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2015 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader December 2014

Although Toyota has long been a leader in gas/electric hybrid technology, the automaker's position near the top has been questioned in recent years. Several other automakers have debuted plug-in electric vehicles that offer even more environmental benefit than Toyota's long-running -- and highly popular -- hybrid Prius hatchback.

Toyota's answer is the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, a hatchback that offers an electric motor and a range-extending gasoline engine. Unchanged this year, the 2015 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid isn't as popular as rivals such as the Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Volt, but it does offer an alternative for die-hard Prius fans who aren't ready to give up the hatchback's familiar shape and practical interior just yet.

What's New for 2015?

After a 2012 debut, the Prius Plug-in is unchanged for the 2015 model year.

What We Like

Full electric mode for gas-free driving; fast recharging times; superior fuel economy in gas/electric hybrid mode; handy hatchback design

What We Don't

Electric mode is limited to 15 miles and 62 miles per hour; economy-car driving experience at a near-luxury price

How Much?

$31,000-$35,800

Fuel Economy

The 2015 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid uses a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine that puts out 134 horsepower -- just like the regular model. But don't be fooled by the similarity between the two powertrains: unlike the standard Prius, the Plug-in boasts the ability to travel up to 15 miles in fully electric mode.

Fuel economy is equivalent to 95 miles per gallon, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) rating for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. In gas and electric mode, fuel economy comes in at 50 mpg in combined city and highway driving. Recharge times are an hour and a half with a 240-volt outlet and three hours with a standard 120-volt power supply.

Standard Features & Options

The Prius Plug-in comes in two available trims: a base-level model called simply the Prius Plug-in and an upscale Prius Plug-in Advanced.

The standard Prius Plug-in ($31,000) boasts automatic headlights, alloy wheels, Bluetooth, heated front seats, automatic climate control, a navigation system with voice control, a reversing camera and a long list of audio features including a CD player, an iPod/USB interface, satellite radio and HD radio. The model also includes a center-mounted touchscreen.

Above the regular model is the Prius Plug-in Advanced ($35,800), which adds a larger touchscreen, adaptive cruise control, upgraded upholstery, a power driver's seat, an auto-dimming mirror and a heads-up display.

Safety

The Prius Plug-in comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, active front head restraints and seven airbags, including a driver-knee airbag.

In government crash testing, the Prius Plug-in received an overall rating of four out of five stars, consisting of a 4-star rating for frontal impact protection and a 5-star rating for side impacts. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not tested a Prius Plug-in, but it awarded the regular Prius the top rating of Good in all categories.

Behind the Wheel

We noticed more road noise than expected in the Prius Plug-in, perhaps because the ordinarily grumbly gas engine goes completely silent in electric mode. The ride is smooth enough, but sometimes pavement seams send economy-grade quivers through the structure. As with all Prius models, the handling is numb and indifferent. Don't get us wrong, the Prius Plug-in drives just fine for normal commuting duties and the like. But if it seems like we're being harsher here than in the regular Prius review, that's because the more expensive Plug-in competes pricewise with a lot of very capable and luxurious cars. Consider that Toyota's excellent new Avalon sedan is available for about the same cost.

In our interior evaluation, we found that the Prius Plug-in's front seats aren't particularly memorable for their comfort or support, but we really like the way the dashboard curves toward the driver in a way that's similar to the regular Prius. It gives the cockpit a spaceship-like feel, which seems appropriate for such an advanced car.

The gauges also look ready for outer space, with a variety of digital readouts and diagrams describing what the hybrid powertrain is up to. Interior materials aren't luxury-grade, even in Advanced trim, but they don't seem cheap, either.

The rear quarters are a step down from what you'll find in a midsize car such as the Camry Hybrid, but there's still ample room for full-sized adults back there. While the same is true of Ford's C-MAX Hybrid, Chevy's Volt has a legroom-deficient back seat that doesn't measure up.

Remarkably, the Prius Plug-in offers the same 21.6-cu-ft. trunk capacity as the regular Prius despite its larger battery pack. Moreover, the 60/40-split rear seatbacks fold down to accommodate larger items.

Other Cars to Consider

2015 Chevrolet Volt -- The Volt is more rewarding to drive than the Toyota, and it offers a far better fully electric range.

2015 Ford C-Max -- On paper, Ford's plug-in people-mover is a superstar, boasting 21 miles of electric range, an 85-mph top electric speed and genuinely engaging handling. The only drawback is that the battery pack is poorly integrated into the trunk floor.

2015 Nissan Leaf -- The Leaf is purely electric, so it's not the answer if you need a car for road trips. But with a range of around 75 miles, it's the ultimate electric grocery-getter.

AutoTrader's Advice

There's no question that the Plug-in Prius can be nicely equipped with a lot of high-end options. However, that can push the price into the $40,000 range, and we just can't see dropping that kind of money on a Prius. For the best combination of value and fuel economy, we recommend a traditional Prius, rather than a plug-in model.

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2015 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid: New Car Review - Autotrader