The Toyota Prius is arguably the most important car launch of the year. It was the Prius that introduced hybrid motoring to early adopters back in 1997, and now, with its third generation, Toyota is aiming to make it a more appealing mainstream proposition without diluting any of the stuff that made the car so special in the first place. So, it should be less of a compromise, while still offering the feelgood factor of cutting edge, planet-saving tech. That’s the idea, anyway.
How does the new Toyota Prius appeal to a more mainstream audience?
Toyota has tried to make the Prius more refined, more spacious, more dynamically engaging and, perhaps more importantly with all those Bluemotion and Efficient Dynamics cars snapping at its heels, more fuel efficient and less polluting too. So power and torque lifts from the second-gen’s 112bhp to 134bhp thanks to a new 1.8-litre engine (up from 1.5-litres), fuel economy increases to 72.4mpg (from 55.4mpg) and C02 falls from 120g/km to a get-into-London-for-free 89g/km compared with the model it replaces.
Dimensions remain similar, but there’s more rear legroom because of carefully sculpted seat backs, and a little more headroom because the highest point of that trademark sloping roof is now slightly further back. The boot is also a little larger thanks to a smaller, better-integrated battery under the boot floor.
The re-style is spot on – unmistakeably Prius to keep those loyal fans happy, but more visually exciting too with its creased shoulder line and rakish headlights. Thank Toyota’s European design studio for that.
Inside, it’s a nice place to be. The interior manages to balance the futuristic concept car feel you’d expect from a technologically advanced car with a large helping of real-world usability. The seats are comfy, the dash simple and easy to use, the colours light and airy, visibility excellent. It’s also incredibly spacious in here for both front and rear seat passengers, and a sense of relaxation pervades.
>> Click 'Next' below to read more of our Toyota Prius first drive
How does it feel on the road?
It’s good. With a full battery charge (if you’ve been on the open road and are just heading into town, for instance), you can press the EV button and the Prius will operate on its electric battery alone at speeds of up to 50kph (31mph) for as long as 2km. And that’s no marketing spin – we wafted silently around Stockholm and cruised through 50kph-limited built-up areas in the countryside on electric power alone.
That’s a key advantage the Prius (a series/parallel hybrid, meaning it can both combine its power sources and use them independently) holds over the less expensive Honda Insight – a parallel hybrid (i.e. battery and petrol power always operate in tandem) that can never run emissions-free unless it’s at a complete standstill.
Sure, if you spend a lot of time in town you’ll rarely have enough charge to run in EV mode alone, but we found the regular mode did a good job of shutting down the petrol engine at a standstill, under deceleration and at very low speeds.
How about out of town?
Clearly you’ll use petrol power a lot of the time, but at speeds of up to 70kph (44mph) it is possible to be regularly running on electric power. Think of a busy British A-road and it’s easy to see how often that could come into play. And when the power sources do switch, it’s actually quite hard to spot the difference between the engine turning on and off, just a very light kick from beneath you giving the game away.
What about these dynamic improvements, then?
Don’t go getting too excited about that. The Prius is best described as fine rather than fun. It’s inoffensive to drive and doesn’t feel out of its depth beyond the city limits. The CVT transmission does make that trademark thrash when you demand extra mph on a motorway slip road, but it’s more subdued than it is in the Honda Insight because of improved noise insulation and because the engine’s more capable and thus needs working less hard than it does in the 1.3-litre Insight.
While we need to spend longer with the Prius to see if it really does drink so little fuel, it does seem that Toyota has hit the nail on the head. The Prius isn’t a compromise suitable only for early adopters, and it doesn’t just make sense in town. It’s a good all-round car that just happens to be packed with cutting-edge tech.
>> Click 'Add your comment' below and let us know what you think of Toyota's new Prius