Review: 2014 Toyota Prius Plug-In
You want something hybrid that can run EV but a new Prius isn’t in your budget. You decide to buy used. Can the needs of a family meet the desires for fuel economy in the 2014 plug-in version of the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle? We put it to the test.
Under the Hood:
Our 2014 Prius Plug-in Hybrid features a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine paired with a 4.4 kWh lithium-ion battery featuring Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive. The system produces a net 134 horsepower. Hybrid Synergy Drive technology mates the gasoline engine and electric motor so they work together and separately based on what the vehicle determines to be mist efficient.
The power from the engine and motor runs through Toyota’s Continuously Variable Transmission which theoretically allows an infinite number of gear ratios to maximize fuel efficiency without sacrificing power. There is an adjustment period to get used to the difference in sound and performance if you are used to driving a conventional transmission. In all our time with the Prius we never managed to get used its CVT. It seemed to rev high when it should be settling down, and seemed to take forever at other times to catch up with our throttle input. There didn’t seem to be any logic to it.
It is quickly apparent exterior is geared toward a low-drag aerodynamic design. The softened wedge shape is striking. It makes the Prius readily identifiable which is a hallmark of good design. Another indication the style folks got it right is that a whole generation of hybrids and EV’s seem to mimic the front end. That said, we didn’t find it terribly nice looking. We didn’t find it terribly ugly. It just looks like a Prius.
Front wipers performed admirably; however, the rear wiper was a bit silly. It was too short to make any real difference for the hatch beyond the extreme left portion of the glass.
Toyota views the Prius as somewhat of a revolutionary vehicle and the interior styling of the vehicle reflects that. All instrumentation that is typically in-dash has been moved to a narrow strip across the center of the dash. It’s placement just below the driver’s sightline has it effectively serving as a heads up display.
While we appreciated the instrument panel’s placement, the design was a bit dated. Graphics are an old looking blue-green color that reminded us of a computer display from the early days of the iMac. An odd touch was a replica of the steering wheel-mounted controls that would pop up on the display when one of the functions was used. An image of the control panel used would appear on the screen and the actual button pushed would light up, essentially showing you the action you just performed. Toyota calls this the Touch Tracer Display: we call it extraneous.
The smaller of our junior testers was able to put her feet flat on the floor comfortably meaning adult riders would have their knees up higher than would be comfortable for anything more than a short ride. A 4-passenger road trip of any length would likely be out of the question for a group of adults. Front seat comfort was merely satisfactory with a the headrest coming in at “remarkably hard.”
Visibility from inside the vehicle was good. The experience was almost like driving an aquarium with all the greenhouse surrounding the occupants. The rear view took some getting used to as two pieces of glass, one slanted and one vertical are joined together to form the rear hatch. The vertical piece is darkly tinted and joined to the upper piece by a plastic joint. The difference in tint takes some getting used to and the plastic joint can create an odd blind spot in traffic.
The rear cargo area was cavernous. The rear hatch opened wide and was easily out of the way when it came time to load groceries.
Our tester Prius Plug-In came equipped with an Entune audio and navigation controlled through a 6.1″ touchscreen. The touchscreen was one of the better ones we’ve used. It was quick to respond to touch without being overly sensitive issue if a knuckle drug across the screen. The system itself was rather minimalist. It even boasted a USB port we never managed to find.
Volume and tuning knobs were on opposite sides of the infotainment screen providing easy adjustment of basic controls. The convenience was lessened by the location of the tuning knob on the passenger side of the center stack which required us to have to reach an uncomfortable distance to scroll through the stations from the drivers side.
The satellite radio was disappointing. There were several locations along some of our regularly traveled routes where the system lost reception completely. There were no obstructions in these areas other than a few trees hanging over one side of the road. No other vehicle we’ve ever tested has had reception issues in these areas.
With one of us always cold and the other always warm, we have a hard enough time regulating single zone vehicles to be comfortable. One of us has just learned to always bring a cardigan. In the 2014 Prius Plug-In, the temperature had to be boosted to 74 degrees before it was comfortable for both of us. That temperature felt like the temperature we keep our home at- 70 degrees.
The fuel efficiency in the Prius Plug-In was everything the promised it would be. We had issue with the gauge tracking battery capacity as it was inconsistent. We managed to travel the displayed distance on electric power one time. We often lost a few tenths of a mile- up to a half mile, without traveling nearly the distance lost. We experienced our biggest loss of this kind while traveling a fairly flat route without the AC on.
Despite the fuel gauge inconsistencies, we did better than the EPA-estimated MPGes and MPGs. Running in purely EV mode, the vehicle got 105 MPGe in a mix of city and highway driving. In one run on purely highway driving (except .75 miles to get on the road), it ran for over 17 miles in EV mode- and that was during rush hour. Over the course of our entire test week, using an EV and hybrid mode combination, the 2014 Prius Plug-In averaged 67 MPG.
The overall drive experience was generally unpleasant. The Prius seemed to struggle at times getting up to speed but then would automatically use the power mode even when it seemed completely unnecessary based on how sternly we were pushing on the pedal (usually very little and easing from a stop) and the terrain where we were driving. Then, when engine/transmission noise would normally indicate a slowing vehicle, we found ourselves continuing to accelerate. Often while traveling on a flat road we eased off the accelerator only to have the vehicle speed up, sometimes as much as 5MPH.
The electronic power steering required just the right amount of input without being too sensitive. The Prius still managed to make steering a chore, requiring constant attention. Even on the straightest of roads and flattest of surfaces maintaining a lane required constant adjustment of the wheel, and not because the Prius needed an alignment. Negotiating a curve often felt like we were forced to make constant corrections in a series of straight lines. Road-tripping would be exhausting.
The Prius was obviously designed with aerodynamics in mind; however, there were several times we felt as if we were pulling something behind the vehicle.
When it came to using cruise control, we were consistently being passed on the highway even when it was set at 73 in a 65 mph zone. Using a brand new vehicle with a certified speedometer, we paced the Prius Plug-In and found it was consistently driving 3 mph slower than the set speed and the speed indicated by the speedometer.
Important Numbers for Families:
- 0 – There are zero USB outlets in the 2014 Prius Plug-In.
- 2 – There are two sections to the glovebox- upper and lower with each individually opening. We like this and the top served as a great space to put tissues, hand sanitizer, and all those odds and ends you’d need if you were hauling around two small kids day after day.
- 10 – When the Prius Plug-In was purchased brand new, the battery came with a 10 year warranty. Check with your re-seller to find out if that warranty carries over to you as the new owner.
- 10.6 – The relatively small 10.6 gallon fuel tank costs just over $20 to fill up with today’s prices. When you run the Prius Plug-In Hybrid in a mix of Eco and EV mode, you’ll be filling up that tank once every 500 miles or so based on our calculations.
- 36 – With 36-inches of legroom, the Prius Plug-In has plenty of space for long-legged passengers. Will they be comfortable? That’s the question we had.
Family 5 Test:
- Car Seats – Two car seats fit in the back but don’t think of putting a child or adult comfortably between them. Even without car seats, two tweens didn’t have space for an adult to sit between them.
- Coffee Cups – While we understood the placing of the one cupholder int he center console, the one located just below the gear shift was awkwardly placed. Though both did their jobs holding cups in their rigid frame, using the forward-most cupholder left no pocket or space to secure a smartphone.
- Luggage – The abundant trunk space makes trips back and forth to the airport easy. For road trip, there’s a storage area between the driver and passenger on the front floor that can house a small purse or cooler.
- Golf Clubs – Two pairs of golf clubs will comfortably fit in the trunk of the Prius Plug-In. If you need to carry three, you may have to fold down one of the second row seats to make way.
- Groceries – Grocery shopping is a breeze in the Prius Plug-In with abundant space for that next Costco haul.
The Bottom Line:
We are big fans of hybrids. We are big fans of Toyota. We were not fans of this Prius. Charging was fairly quick compared to other plug-ins we’ve tested. The fuel economy was exactly as promised. Little else about the car wowed us. The ride was unimpressive. Exterior styling and interior ergonomics didn’t do much to help the Prius’s case.
all photos courtesy of Toyota