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2012 Toyota Prius Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2012 Toyota Prius was new.


Performance: 7.6

The 2012 Prius is known for its fuel economy, not its performance. If conserving fuel is important to you, the Prius is one of the most fuel-efficient cars on the market. Test drivers like the Prius’ quiet, comfortable ride, but dislike its soft suspension, mushy brakes and numb steering. Reviewers note that the new 2012 Prius Plug-in performs almost identically to the regular Prius.

  • "And so the parallel-hybrid powertrain design, the squishy suspension setup, and the puny 15-inch wheels remain, giving the PHV the same lackluster driving characteristics as its non-plug-in sibling. That includes the way-overboosted electric power steering and a brake pedal that has yet to deliver anything close to accuracy." -- Car and Driver (Prius Plug-in)
  • "But no one buys a Prius expecting it to turn fast corners. What the Prius does best, aside from delivering exceptional fuel economy, is provide a hyper-quiet cabin and comfortable ride. Acceleration is on par for a hybrid: far from quick, but plenty for most drivers." -- Edmunds (Prius Plug-in)
  • "The Prius has not been transformed into a sport sedan, but it's no longer a penalty box to drive." -- Automobile Magazine

Acceleration and Power

A 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 98 horsepower powers both the 2012 Prius and Prius Plug-in. The battery pack makes 36 horsepower for a combined total output of 134 horsepower. An electronically-controlled CVT (continuously variable transmission) comes in both models. Like most hybrids, reviewers note that it hesitates from a stop and struggles during hard acceleration. The front-wheel drive Prius conserves fuel by shutting off the engine when it’s stopped. Initial acceleration uses the battery and then the gas engine kicks in.

At the end of the day, the Prius is meant to be fuel-friendly, and is good for buyers who prioritize green driving. The EPA says the 2012 Prius gets an average of 51/48 mpg city/highway. The 2012 Prius Plug-in should achieve a combined 95 mpg-equivalent in electric mode and 51/49 mpg in hybrid mode. 

  • "In fact, the plug-in Prius will only reach 62 mph in electric mode. Up to that speed it will cruise in impressive electric silence. But ask for more, and the gas engine cuts smoothly in." -- Motor Trend (Prius Plug-in)
  • "I'm less enthused, though, about how the power is delivered compared with a conventional car or a pure EV - which is to say that it happens with some hesitation and surging, often accompanied by the gas engine revving or droning at seemingly inappropriate times." -- Cars.com
  • "Almost any sudden throttle inputs will force the combustion of some of your precious petroleum. If you're cruising on the highway at, say, 60 mph, and let your speed dip to 55 and then nudge it back up to 60, you can do so on battery power. But, if you try to go from 55 to 60 more quickly (in a passing situation, for example), you will, again, burn fuel." -- Autoblog (Prius Plug-in)
  • "The PHV's threshold is slightly higher than the regular car's, but anything more than genteel pressure on the go pedal-say, as might be required to enter the freeway or accelerate up a slight hill-and the 98-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder stirs with a decidedly unsexy moan." -- Car and Driver (Prius Plug-in)

Alternative Fuels/Charging 

The regular Prius hybrid’s battery is charged using the car’s regenerative brakes, while the Prius Plug-in’s battery can be charged either with the regenerative brakes or by plugging the car into a standard electric outlet. Toyota says the Prius Plug-in can travel up to 15 miles at a maximum speed of 62 mph on pure electric power. 

A full charge of the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in takes about two and a half to three hours using a 120-volt outlet or about one a half hours with a 240-volt outlet. Toyota provides owners with a charging cable, which connects the car to a household outlet. The Prius Plug-in’s battery has more capacity than the regular Prius’, but its capacity is less than the battery capacity in the Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Volt.

Handling and Braking

Test drivers are divided on the Prius’ handling and braking. Some note that the handling is on par with midsize hatchback cars and that the Prius is good for daily commuting. However, others cite the Prius’ lackluster handling and the numb electric steering. The regenerative brakes, which help recharge the battery, are common in hybrids, but one reviewer says the Prius’ brakes are among the worst because the pedal feels numb.

  • "The electric steering doesn't provide much in the way of feel, but it's user-friendly in parking lots and doesn't become overly boosted on the highway." -- Edmunds
  • "Prius' braking: I have no reason to suspect that the car won't stop safely, but the pedal feel is numb and the effect nonlinear, making the brakes difficult to modulate. All hybrids and electrics employ regenerative braking, which uses the drive motors as generators to recharge their battery packs. … There are two side effects: The pedal feels unnatural, and the transition from regenerative to friction braking can be awkward. All hybrids and EVs exhibit this drawback, but I think the Prius is among the worst." -- Cars.com
  • "Unfortunately, the wobbly handling is still in full force with the new Prius. It makes no claims to sporting performance." -- CNET
  • "The front MacPherson struts and improved body rigidity keep the ride smooth around town and on the highway. Overall, it's the same commuter-friendly conveyance you'd expect." -- Autoblog

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