Monday, September 19, 2011

Toyota Prius PHEV First Drive and Review

The hybrid's future has arrived, except it's frozen stuck in one of New England's more extreme winters.I don't mean literally stuck, like when our 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in trapped itself in an inch of snow. Rather, the cold weather served a back-to-earth reminder that gas-electric hybrids — and their brainy powertrain computers — simply have to keep the engine running.

The Prius Plug-in is one of three new "Prii" (Toyota's taking votes for an official plural) set to go on sale late this year and early next. The average Prius can't go more than a half-mile on electric power, but our decaled prototype claims a 13-mile battery range and fuel economy of nearly 100 mpg on short trips. Except it's January, and those numbers aren't going to happen.

Hybrid drivers living here should expect their stupendous mileage numbers to drop to more average levels in winter, since the coolant and catalytic converter have to be kept warm to maximize performance and minimize emissions. Low temperatures, inclines, and speeds over 60 mph all work against the Prius Plug-in. The Chevrolet Volt also forces its engine to run in cold weather, even with the batteries fully charged.