Full 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-in Review
What's New for 2013
Introduced just last year, the Toyota Prius Plug-in hybrid carries over unchanged for 2013.
The 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-in hybrid lives halfway between a full electric car and a traditional hybrid. Relative to the regular Prius, the Plug-in can travel farther on full electric propulsion, thus improving fuel economy. And since it still has a gas-burning engine, it doesn't come burdened with the abbreviated range that can make piloting something like a full-electric Nissan Leaf such a nail-biting experience over longer journeys.
In a nutshell, the Prius Plug-in is a standard Prius with recharge-at-home capability and a lithium-ion battery pack that offers higher capacity and improved efficiency over the nickel-metal hydride array in the standard Prius. You'll only get about 10-15 miles before the electrons run out, but the Plug-in charges quickly -- about three hours on a standard 120-volt home outlet, or half that time on a larger 240-volt outlet.
This plug-in Toyota also comes with benefits immediately familiar to anyone who has spent time in the standard Prius hybrid. The cabin is unfailingly spacious, graciously accommodating passengers and cargo of most heights and sizes. On the road, the Prius Plug-in offers a comfortable, virtually noise-free driving experience and a robust list of standard features. But like the regular Prius, the Plug-in also suffers from disappointing interior materials and an awkward driving position.
The alternatives within the plug-in hybrid segment continue to expand, and every choice is a strong one. The 2013 Chevrolet Volt travels much farther on pure electric power (EPA rated at 38 miles) than the Prius, but it's more expensive. Ford offers the C-Max Energi (similar in price to the Toyota) and the handsome Fusion Energi (similar in price to the Volt); both are worth a measured look. Considering all of these models is wise, but given the huge success of the regular Prius, it's a safe bet that the Prius Plug-in will work out well for you.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-in is available in Base and Advanced body styles.
Standard equipment on the base model includes 15-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, LED taillights, keyless entry/ignition, cruise control, full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver seat, automatic climate control, heated front seats and a 60/40-split fold-down rear seat. Electronic features include Bluetooth (phone and audio streaming), a back-up camera, a navigation system, voice recognition and a six-speaker sound system featuring a touchscreen display, a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack, an iPod/USB interface and satellite and HD radio. Toyota's Entune smartphone and Web integration system is also standard.
The Prius Plug-in Advanced adds automatic LED headlights, foglamps, unique exterior styling treatment, adaptive cruise control, upgraded seat upholstery, an eight-way power driver seat (with power lumbar), an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a head-up display, more Entune capabilities and a premium eight-speaker JBL sound system with a larger touchscreen display.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-in is powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine combined with a pair of electric motors/generators. Together they send 134 horsepower to the front wheels through a specialized continuously variable transmission (CVT). The battery pack features advanced lithium-ion technology and has more capacity (4.4 kWh) than that in the regular Prius, though total capacity is still much less than that of the Volt and Nissan Leaf.
In Edmunds testing, a Prius Plug-in accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 9.9 seconds, about the same time as the regular Prius. In normal driving, this Prius can make it about 15 miles on battery power alone. After the all-electric range is used up, the EPA says the Prius Plug-in is good for 50 mpg combined (51 city/49 highway).
The 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-in hybrid's standard safety features include antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags, a driver knee airbag, full-length side curtain airbags, a back-up camera and hill start assist. A pre-collision warning system is standard on Advanced models.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Prius Plug-in stopped from 60 mph in 127 feet. That's an average result for the class, but 7 feet longer than the conventional (and lighter) Prius hybrid.
The Prius Plug-in hybrid received an overall rating of four out of five stars in government crash testing, with four stars for total frontal impact protection and five stars for total side-impact protection.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-in features controls that are easy to read and use. Climate and audio controls arc out toward the driver in a "floating console" configuration that offers a storage space underneath. This vaguely futuristic design supports the theme suggested by the car's cutting-edge hybrid technology and also maximizes cabin space. The digital instrument panel also features a floating layer that displays audio, temperature and trip computer information when the driver touches those controls on the steering wheel, minimizing eye movement. Some drivers might find the overall design a bit too busy-looking, however.
Included is Toyota's Entune suite of smartphone-connected services, which features amenities like the Bing search engine; Pandora streaming radio; traffic reporting, sports and stock information; and the ability to reserve movie tickets or a table at a restaurant on the go.
Inferior interior quality is the Prius Plug-in's most glaring weakness, however. The dash and door panel plastics are harder and cheaper than those in similarly priced cars, although green-minded consumers will appreciate that the plant-derived materials require less petroleum in their production. For many buyers, though, this concession to eco-consciousness won't mean much, especially when competitors offer much nicer interiors.
Like the standard Prius, the plug-in is a segment leader in versatility. The hatchback body style provides 21.6 cubic feet of cargo volume with the rear seats up, and rear seat passengers enjoy plenty of legroom. Taller drivers still have to contend with a steering wheel that's placed too far away despite a telescoping column, as it doesn't extend nearly far enough.
The 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-in drives essentially the same as the regular Prius. This means smooth performance whether in pure electric or standard hybrid mode as well as a supple, quiet ride around town and while cruising on the freeways. Acceleration is on par for a hybrid: far from quick, but plenty for most drivers and situations.
Handling is also similar to the regular Prius in that, although the chassis feels competent enough, the low-rolling-resistance tires (which help optimize fuel economy) and the rather conservative stability control system conspire to quash any attempt at spirited cornering. In fairness, this will likely be a non-issue for the typical buyer, who will appreciate this Prius' easy driving nature, daily-driver comfort and amazing fuel economy more than ultimate handling capabilities.