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.

New to EVs? Start here

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