Drive Report: Mileage in a Week with the 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

By · June 12, 2013

Prius Plug-in Hyrbid

When Toyota unveiled its Prius Plug-in Hybrid in 2011, there was significant consternation in the plug-in car world. With only 11 miles of range, many EV advocates viewed the Plug-in Prius as not really very electric. To them, the Plug-in Prius was a car built with just enough EV range to give it access to California’s HOV lanes.

But can the 11-miles electric range offered by the 2013 Prius plug-in hybrid make a difference to your gas mileage? Can you really drive the plug-in Prius like an EV? Or are you better off driving a car like the 2013 Chevrolet Volt?

To find out, we put a 2013 Prius Plug-in Hybrid through a week’s worth of driving, covering everything from day-long road trips to round-town errands. Like any other plug-in hybrid, the results show that your gas mileage really will vary with usage.

Family Trek

Shortly after our test car arrived, we packed it up with luggage, two dogs, and two kids for a 142-mile freeway trip to see family. With fuel economies reset and a full charge, we set off. After 85 miles or so, we stopped at a freeway rest stop for a coffee, plugging the Prius into an available Level 2 charging station while we sorted out refreshments. While it didn’t fully replenish the depleted battery pack, it did give about half a charge in the 30 minutes we were parked.

By the time we arrived at our destination, our car estimated a total of 8 kWh of electric had been used (some of it recaptured due to regenerative braking) and overall gas mileage was hovering at the 66.8 mpg mark. That’s noticeably different to the 95 MPGe gas+electric rating given to the 2013 Prius Plug-in Hybrid by the E.P.A., but better than the car’s 50 MPG gas-only EPA rating.

Adding another 400 miles of mixed holiday driving and four full opportunistic charges before returning home, our fuel economy had dropped to just 49.9 mpg by the end of the three-day trip.

Midweek, we arrived back home, enabling us to make much more use of local public charging stations and a domestic Level 2 charging station to improve the Prius Plug-in Hybrid’s gas mileage. With more than 90 percent of our remaining trips being well within the Prius Plug-in Hybrid's 11-mile all-electric range, the gasoline engine rarely kicked in, only turning on occasionally to give extra power at highway speeds.

Despite such a small battery pack, we also noticed that leaving the test car charging for an hour or so while running an errand was usually enough to refill the battery pack enough to drive home again in all-electric mode. Predictably, our test car performed far better, improving the overall gas-mileage for the week (taken over 713 miles of driving) was increased to 63.5 mpg.

Overall, our car had used EV-only mode for about 20 percent of the week, accounting for 31 kWh of electricity. According to the car's dash, this had saved more than 2.5 gallons of gasoline, with the majority of savings taking place during the second half of the week when the car was driving in mostly electric only mode.

It's How You Use It

Admittedly, our week with the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid wasn’t exactly a normal week for most car buyers. We drove for an extended road trip over three days that most people would only consider once a month, and then did the kind of everyday driving most people would do Monday thru Friday for the remaining four days. Following usual monthly usage patterns, we think the overall gas mileage would move much closer to official EPA ratings.

But here’s the problem with the 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid: 11 miles really isn’t all that much, especially given its starting MSRP of $32,795 before incentives. If you’re lucky enough to have charging at work, commute less than 11 miles one way, and make frequent long-distance trips at the weekend, the Prius Plug-in Hybrid will reward you with great overall gas mileage well above its official EPA rating.

If on the other hand, you work more than 11 miles from home, don’t have access to charging at work, and only ever make long distance trips once or twice a year, the range-extended Chevrolet Volt would make a better buy, even at its higher price. Take into consideration Chevrolet’s recent price cut of up to $5,000 on 2012 Chevrolet Volts, and the Volt looks even better for long-distance drivers.

Comments

· · 4 years ago

@Nikki,

That MPG reported on the Prius doesn't include electricity usage, or does it?

Also, Prius's computer are known to be 5% to 9% optimistic...

So, here is the issue with Toyota's approach. Its short 11EV miles is very limited. You can't push it hard, you can't go faster than 62mph, you can't turn on the heat or load up the car. It adds 150lbs to the weight and end up with a slower performance and lower safety rating (4 star vs. 5 star for the regular Prius).

All that for what? 11 miles? Let us do the math on $$$.

Let us say that you actually get 11 miles round trip out of it per day. So, that is 55 miles per week and 50 weeks per year, you are talking about a saving of 55 gallon per year. @ $4/gallon, that is a saving of $220 per year over a regular Prius.

But the sticker price is at least $3k over a comparable optioned Prius after tax incentives. Not to mention that due to extra weight, your long trip MPG will be at least 1-2mpg worse than the regular Prius and worse performance. If you don't need the long range, why don't you just buy a Leaf? or a Volt which the long range limitation or long range mpg doesn't really matter...

So, at the end, it is a questionable decision unless you want a HOV sticker for the lowest price. The US sales actually reflects the answer to those questions....

· · 4 years ago

I was just thinking how perfect the prius plug in might be for us. My wife makes multiple short trips throughout the day (kids to school, by clients' office, by the store, pick up kids, kids to practice, etc.) with time in between, usually enough to charge on our L2 charger. We have an EV already and it's working out great except for longer trips require use of our other car. Having the Prius would allow us to still leverage full use of it's EV power with the option to head out of town, which we do only 3 or 4 times per year in the car (vs fly).

Can you do the math on that for me? :-) $2500 fed and $1500 State (Cal) rebates. Oh, and we have solar so electricity can be calculated at $.05/kWh.

· · 4 years ago

@bstring,

I would buy a Volt if you and your family can make it "fit". If Not, then just buy a regular Prius. Or if you love more power, buy a regular C-Max or even C-Max Energi model.

The Plugin Prius can't even do all that errands gas free if you drive it slightly hard or use any kind of heat.

I would have recommended Prius Plugin if those 11 miles are REAL EV miles like the Volt or at least somewhat strong EV miles like the Ford Energi models...

· · 4 years ago

That's too much plugging and unplugging for 11 miles of range at best, and a top speed of 62 mph. At least with the Volt, you get 30+ miles of range with no restrictions on speed, and it puts a decent EV dent into most trips.

· · 4 years ago

If you live in an area where charging stations are plentiful, you might be able to make it with a Prius Plug In. If you need more than 11 miles of EV power you might want to consider a C-Max Energi. It is rated for 21 miles, but I usually get 28 or 29 miles, and today I went 31.4 miles before the hybrid engine kicked in (part of driving 55 and up and down hills). It is roomy and comfortable and has more cargo space than the Prius or Volt. We make a 300 mile round trip to care for relatives a couple of times a month and we are still averaging 67.5 for our lifetime mileage. We drove 1026 miles on one tank of gas and only filled it because we had stopped to use the facilities. Our mileage on that tank was 100.26. You can also plug the C-Max Energi into any standard 120 outlet to charge so you don't have to install a specail charging station to drive this EV.

· · 4 years ago

"You can also plug the C-Max Energi into any standard 120 outlet to charge so you don't have to install a specail charging station to drive this EV."

All plugin cars come with standard 120V EVSE...

"C-Max Energi. It is rated for 21 miles, but I usually get 28 or 29 miles"

I know plenty of Volt owners getting 50+ miles range in their Volt. But EPA rating is EPA rating. your range might vary...

· · 4 years ago

We have a Fit EV with L2 charging station already. My wife drives it primarily. I drive our other car into work 30 miles round trip once a week and cycle in the rest so my wife has 2 cars to choose from most days. We are currently putting 1500 miles per month on the Fit EV and 550/mo on the other car.

Given that scenario, the Prius plug in seems to provide the most efficient solution. Since the majority of her trips are 8-10 miles, burning any gas would be rare, pretty much just for trips out of town and perhaps some on the day I take the Fit EV to work.

I like the Volt, but 4 seats doesn't work for us, unfortunately. Ideally, I'd like to hold out for an affordable EV with 200+ miles of range and that appears to be about 3 years away. Can't wait to see more details on the BMW i3.

· · 4 years ago

My own judgment on the plug-in Prius:

In short, too little too late.

In details:
The car should have been introduced on the second generation Prius not on the third generation Prius.
The EV range should at least be at pair with the Volt’s 38 miles.
The EV operation should be much more extended on acceleration and maximum speed.
Toyota should now have been on its second generation Plug-in Prius, one with a Park & Forget convenience option by high weight switch secured under the car contacts or by an induction charger.
The range would already be at 60 miles now and the engine size reduced to 1000 cc only in a Flex-Fuel configuration.
Instead Toyota has been sleeping on its laurels and come on the third generation Prius with only 11 miles very limited capability EV range. The engine size has increased instead of decreased and the car is still unable to run on bioethanol if the driver wants to.

Way to correct this?

Make a next Plug-in Prius with a Free Piston Linear Generator or a micro Wankel as a range extender and add the flex-Fuel capability.
Introduce a larger battery on the bottom of the Prius to be able to operate in a serial configuration.
Give battery energy content choice of 50,75 or 100 miles.
Provide the car with a Park & Forget option.
Look for a million run to reduce unit costs.
Make it available as a Prius V as well.
Add some available extras like:
- Vehicle to Home emergency power.
- Full solar paint.
- Polycarbonate windows
- supercharger
- four wheel drive

Things to stop that where good but are now obsolete:
- Parallel engine motor through planetary gear.
- Gasoline as main fuel vision.
- Steel only structure.

· · 4 years ago

@Priusmaniac,

Those are all great suggestions. However, Toyota is about making $$$. Being "green" just happens to be a "marketing slogan". It is still trying to recover all the initial investment. The Prius didn't make money on per car basis until 2006/2007 model. That didn't include the initial R&D investment. So, Toyota is trying to spread out all the cost across all of its hybrid platform as much as it can.

Everything you mentioned are great, but those will require additional R&D dollars which will take years to break even.

· · 4 years ago

With Ford's roomy C-Max Energi at almost the same price as the Prius, and their stylish Fusion Energi for a bit more (both rated for 21 miles), and the even longer range, more powerful electric Volt (38 miles), I don't see the Prius as much competition in the plug-in hybrid market. It seems like a half hearted effort.

· · 4 years ago

Michael, that's true but if you or your wife had a pure EV already and were looking for something to augment it for long road trips as well as taking advantage of pure EV travel on short trips around town, you may see it differently. Purchase price and long range MPGs are the primary reasons. Cmax styling is almost there, but not quite. Only slightly behind the prius.

· · 4 years ago

I own PIP. At this point I am averaging 168 mpg (gas only) life time mileage ~2800. Thanks to the warm weather I am currently averaging 600 mpg (gas only).
Checkout the data on Fuelly the PIP in the real world the PIP's fuel efficiency is significantly lower than the Volt but better than the Cmax Energi.

Cost after incentives and tax credit my PIP cost less than $24k. It has cost me <$50 dollars for gas & $60 for electricity.

· · 4 years ago

I own PIP. At this point I am averaging 168 mpg (gas only) life time mileage ~2800. Thanks to the warm weather I am currently averaging 600 mpg (gas only).
Checkout the data on Fuelly the PIP in the real world the PIP's fuel efficiency is significantly lower than the Volt but better than the Cmax Energi.

Cost after incentives and tax credit my PIP cost less than $24k. It has cost me <$50 dollars for gas & $60 for electricity.

Battery size and EV range is only a part of the story. The majority of our trips are 15 milers or less. We manage use EV about 70% of our driving. The PIP ICE is very efficient. On the highway at speeds that trigger the ICE we can get 69 to 75 mpg. By the way the trigger point speed for the ICE is determined by the relative efficiencies of the two engines. Above 65 mph it take more energy to run the PIP's traction motor than the ICE. This is why the trigger point for the Cmax Energi relatively inefficient ICE is higher.
In my opinion Toyota got this right. The PIP is designed as a short commuter/urban PHEV. While the Volt is best for those with a typical commute. The Cmax Energi is best for those with routes typically no longer than 20 to 30 miles.

The higher EV range of the Volt means with a single charge you need a commute longer than 50 miles before you start saving money driving a PIP.

· · 4 years ago

Here is a much better article comparing the two:
http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/volt-vs-prius

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