I would like to see in the next Prius Plug-in, and some of the choices were REALLY interesting (too many to mention, but here are some: adjustable window tint, 4WD/AWD, better performance, better range, etc.), so I'm really curious as to what Toyota will come up with next, but we all know it's going to be an amazing vehicle, whether you like the Prius or not.

The Prius is not a bad looking car at all (I personally always liked the look), is an amazing vehicle, with incredible gasoline consumption & emission numbers. Would I pick it again knowing what I know now? Probably not. Do I regret it? Not one bit.

I also uploaded many pictures of the car, so you can take a closer look at all its features.

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Daniel's 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Gallery

If you have any questions, post them in the comments below.


2 Comments

Nice Review, though hesitant.

 

Toyota has a lot of experience with the 10 years of Prius.

As soon as Li Battery tech improves, a smaller, cheaper battery will get us 25 miles per charge.

The leg-room in the back seat is great for my tall friends.  The Volt wouldn't fit.

I agree that the compressor-Slime kit should be replaced with a compressor-only.

I also removed the jack to save its weight.

I've had 2, count them two, flat tires and Toyota Care works well.

I disconnected the low speed sound generator and turned off the Reverse beeping, too.

 

Love it. 

I'll have to update my review, I did change the reverse beeping to a single reverse beep, since it was annoying as hell, and you couldn't hear it outside anyways.  I didn't think the jack was that heavy, so I didn't bother removing it (did you really see an improvement in MPG?).

 

Glad to hear about the Toyota Care, I am extremely worried about that aspect.

 

How did you turn off the low speed sound generator?  I would love to replace this sound with a custom sound (I do think it has its use, just want to make it something cooler, while still being safe).