Based largely on the regular Prius Liftback, and launched in March 2012, Toyota’s Prius Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) carries forward with no real changes for 2013.

We’ll refer you to our 2012 review which gives more background, details and a drive review on the Prius-with-a-plug-port, but before that, we will offer some commentary on the vehicle now a year into it.

(Note this overview is being written March 2013, but backdated for archival purposes).

The car – which achieves 95 miles per gallon equivalent in electric plus gas mode (the mpg rating listed is for gas mode) – went through a partial roll out but Toyota has limited distribution thus far to only 15 states.

These are: California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, and Hawaii.

With limited availability, it finished in December 2012 with 12,750 units sold compared to the established stalwart, the Prius Liftback, which led the entire U.S. hybrid sales chart with 147,503 sold.

In January 2013, the Liftback still outsold the PHEV by 11:1, in February, it outsold the PHEV by 16.5:1, in March, it outsold it by 17.6:1.

The Prius c, launched about the same time as the PHEV, also outsells the plug-in Prius by a good 3 or 4 to one.

To be sure, all plug-in cars are niche vehicles, but the PHEV has not been able to come up consistently even to the levels of the Chevy Volt, now made-in USA Nissan Leaf which are available in all 50 states.

In asking Toyota what it is thinking, it says essentially demand is not there in some states, and it has chosen to hold back from making the car available.

It has no definitive plans as to when the PHEV will be made available in the remaining 35 states.


So some can say the Toyota is a niche vehicle, and this is true, but within the niche, it is not winning the sales race, in part because Toyota is not aggressively distributing and marketing it.

The Toyota PHEV is eligible for a $2,500 federal tax credit, but the car costs a good $8,000 more than a Prius level 2, or compared to Prius level 3, it’s $6,435 more – and we’re referring to the base $32,000 PHEV, not the $7,525 more expensive, $39,525 Advanced PHEV model (tack on destination and processing fees to these prices).

As a plug-in car, the PHEV is rated by the EPA with 11 miles “electricity + gasoline” and a mere 6 miles all-electric driving range at up to 62 mph.

Mashing your foot into the accelerator will immediately prompt the gas engine to start.

The Prius PHEV thus roughly splits the all-electric range difference between the regular Prius which barely does one mile at speeds below 25 mph, and a Chevy Volt, which offers an EPA rated 38 miles all-electric range at up to 100 mph, but delivers significantly less mpg in gas-only mode.

So, the PHEV does have its fans, among them die-hard Toyota aficionados, but its EPA-rated electric range from its 4.4-kwh battery – the Volt has a 16.5 kwh battery – has been a tough sell in some quarters.

For those with short commutes who can use up the electrical energy and stay out of the gasoline, the car can start to pay back.

The EPA has an online guide that may help you determine the value versus cost to decide if the car makes sense for you.

And all this said, it very well could, and is otherwise a solidly reliable Toyota product, and worth a closer look.

The car also comfortably seats five, something Chevrolet cannot say about the Volt – in fact the Volt’s rear seat space is cramped for people, say, over 5-feet-9-inches tall, and with longer legs; the rear seats can be confining, OK only for short distances.

The PHEV thus offers a qualified value proposition as a niche within a niche. For more info, we’ll now refer you to our 2012 Prius Plug-In review which goes over the details of what is essentially the same car.