Bottom line: Electric cars, of one type or another, are coming. Politicians need to do more to build an infrastructure to make recharging and servicing them more convenient. That should not mean abandoning funding for development of hydrogen-fuel-cell models, which are still in the works but lack political support.
Body style/layout: As presented in prototype form on a year-long tour of the United States, the Prius PHV remains the arrow-shaped five-door front-wheel-drive hatchback of previous iterations. What’s new is the plug-in technology using lithium-ion battery packs. (Current, non-plug-in Prius hybrids in the United States use older, heavier, less-efficient nickel-metal-hydride battery packs. But Toyota is planning to switch to lighter-weight, more efficient lithium-ion batteries for those models as well.)
Head-turning quotient: The prototype Prius PHV, like previous non-plug-in samples of the car, looks and feels like a science project. Interior materials are cheap-feel, this-will-do expedient.
Ride, acceleration and handling: The ride was not as comfortable as I would have liked. But I enjoyed the zippy feel and handling of the car in both all-electric and gasoline modes. I think it is the perfect commuter, easy to drive and park in congested areas, and gifted with the ability to handle shorter commutes without burning any gasoline.
Power system: Toyota has added plug-in electric technology to its famed Hybrid Synergy Drive system. That means a 1.8-liter gasoline engine/generator mated with an electric drive system enhanced by plug-in electric power and the ability to run up to 13 miles at 62 mph on electric power only. That means you can get up to 475 miles before revisiting a gasoline pump — or possibly not stopping by a gasoline station for an even longer period, if your round-trip commute is 13 miles or less per day. The gas side takes over after the electric charge has depleted. Plug-in power can be restored in 1.5 to three hours.
Capacities: There are seats for five people. The prototype’s fuel tank holds 11.9 gallons. Note: The prototype uses regular gasoline. The market-ready Chevrolet Volt requires premium for “best performance.” Cargo capacity is 39.6 cubic feet.
Mileage: You can drive 52 miles without using one drop of gasoline if, as I did, you drive 13 miles, plug in and drive another 13 miles four times consecutively. Or you can run pretty close to 500 miles per 11.9-gallon tank of fuel, including the mileage from the electric-only run. It’s pretty darn good any way you look at it.
Safety: Side, head and knee air bags; ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes; anti-lock brake protection; and electronic stability and traction control.
Rollout and estimated pricing: Initial sales are planned for 2012 in Maryland, Virginia and 11 other states: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, with nationwide sales in 2013. Prices are expected to range from $25,000 to $35,000. federal and state tax rebates could apply.