Toyota Prius PHV
Toyota Prius PHV; photo courtesy Toyota Canada. Click image to enlarge

Manufacturer’s web site
Toyota Canada

Join Autos’s Facebook group
Follow Autos on Twitter

By James Bergeron

Photo Gallery:
Toyota Prius PHV

Vancouver, British Columbia – Have you ever been driving late at night with less than a quarter-tank of fuel remaining and a hundred kilometres or more left until you see civilization again? I have, and know the feeling of anxiety one gets, staring at that fuel gauge (and if you are lucky, the “mileage remaining” indicator). It’s nerve-wracking, to say the least.

For pure electric vehicles, which have a shorter driving range than conventional cars, “range anxiety” is a major hurdle to their public acceptance. Electric vehicles, in their current state, mean changing the way we see the motor vehicle. No longer would we be able to hop into our car and drive across the continent without much more than a credit card to keep both vehicle and body fuelled for the long haul.

Toyota Prius PHV
Toyota Prius PHV; photo courtesy Toyota Canada. Click image to enlarge

Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHVs), such as the upcoming Toyota Prius PHV, provide the benefit, both in fuel costs to the consumer as well as environmental, of an electric vehicle without the range compromise.

What exactly is different about a Toyota Prius PHV compared to a standard Prius? Not much has changed visually on the inside or outside. In fact the only external difference is a second fuel filler door just behind the front wheel that hides an electrical connection instead of a gasoline nozzle. On the inside, only some minor changes to the information available on the digital information screen, such as battery usage and remaining charge time, have been added. In other words, this vehicle feels like just about any other Prius.

Where things are different, though, is out on the road. The standard Prius hybrid is capable of driving up to approximately 65 km/h without the engine running. Once that speed is achieved, you can cruise on electricity alone, but you must be careful not to accelerate too much or the gas engine will start up again to assist.

Toyota Prius PHV
Toyota Prius PHV
Toyota Prius PHV; top photo by James Bergeron, bottom photo courtesy Toyota Canada. Click image to enlarge

The Prius PHV, on the other hand, is capable of achieving a 100 km/h cruising speed on the electric motors alone and it can do this while being driven “normally.” In fact, because of the instant torque generated by the electric motors, this version of the Prius actually feels peppy right off the line.

The Prius PHV can do this for a rated electric-only range of 20 km on a full charge. Charging takes three hours with a standard 110-volt outlet or one-and-a-half hours charging with a 220-volt outlet. In ideal conditions, with light throttle application and diligent eco-friendly driving, you may even be able to achieve more than 20 km on the battery alone as the hybrid system continually charges the battery upon deceleration, through regenerative braking, as the standard Prius does.

How exactly does it work? The Prius PHV has one large battery that contains three cells. One cell is used specifically for the plug-in portion of the charge, while the other two are used to operate the standard hybrid system.

Once the PHV-dedicated cell is depleted, the Prius PHV reverts back to standard hybrid mode, driving the same way the current Toyota Prius hybrid drives, until you can once again plug in the vehicle for another charge. This eliminates range anxiety and means that, yes, you could drive this vehicle across the continent with nothing but that credit card.

Toyota Prius PHV
Toyota Prius PHV; photo courtesy Toyota Canada. Click image to enlarge

Of course, electricity is not inexpensive; Ontarians know this, especially with the introduction of smart meters and the much-loved HST applied to our bills. Generally, one would charge their PHV at night, in off-peak hours. That said, the average cost to an Ontarian to fully charge the Prius PHV is 25 cents, or just over one cent per kilometre of battery power. For those on the west coast, where our test drive took place, the estimated cost to charge the Prius is a mere 18 cents.

Is the Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle the future of the automobile? Ultimately, probably not, but it is one of the many stepping-stones required to reduce our fossil fuel consumption as motorists. Depending on your commute distance and driving style (highway, city or a combination) the Prius Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle could be a solution for you in the battle against rising fuel costs.

Connect with Autos.ca