Monday, May 23, 2011

Toyota Prius PHV Gives Long Electric Cruises

I'm one of the lucky journalists who gets to spend a week with Toyota's upcoming Prius PHV. PHV is a new acronym, which stands for plug-in hybrid vehicle. It's a compromise, like all hybrid cars, but it solves the problem of all-electric vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf, which could strand you if you happen to run out of juice out on the road. Sadly, there's no AAA truck with a gallon of electricity who can come by.

The PHV looks and feels like a Prius, which is not sporty but is quite solid and dreamy quiet. However, rather than simply using electricity that it generates itself, the PHV has a great big lithium ion battery where the spare tire would normally live that can take a charge that will last you about 14 miles. If you live six miles from work, it's possible you could travel gas free.

My commute is 27 miles, but I was able to drive the first seven miles--all on city streets--completely on electricity. Also, the car would drive electrically for significant periods of time on the freeway under conditions that didn't require strong acceleration.

Electronic gauges at the front of the dash, under the windshield, let you monitor your fuel consumption and especially important, where the power for moving the car is coming from. You can see the motor working--or the engine--or both--or neither, if you're stopped at a light.

It was exciting to zoom along for nearly 15 minutes without using any fuel at all. But, the show came to an end and it was back to plain hybrid life--which isn't all that bad, really. After six days, I have averaged 54.8 miles per gallon--about 5 mpg better than a normal Prius. One of those gauges shows what percentage of the time the car was an "EV" or a hybrid, which tells the story. I got in about 8 percent as a pure electric. Someone else, with short jaunts every day, could make that 8 percent hybrid, 92 percent electric.

The plugging in to charge part was easy, but I had to remember to do it. I ran the heavy cord out of my garage and into the plug, which sits behind a door in the left front fender. The battery charges fully in just three hours on normal household 110 volt current.

Pricing is likely to be in the low to mid $30,000 range. The car's due out next spring, but folks are already signing up for their Prius PHV. Here--you can too.

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