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Toyota’s Prius Plug-in is simply electrifying

TO date practical emissions-free electric cars have been hampered by severe distance restrictions and the length of time it takes to re-charge batteries while petrol electric hybrids have been great at cutting emissions but nothing special on fuel economy.

But now hybrid pioneers Toyota may have come up with a compromise hybrid battery car that takes the best of both options. Called the Prius Plug-In it is the latest in the Prius family that has sold 2.6 million world wide and 67,000 in the UK since 2000.

The major breakthrough is the development, in conjunction with Panasonic EV Energy, of a compact, lightweight 56 cell 4.4kWh lithium-ion battery pack that is almost four times more powerful than the battery used in a standard Prius.

It is less than half the size of previous lithium-ion battery packs at 87.2 litres and exactly half the weight at 80kg – which is only 35kg heavier than the nickel metal-hydride battery used in Prius – but, most importantly, takes just 90 minutes to recharge from a standard 230V domestic power supply.

This is used to power a 60 kWh permanent magnet electric motor which works in tandem with a 98bhp four cylinder 1.8-litre petrol engine which gives a total output from the Hybrid Synergy Drive system of 134bhp and results in a zero to 62mph time of 10.7 seconds and a 112mpg top speed.

One of the problems of previous hybrid cars, including Toyota’s own efforts, has been that any acceleration beyond walking pace automatically cuts in the conventional petrol engine to provide the necessary forward motion.

In this case Toyota has found a way of allowing the system, when in EV driving mode, to restrict the car to just battery power at speeds of up to 51mph, if you are careful on the throttle.

The downside is that you will exhaust the battery after 15.5 miles – the range being a factor of the size of the battery pack. Initially this may seem hardly worth all the research and development time, but not when you learn that two-thirds of all community journeys in the UK are 12.5 miles or less.

On a test route along town and country roads I managed to keep up with the speed limit for over 14 miles just using the electric motor – I only just missed the target figure because I came across a 70mph stretch of road that needed the additional assistance of the petrol engine.

With the almost free first 15 miles I finished the 33 mile journey at an average of 132mpg – pretty impressive by any standards and very close to the 134mpg quoted by Toyota.

And with the electric motor being more user-friendly than a conventional hybrid, its makers are able to report an overall 49 g/km emissions output which is well under the level for free road tax and congestion charging.

On longer, higher speed journeys with the Prius in a more conventional HV (hybrid) mode, power is seamlessly provided by both the electric motor and petrol engine and, in this case, fuel consumption increases to a very acceptable 76mpg.

When a more urban route is being used EV- City mode can be engaged which allows more use of the throttle before the petrol engine engages.

Finally, an independent Eco mode can be activated which reduces the throttle responses and lowers the power to the air conditioning to extend fuel savings.


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