Tail lights are one way to pick a Prius PHEV; different nose is the other

Tail lights are one way to pick a Prius PHEV; different nose is the other

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The trouble with being first, or one of the first, is that you're sometimes not the best. Case in point - Mark One Prius Plug In Hybrid. All that Prius goodness - the quirky looks, the futuristic interior, instrument graphics to amaze first time buyers and passengers, low fuel consumption, low (or no) CO2 emissions, halo but, in my case, a pathetic range on 'lecky only that would not even get me to the office, let alone home again, jiggety-jog.

I have heard Toyota likened to a giant oil tanker that takes a long time to change course in the water but, clearly, feedback from Mark One owners was heard on the bridge, loud 'n' clear, cap'n, and the next one was a huge improvement. Not least, the world, apart from Prius obsessives, could now much more easily tell plug in from standard 'ybrid thanks to a distinctive new nose with four-LED headlamps each side, round DRLs, a distinctive multi dimensional acrylic grille, longer rear overhang, different alloy wheels and horizontal, rather than vertical tail lamps. I prefer the standard car's tail lamps, which invoke some 50s US car styling for me, with the PHEV's nose. Proof you can never please all of the people.

Inside, the main change is a larger, eight-inch infotainment screen (up from seven in the hybrid) with updated graphics and dual 4.2-inch TFT screens with PHEV-specific displays. The white base of the shift panel in the centre console is finished with a satin chrome trim. In the back, there are two (instead of three) seats separated by a central console. The luggage deck has been raised by 160mm to accommodate the larger hybrid battery, giving maximum loadspace volume of 360 litres. Despite earlier doubts, he of little faith and all that, we got a week's shopping in there and my days of wondering if a baby buggy might fit are now, thank the good Lord, some years past.

Unlike the four trim levels with which the standard Prius is pitched into market, Toyota GB has just two for the PHEV - Business Plus for GBP29,195 and Excel at GBP31,395. The premium for being able to plug in is GBP2,305 or GBP3,050 (with a government bung of GBP2,500 already deducted) and the extra GBP2,200 for Excel kit buys you JBL premium audio with 10 speakers, intelligent park assist, including front and rear parking sensors, black or grey leather seats and leather front and rear armrests. With the Excel, it comes out of the tin in take or leave spec, with the only extras being a few flossy bits the import centre or dealer can add, like a 'protection pack'. Business Plus, which we tried, offers a GBP1,500 solar roof option which is great for bragging rights in the motorway services car park but adds little to the driving range and loses you the head up display and blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert which I find more useful.

The biggest improvement is definitely the electric vehicle range. From the original PHEV's around 12 miles (15.5 officially), Prius PHEV II delivered a real-world 30, cross-country. And, taking advantage of The Boss' (Tesla) charger, now a welcome feature of the office car park, a 90-minute dose of amperage restored the improved lithium-ion battery which has capacity doubled from 4.4 to 8.8kW/h, yet volume increased by only two thirds, and is only 50% heavier than its predecessor. During charging, a new battery warming system can bring the cells up to an efficient working temperature, at external temperatures as low as minus 20°C, minimising the impact of cold weather on the EV driving range, with full power available from start. The increase in maximum power from 2kW to 3.3kW means the battery can be fully charged up to 65% more quickly – in two hours when using the Type II Mode III Mennekes connector, or three hours 10 minutes using a standard household plug socket - hence my 90-minute rejuvenation and a return to home base with the round trip of 42 miles entirely electric powered.

So I was able to brag about a 199.9mpg result. More realistically, I did a part electric 90 mile run and got 79.1 and returned home with a flattened li-ion pack and still achieved 66.8. That'll do.

Cable storage in what remains of the boot is excellent and my usual bleat about No Spare Wheel Just a Tin of Gunk applies. There's simply nowhere for the wheel with all the extra battery. For some reason, door mirrors don't fold automatically but the radar cruise control works a treat right down to stop. Infotainment worked well with an iPhone but the system could not find a new Android via USB and Bluetooth music did not play properly. First world problems, I know.

It's a comfy car, handles and rides well, looks a bit different from the herd on the road and is ideal as a familymobile for four albeit with no room for a little friend, unlike the standard car.

A 10% premium is not too much to pay for the PHEV but is 30 extra miles of extra sparks really worth it? Let the buyer decide. Ultimately, I think it comes down a bit to like iPhone 8 or X? The former will do almost everything the latter can do but hey - which do you feel better owning? In my case, almost all motoring could now be all electric, I run a car till the doors fall off (so depreciation is not a huge factor) and that would probably swing it.