Toyota Prius PHV
Toyota Prius PHV. Click image to enlarge

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Article and photos by Grant Yoxon

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Toyota Prius PHV

Ottawa, Ontario – In 2010, five Prius Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles (PHVs) were delivered to Canadian government and electrical utility partners as part of a worldwide program to demonstrate plug-in hybrid technology and capture real-world driving data. Three of these vehicles were in Ottawa recently for Auto21, a conference hosted by the Canadian Centre of Excellence focusing on automotive research and development. This gave us a chance to sample a bit of automotive future – near future, as it turns out, as the plug-in Prius is expected to go on sale in Canada in 2012.

The Prius PHV is based on the current third-generation Prius and is identical in most respects. If it wasn’t covered in partner logos, you wouldn’t know it was a PHV unless you spotted the plug-in port on the driver’s side front fender.

Like the Prius, the Prius PHV is powered by a 1.8-litre Atkinson cycle gasoline engine in combination with two electric motors, one driven by the engine to generate electricity that is stored in the battery, and one that drives the front wheels in combination with the engine. The principal differences are the battery technology used to power the Prius’ high-torque electric drive motor, the ability to plug in the car to a 110- or 220-volt outlet to charge up the battery and, most significantly, the ability to run exclusively on electrical energy for up to 20 kilometres and at speeds up to 100 km/h.

Toyota Prius PHV
Toyota Prius PHV
Toyota Prius PHV
Toyota Prius PHV. Click image to enlarge

Naturally, the Prius PHV is much more fuel-efficient than the standard Prius hybrid, which is rated by Energuide at 3.7 L/100 km city and 4.0 L/100 km highway. How much more fuel efficient will depend on how Energuide rates a vehicle that begins each day with 20 kilometres of virtually fuel-free driving.

The battery pack in the current Prius hybrid is a nickel-metal hydride battery. The Prius PHV has a much larger battery pack consisting of 600 lithium-ion cells that have four times the electrical energy output of the nickel-metal hydride battery. The battery pack is located under the floor in the cargo area and takes up the space normally occupied by the nickel-metal hydride battery, as well as the spare tire and utility tray space. As a result, the Prius PHV uses run-flat tires.

The cargo floor is also raised a couple of inches higher. Toyota hopes that the size of the battery pack will be reduced by the time the car goes on sale in 2012.

A plug-in hybrid combines the positive attributes of both electric vehicles and gasoline-powered vehicles. Like an electric vehicle, it will run on electricity exclusively for a limited distance, but when it reaches the end of its range, it will revert to running on fuel and electricity combined. Unlike an electric vehicle, at least those available today, it is not limited by the supply of energy stored in its battery or the availability of a charging station. Plugging it in every night will give you 20 km of fuel-free driving every day – enough to complete most daily driving chores and for many, even commute to work. But if you want to drive to another city, no problem: you are only limited by the availability of fuel, which is no limitation at all.

Charging is pretty simple – just plug it in to any household 110-volt outlet for three hours and the battery will be fully charged. If a 220-volt outlet is available, charging time is reduced to about 1.7 hours.

I drove the Prius PHV around the city of Ottawa starting off with a full charge. I found ride comfort and handling to be no different than the Prius we own and drive every day. Despite the extra weight of the lithium-ion battery pack, the Prius PHV felt stronger off the line than our own Prius. Electric motors have high torque and will propel a vehicle rapidly as long as there is a supply of electricity to power the motor.

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