With apologies to real estate agents everywhere, only three things seem to matter for electric vehicles these days: range, range, and range.
Charging speed is an issue too, but that’s more often subject to the power of the charging station, not the vehicle. It’s all about never running low on juice when you’re far from a refuelling point.
The biggest batteries on today’s electric vehicles (EVs) have ranges of more than 400 kilometres in normal driving conditions, which is about the same as a tank of gas on a regular car. This is more than enough for most drivers in a normal day. In fact, we’ve been hearing for at least the last 13 years that the usual daily commute in Canada is less than 50 kilometres, which was comfortably covered by the relatively small batteries in the original Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf.
The message hasn’t changed. We’re not driving greater distances, but we are demanding a similar range to gasoline-powered vehicles. We can get it too – at a price. Transport Canada says the all-electric Leaf will travel a claimed 243 km on its regular 40 kWh battery, but if you pay an extra $2,600 for the Leaf Plus, you get the 62 kWh battery and increase the range to a claimed 363 km. Tesla offers even more choice: the current Model 3 offers three all-electric ranges, from 402 km for the $52,990 Standard Plus up to 518 km for the $64,990 Long Range.
And then there are Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs), like the Toyota Prius Prime I’ve been driving for the past week.
The regular Toyota Prius is a traditional hybrid – now in its 20th year of production – that uses a combination of gasoline engine and electric motor to drive the car and thus save on fuel. The battery for the motor is charged by the gasoline engine, and by clever technologies like regenerative braking. The Prius Prime is essentially a Toyota Prius hybrid that also has an 8.8 kWh battery, which can be recharged by plugging it into an electric household socket. When it’s fully charged, it provides about 40 kilometres of all-electric range, but under usual circumstances, it switches back and forth between the gas and electric motors, or uses both together, to provide the best drive for that moment.
Coasting in stop-and-go traffic? It will turn off the engine and run with just electricity. Mashing the pedal to the floor to overtake? It’ll use all the power it can find from both sources. Driving normally? A bit of both should do the trick.
I drove the Prius Prime from Toyota’s head office in Toronto out to my home in the country, and it used up most of the battery’s charge at highway speed on Hwy. 401. When I got home, I plugged it in right away and it took about five hours to fully recharge from the standard 110-volt outlet in my garage.
For the next few days, I drove errands around town, multiple journeys every day of never less than six kilometres, never more than 20 or so, and I plugged in the Toyota whenever I remembered. Like all EVs, the Prius Prime can be scheduled to only charge at certain hours, when electricity is least expensive, but in these days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario’s electricity costs the same at all times of the day and night. An hour of plugging in at 110 volts gave about six kilometres of all-electric driving.
The Prius Prime was a pleasant sedan to drive. It can be set to only-electric, or only-gas, or the usual combination of both. There are three driving modes at the press of a button, Sport, Normal, and Eco, which temper the response of the throttle and the shifting feel of the continuously variable transmission. All-electric is quite peppy and feels great; all-gas feels a little strained unless the drive mode is set to Sport.
There’s less space in the trunk thanks to the battery being stored there under the floor, but it’s not bad at 561 litres. The regular Prius offers 697 litres, but the raised, curved glass on the carbon-composite hatch lid increases the capacity. There’s more space in the rear seat, though: there used to be only two seat belts back there, but this was increased in the 2020 model year to seat belts for three. They’re a bit cramped, but it could be worse.
This was a very clever car, too. It’s loaded with Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 driver’s assistance features, including parking assist and active cruise control, and now finally has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for easier connectivity.
At the end of my week, I drove clear across the top of Toronto for a lunch appointment before returning the car – a 235-kilometre round trip. It took just 30 kilometres to drain the full-charged battery, but I was driving at the 120 km/h speed of traffic, with the air-conditioning at full blast against the day’s 35-degree heat. When the gasoline engine switched on, I carried on regardless and saw fuel consumption of 4.5 L/100 km.
Along the way, I stopped at a Tim Horton’s next to a bank of Tesla superchargers. There was a Model X and a Model 3 plugged in there, with their drivers sitting at the wheels, charging for a high-speed boost of 270 km in just 30 minutes. The Model X driver was on his phone and ignored me; the Model 3 passengers also ignored me as I pulled alongside for a photo. In my experience, Tesla drivers rarely speak to non-Tesla EV drivers, and vice-versa. I left them to wait to finish charging while I got back on the highway.
In fact, I even pressed a button and recharged the battery on the go, which took about 100 km of driving and returned a thirstier 5.9 L/100 km in consumption to do so. Is this cheaper than plugging in? You do the math.
At the end of the day, after a week of driving and 444 km, I put gas in the car for the first time and filled the tank with 16 litres of fuel. In fact, the tank will hold 43 litres, which will provide almost 1,000 km of range before even activating the electric motor and battery.
What was the total cost of driving the Prius Prime? On electric mode, which covered me off for most of the week, it cost less than three cents per kilometre in hydro (that’s with Ontario’s current fixed price of 12.8 cents/kWh). In worst-case all-gas mode, it cost just a bit more than a regular Prius – the Prime does weigh an extra 150 kg, thanks to that big battery.
The basic Prius Prime costs $32,990 (and bumps to $33,150 for 2021), which is a hefty premium over the basic, $28,650 Prius hybrid. It’s not really an apples-to-apples comparison, though, since the better equipped Prime is closer to the $32,050 Prius Technology edition in convenience and comfort features.
So once again, it all comes down to what range you really need. As I learned, you probably don’t need nearly as much as you think you do. But when you do have to go that extra mile, it’s really nice to not sit waiting at a charging station, trying to ignore the guy in the Toyota who’s already on his way.
Base price/As tested: $32,990 / $37,990, plus $1,745 Freight and PDI
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder with electric motor and 8.8 kWh battery; 121 hp
Transmission/Drive: CVT / FWD
Fuel economy: 1.8 Le/100 km, combined gas and EV
Alternatives: Hyundai Ioniq PHEV, Ford Fusion Energi, Kia Niro PHEV
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.
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