The first 100 ks in our long-term Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid video

DAMIEN O'CARROLL/FAIRFAX NZ

Just how slow is Auckland rush-hour traffic? Just how fast can we get our Prius PHV to a free charging point?

We're getting switched on to electric motoring with our latest long-term test vehicle: a Toyota Prius PHV (plug-in hybrid).

We're keen to discover the realities of plug-in motoring, so we'll be using it as an everyday commuting vehicle, keeping a close check on just how much pure-electric motoring we really do and whether the novelty of this technology wears off. We'll also work in a few road trips - because what's the point of a plug-in hybrid if you don't use all that range occasionally?

Why Prius PHV? We reckon it's the closest thing on the market to an "affordable" new plug-in hybrid.

It's not exactly new, of course. The PHV was never sold as a new vehicle by Toyota New Zealand (TNZ). But with a plentiful supply of ex-Japan used examples now available, it's been added to the brand's Signature Class approved-used programme.

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Plug-in version hardly distinguishable from regular Prius. Unless you count our car's fetching silver stripes.
DAVID LINKLATER/FAIRFAX NZ

Plug-in version hardly distinguishable from regular Prius. Unless you count our car's fetching silver stripes.

That means refurbishment at TNZ's Thames plant (mostly cosmetic, although parts are replaced if necessary) and a customer-care package that's really new-car quality: you get five-year cover for mechanical warranty, battery, Warrant of Fitness and roadside assistance.

Our 2014-vintage,12,000km, $35,000 example is typical of the cars TNZ is bringing in. It's not the latest shape, but it is still arguably the most advanced Prius you can buy in NZ because it has the plug-in capability that the latest version lacks. At least until TNZ chooses to launch the Prius Prime.

Structurally and cosmetically, the PHV isn't a whole lot different from the standard Prius. In fact, it's so close it shares the five-star crash-safety rating awarded to the same-generation non-plug-in (for want of a better term) Prius.

Takes about two-and-half hours to charge on a domestic socket. Less than 90 minutes on a Type 1 quick-charge.
DAVID LINKLATER/FAIRFAX NZ

Takes about two-and-half hours to charge on a domestic socket. Less than 90 minutes on a Type 1 quick-charge.

It just happens to have a lithium-ion battery pack that can be plugged into either a home socket or a Type 1 quick-charger (the kind you often see at shopping malls) for pure-electric motoring. Beyond that, it turns into a petrol-electric hybrid just like a regular Prius. TNZ claims an EV range of 26km and a total of 1000km with the petrol-electric powertrain in operation.

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It's early days as I write this: just a few days of city commuting. It's fair to say we didn't get off to a high-voltage start, as the locally produced JuicePoint charging cable supplied with the car was faulty. Shouldn't really happen says TNZ, as the cars are given a new cable and then charged with that same cord before they leave the Signature Class facility.

Ours came dead-flat and the monthly fuel consumption readout reveals it's actually been sitting undriven since at least December, so perhaps we should give them the benefit of the doubt. An actual customer would presumably benefit from a bit more attention to detail at the dealership (our car came straight from TNZ). Anyway, we were supplied with a new cable and the PHV is now powering up just fine.

Prominent PHV-badge and silver garnish at rear. Still getting to grips with electric range - only 17km at the moment.
DAVID LINKLATER/FAIRFAX NZ

Prominent PHV-badge and silver garnish at rear. Still getting to grips with electric range - only 17km at the moment.

First impressions? The garish "Tokyo taxi" two-tone paintjob is hilarious - definitely looks like a used import but you definitely know it's not a regular Prius. To go with the dark blue and silver exterior there's a tasteful black and brown interior. Love it really.

Signature Class cars come triple-waxed and fully groomed. Our Prius also has a new Kiwi-specification audio head unit, with touch screen, reversing camera and Bluetooth built-in. And some little luxuries like heating for steering wheel and front seats - a more electrically efficient way to warm up than running the climate air conditioning, I'll have you know.

Our PHV is the top Prius G grade, so we also have gas-discharge headlights, Touch Tracer remote controls on the steering wheel, cruise control and keyless entry/start.

Pretty standard Prius architecture inside. And yes, that seat fabric is brown. Really brown.
DAVID LINKLATER/FAIRFAX NZ

Pretty standard Prius architecture inside. And yes, that seat fabric is brown. Really brown.

First official duty for the PHV has been a run from my garage to a shopping centre 22km away through rush-hour - first to get a gauge on the EV range and second to get a sense of the speed of city traffic.

Ironically, on a day when gridlock would have been useful, we had a spectacularly good run. Nonetheless, plenty of idle-time to feel good about driving on zero-emissions power as exhaust pipes were smoking all around us and an average speed of 29kmh for the journey isn't exactly racing. Evidence of why we reckon a plug-in is a good idea for city commuting.

Now, about that electric power: the PHV only managed 17km of EV range on this trip, which is well short of the claimed 26km. It was actually looking pretty good to make it all the way on battery for the first half of the trip, until we hit some clear motorway and had to boost up to 100kmh for a few kilometres. It'll be interesting to see whether we can do any better on future days when it's busier and slower.

Even when it's not running in pure-EV mode, Prius is still using battery power a lot of the time.
DAVID LINKLATER/FAIRFAX NZ

Even when it's not running in pure-EV mode, Prius is still using battery power a lot of the time.

While the car did the last 5km in HV (hybrid vehicle) mode, there still wasn't a lot of petrol power involved. The PHV has a portion of battery partitioned off for hybrid use (so no, it's not really flat when it switches to HV mode) and it spends a lot of time operating as an electric car even when the plug-in juice has run out.

For that reason, it'll be really interesting to see what our average petrol consumption is over the next few weeks and months. Too early to tell right now - the fuel gauge hasn't moved at all.

My commute to work is 12km so I'll be looking to maximise that EV-mode though. Enjoying the experience at the moment, but there's the potential to become obsessed.

In case you missed it: it's a plug-in (silver trim) and it's a Signature Class (red badge).
DAVID LINKLATER/FAIRFAX NZ

In case you missed it: it's a plug-in (silver trim) and it's a Signature Class (red badge).

 - Stuff

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