The 2017 Toyota Prius PHEV

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We recently selected the Toyota Prius PHEV for our 2017-2020 Fleet and after 6 months its time for a real world review. The New Prius PHEV comes in two flavours, the Business and the Excel. The former lacks many of the refinements yet has an optional solar roof whereas the latter is probably the only sensible choice but cannot have the solar roof.  

The Toyota website quotes "Fun to drive" as one of the USPs for the Prius PHEV and indeed it is much more fun to drive than the regular Prius. In Electric only mode its fast and sporty, so much so that even in damp conditions its hard to keep the front wheels stuck to the road. In Hybrid mode it performs pretty much as the regular Prius. The quoted range is 30 miles and we can achieve that if driven very carefully and without any heating but in the real world you can expect to get 21-26 miles range and in the winter its more like 18-20. When pushed the traction control doesn't seem to control anything and your left with the same understeer issues that you would expect from most front wheel drives. It would have been nice to have seen a rear motor as in the Estima for even more go and some 4 wheel handling but sadly not.  

The city drive is really good, very sedate and comfortable especially in traffic and you have to believe that this scenario is the real purpose of the PHEV. Motorway driving is good but there is significantly more engine and road noise which requires an adjustment in expectations, again, its a city car for sure. You have full control over EV or HV modes allowing you to mix/match to obtain maximum fuel economy on longer journeys. A good example here would be a 40 mile round trip that involves around 50% at 50mph, and the rest slower in the city, Select EV for the city driving, and HV for the longer faster runs and this works great. You can even 'charge' the battery whilst in HV mode should you need it. 

Once the battery is empty, your then back to Hybrid mode and this seems to regularly achieve 50-55mpg which is very respectable but overall performance is severely diminished. One point to note is that Toyota seem to have failed to match the relative throttle position of the EV and HV modes so when switching back and forth you're required to adjust the throttle which takes a little getting used to. 

Exterior

The exterior style is unique and truly stunning, and was a large component of our purchasing decision. With its quad LED Headlights and its sleek aerodynamic profile this is one of those vehicles that stands out from the rest. The alloy wheels are also fairly unique although I would have preferred some alternative options available. The vehicle is available in only 4 colours and black isn't one of them which was a shame and again more options available here would certainly not go a miss. The rear boot glass is elegant and expensive but of course lacks a rear wiper because of this, and it could do with one. 

Interior 

The interior, when compared to the previous Prius Plugin is a significant upgrade and everything feels a little more upmarket. Comfortable leather seats further enhance the experience and the cabin is quite spacious even for the larger occupant all of which enhances the driving experience. There are however a few complaints to consider, such as the dash decor that sweets to the left from the infotainment system is just a crap trap and with the sweeping dash the windscreen is hard to reach and clean but these are generally very minor issues. The cup holders are generous and easily accessible as is the Qi Charging Tray but there is a definite lack of somewhere to put your crap which now tends to occupy one of the cup holders. The storage area between the front seats is ok but the lid opens sideways and not backwards making it very awkward for the passenger to access and quite awkward for the driver. The steering wheel is smaller than most but with the power assist its more than acceptable. 

The heating however is utterly worthless. I know its an EV and I also know that EV's have poor heating but this vehicle seems to excel in poor heating. There is an option to pre-heat from the key fob before a journey but that just steams up all the windows and defrosts nothing, when you get in the vehicle you then need to use de-mist  which then starts the petrol engine so what possible benefit that is I'm not sure. At 0c outside I ran the pre-heat three times and it didn't even clear the frost from the front window let alone the rear ones. Even on FAST mode, Heat set to HI, driver only and in Power mode the heating still struggles to heat the cabin in moderate exterior temperatures. Its so bad in fact that the back and rear windows permanently steam up and this means you need the rear de-mist permanently on, which is also underpowered. There are heated seats in the front but those also seems under powered and were definitely an after thought judging by the ridiculous location of the switches (below)

But climate aside the interior is pleasant environment in which to spend your day. The infotainment system is covered separately Toyota's Touch 2 & Go Review so I'll skip over that for now and focus on something that caught us by surprise a little. The boot. 

As you can see from the picture a large part of the boot is taken up with the batteries leaving a greatly reduced cargo area. We didn't see this initially as being a problem but once you start loading it up with equipment you soon find that the back seats are lost to overflow so consider this carefully. 

Charging

The vehicle comes with a charger for a normal 13A socket which takes 4 hours to change. Additionally you can have a hard wired charger installed at your property that will charge at 16A and this reduces charging time to 2Hours 10Minutes. Unfortunately that's the fastest it will charge, even though most properties are able to supply 40A which would charge in less than an hour and this makes charging on the go a no-go unfortunately but charging at work is still do-able. 

You are able to setup charging schedules so that your daily charge can be taken in off peak times and cheaper electricity, and when you turn off the vehicle you have the option to bypass this scheduling and charge immediately if required which is nice. 

Driving Features

The new Prius PHEV comes with a wide range of driving features which I'll address individually here, but collectively its a nice package that is rarely seen on a vehicle of this price point.

HUD (Head Up Display)

The Prius has featured a heads-up display for many years and generations but in this model the display is further enhanced and very visible. It's also a colour display which is great except that the normal display is in monochrome, but I assume to be as clearly visible as it is a single colour is beneficial. The only downer for this feature I can see is that the SATNAV is *not* replicated to this display as it is in most, if not all other vehicles with a HUD. 

Automatic High/Low Beam Headlights

A well thought out system that works in the majority of cases even if its a little slow to react sometimes and it only works faster than 40mph which can be annoying. The system is activated by a switch located near your knee which is unfortunate making it a distraction to turn it on and off. Overall however its a good system as long as you understand its limits. 

Radar Cruise Control

Not so well thought out and the sort of system that seems to work great right up to the point where it quits working as you're approaching the vehicle in front at speed, which it does. Further when you are trying to engage it, it just won't engage for some reason and gives no feedback or reason why. It seems to work well in queuing traffic but again occasionally just quits working for no reason. When it quits working the warning is tame and often missed leaving you to discover that its not going to brake for you at the point when your thinking 'why isn't it breaking'. Another annoyance is that it constantly feels the need to display pointless images and messages on the dash obscuring key information and you cannot turn that off. On roads with corners, not that we have any of those in the UK it seems to regularly loose track of the car in front and accelerate then spot it and brake again usually in the corner which can be worrying and is just bad implementation. So overall it works, but you've got to be supervising it at all times and preparing for its failure. 

Road Sign Recognition

It does, but it doesn't. Road sign recognition is probably a good idea and I'm sure it works great in Japan but here it either gets it wrong or misses the signs altogether. Turn it off and move on. 

Collision Protection

Well, this kinda works and if you're using the radar cruise control then you're going to get a chance to test this from time to time. The only problem here is that when its activated and it detects an imminent crash it displays BRAKE in red on the far left dash accompanied by a fairly feeble beep that serves no purpose. Ideally for such a function to be effective it should BEEP loudly and flash everything so the driver is immediately aware that they need to take action. 

Lane Departure

This works most of the time although it can become very annoying after a short time especially on country roads where the road markings are not so clear. On the motorway however it seems to work great. There is a button on the steering wheel to switch it on and off which makes managing the feature very easy.

Automatic Parking

Well, this is one of those features that does work if you have the patience to let it do it or if your not able to park yourself. For me its a gimmick that will never get used except to test it because I can park and I can do it much quicker and more accurately, but some may find this feature of use. The vehicle does have all around sonar so parking by ear is easy to do yourself.

Driver Information

The Prius boasts two 7" displays that form the digital dashboard display and it does have all that the regular Prius has but seems severely lacking in driver information for EV mode. It does show the average MPG and average Kw/H but for a single journey you cannot get the Kw/H used or regenerated nor can you get Kw/H remaining. Furthermore on the infotainment display you can get regenerated power whilst in Hybrid mode, but in EV it shows nothing. The 'battery gauge' is confusing and the Toyota manual does a bad job of trying to explain it. 

Its as-if the software was tweaked slightly to make it work with the EV but they couldn't be bothered to add the key functionality and data that you or I might want which serves to detract from an otherwise good vehicle. To take it further all this data that's collected cannot be downloaded or exported anywhere even though there's a USB port which for a business makes it hard to track mile performance metrics. Ideally you would want to be able to download a record of Kw/H used, regenerated and fuel used which would give everything needed. I know that Toyota don't expect to sell that many PHEV's but for the price they could at least dedicate some time to driver information. 

The Economics

There's a lot of talk around the economics of EV's over conventional fuel vehicles, but its really down to your driving requirements and some math has to be done to work out if its going to be worth the extra costs so let's do that now. 

Assuming that we take the purchase cost, grant, servicing, MPG, etc from the official Toyota website and throw in servicing and tyres then we're going to get a total cost of ownership over 5 years of £31670 for the Plug-in vs £30470 for the standard Prius excluding any finance charge (because finance varies significantly so we're going to assume here that you purchased it outright). 

Next we need to know the driving patterns for the year, and initially we're going to consider 15k miles per year, with an average journey of 30 miles, that's around 500 journeys per year. I'm going to take the EV range at 25 miles as a year average, and the cost of fuel at £5.50 per gallon and electricity at 0.13p/Kwh. Given that we can calculate the fuel and electricity costs for your 500 journeys which is

£412.50 per year for the Plug-in vs £1586.54 for the regular Prius and that's £2062.50 over 5 years for the plug-in and £7932.7 for the regular Prius. 

That brings the cost of travel for your 5 years to £33732.50 for the Plug-in and £38402.70 for the regular Prius showing a saving over 5 years of £4670.20. 

So, if your'e a 15k a year driver running an average of 30 miles per journey then your going to be a winner with the plug-in. For business however we'd need to consider an average mileage of around 60k, and an average journey of 150miles so let's do the math.

£5130.00 per year for the Plug-in and £6346.15 per year for the regular Prius. Again we'll add in the cost of ownership to give a 5 year travel cost of £57320.00 for the plug-in vs £62200.77 for the regular Prius giving a nett saving of £4880.77. 

So, on a scale of economy the Prius Plug-in is a clear winner for both domestic and business travel with the benefit being significantly greater if you can keep your average journeys to 25 miles or less, and of course be aware that we're using Toyota's values here and these may not be real world applicable. I'll add these figures into a table below to make it easier to see. 

Vehicle Miles/Year Average Journey Cost of Ownership Fuel costs / Year Total Cost of Travel / 5 Year
2017 Prius Plugin Excel 60000 150 £31670 £5130.00 £57320.00
2017 Prius Excel 60000 150 £30470 £6346.15 £62200.77
      
2017 Prius Plugin Excel 15000 30 £31670 £412.50 £33732.50
2017 Prius Excel 15000 30 £30470 £1586.54 £38402.69

Final Thoughts

I personally like the car and I like driving it especially in Electric only mode but some may find the greatly reduced cargo area combined with the lack of colours and options too much of a stretch. It is in my opinion a far better option than the Ampera/Volt (which we had before the PHEV's) because its more fun to drive, more comfortable and more stylish. You will also find some incentives available at your local Toyota dealer which can make the relative premium more manageable. 

There is a wealth of information on the Toyota.co.uk website but be aware that certain parts of it do not work, like 'My Toyota' which just gives you a blank page when you try and login so be aware of that. 

 

 

 

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Tuesday, 25 September 2018

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