The Prius, the hybrid car responsible for opening up the hybrid car market and instigating a whirlwind of eco-cars that followed, has propelled itself towards the next step in its evolution. While hybrid cars utilize engines to assist the motor, thereby lowering gas consumption, hybrids that can be plugged in to the wall (plug-in hybrid vehicles or PHVs) will soon join the fray. While previous iterations of the Prius made PHV functions available, the specs were not quite up to snuff. However, with the new Prius PHV, one can truly feel Toyotaâ€™s commitment to craftsmanship.
This is a only prototype, so specifics werenâ€™t made available to me, but the lithium ion battery capacity had been increased (by about 2 times in comparison to previous models), and the output for the boosting converter had also been increased from 26.4 km to over 60 km. Incidentally, the target for this happened to be 37.0 km p/liter while in JC08 mode, a significant improvement over the current Prius PHV that has 5.4 km/liter.
Furthermore, the hybrid system has had some subtle changes made; in order to provide powerful EV drive, a dual mode drive system that will be used to run both the motor and generator has been implemented. When the car is in EV mode, the primary motor output is now at 53 kW (72 ps) and the generator output is at 13 kW (31 ps), allowing for a sharper, punchier drive.
As this was a prototype I test drove the car on a closed circuit, but I could feel a clear distinction in speed between this model and the older models of the Prius PHV. With power and torque that reminded me of a turbo supercharger, even when in EV mode the heavy torque made for an excellent driving experience. Compared with the Prius, the operational range while in EV mode is astoundingly wide. Hiding a power that allowed the vehicle to drive the circuit virtually entirely in EV mode, acceleration felt crisp. Even when actively pressing down on the accelerator, it wasnâ€™t often that the engine itself kicked in with the vehicle managing to get up to 130 km/h on straight aways with nothing but electricity. Due to excellent control that puts the vehicle right in the sweet spot for handling, driving the car felt much sharper than any hybrid.
Feedback also felt much more acute than the Prius, refined and polished to a proverbial mirror sheen. Even when switching from EV to engine drive, the transition feels natural without a hint of unease. While this kind of oomph that this offers isnâ€™t necessarily important for those driving in Europe, the 1.8 liter 2ZR-FXE type engine handles well for the town driving that one would expect in that part of the world, and the quietness of its drive is unparalleled. Regarding quietness, it takes it even further than the standard Prius; with Toyota really putting their efforts into noise shielding, the company shot for top in class with this iteration of their flagship hybrid.
The frame of the current Prius underwent a major overhaul which has had great effect on improving the potential of the vehicle, and the Prius PHV adds a little maturity to those changes. Handling feels natural and steering has been refined. Not just using the shock absorbers and springs, the front end now has a stabilizer with a thicker diameter. The body feels sturdier than before and was very controllable while driving the circuit. Understeering felt insignificant and I was able to put the car right on the line that I wanted to drive easily.
The model I drove was equipped with 15 inch tires, but rear traction was good and I was able to enjoy driving it as I would any other car. Coasting is also controlled well and I had no problems cornering. The ride felt more flexible than the regular Prius.
One of the most alluring aspects of this vehicle is the battery charging method. In addition to monophase 200V, a special high speed charging unit, the CHAdeMO, for the EV that was newly added was made available to me. While the operational range in EV has been doubled, the charge time has only been increased by 1.5 times. Not only that, though this method does take some time to charge, the car allows for charging via a standard AC100V/6A power supply found in most homes. The car also boasted the worldâ€™s first solar power charging system. Though it really will come down to the price, this new iteration of the Prius PHV is truly gripping on a wide scale.
Ratings out of 5:
Power Source: 5/5
Hideaki Kataoka, automotive journalist
After working for automotive publications, Kataoka is now a freelance automotive journalist. From the newest models to classic cars, Kataoka writes about autos of any year, make, model, or build, and is very knowledgeable about EVs, fuel cell vehicles, and next generation vehicles. Kataoka is a member of the Automotive Journalist Association of Japan.
[Translated by Bryce Clarke]