► 2015 model year Toyota Prius + road test
► Facelifted and more equipment as standard
► Seven-seater version of Toyota’s popular hybrid
Facelift time for the Toyota Prius Plus. The seven-seater Prius people carrier has been given Toyota’s pointy new front end treatment, which rocks a kind of predatory mandible theme that frankly makes the car look a bit scary. Like it’s really grumpy about doing the school run.
What else is new on the 2015 Toyota Prius Plus?
The centre of the dashboard’s had a redesign, with all trims now sporting a multimedia touchscreen with Bluetooth, DAB and a reversing camera. The new range-topping Excel Plus trim also gets DVD screens on the back of the front seats as standard.
New kit or no, the driver’s environment is still as wilfully odd-looking as the exterior. The dashboard’s finished in a mix of all kinds of plastics and textures, some of them really rather cheap-feeling, and spattered with a mass of haphazardly arranged switchgear.
While there’s plenty of oddment stowage spaces, most of them are ever so slightly too small to be truly useful and trimmed with a slippery plastic finish that encourages objects to slide around and make a racket while you’re driving.
Happily, the rear cabin is more successfully laid out.
Is the Toyota Prius + any good at being a people carrier?
It’s far better than you might think. That curved, aero-friendly semi-circular roofline might give the outward impression there’ll be barely any space in the back but with its apex over the second row of seats there’s a huge amount of headroom in the middle, and the third row’s no worse than most seven-seater cars. That’s damning with faint praise, of course; the rearmost two seats are still best suited to kids, but an average-sized adult could manage a short to medium journey before cramp sets in.
With those two seats folded into the boot floor, the resulting loadspace is moderately generous but shallow in depth and slightly compromised by a high load lip. With all five seats flopped down (an easy, fuss-free process) there’s a usefully long surface, with enough space to take an adult-sized mountain bike without taking the front wheel off, for example. It’s not continuously flat, though – gaps between the folded seats can make it difficult to slide loads in, and invite the loss of smaller objects through the cracks.
In the middle row, each individual seat can slide forwards and backwards, and the outer ones tilt forwards to aid access to the third row. There are even helpful instructions on how to do so on the back of the front passenger seat. Not many manufacturers think of that.
Ultimately, though, if you’re after an MPV that’s as good at carrying things as it is people, you’ll be better served by a more conventional, boxier design.
What powers the Toyota Prius Plus?
The combination of a 1.8-litre petrol engine and a front-mounted electric motor, both driving the front wheels. A centrally mounted lithium-ion battery pack provides the motor’s energy, topped up by an engine-driven generator unit when possible.
Toyota quotes combined fuel consumption of 68.9mpg (with mid-fifties probably a more realistic figure, driven gently) but of more interest is the tax-dodging CO2 output of 96g/km. Bear in mind though, that figure only applies to base Icon models with 16-inch wheels; the vital stats fall to 64.2mpg and increase to 101g/km for other Prius + grades with 17-inch wheels.
And what’s it like to drive?
You’ll glide away silently under electric power, but there’s no missing the petrol engine when it blares into life. It’s coupled to a CVT gearbox which in this case seems to signify constant speed, variable noise – the revs stay sky-high as the Prius’s pace builds at a frustratingly glacial rate. It’s intrusive enough to warrant a twist of the volume knob on the stereo, and to wake any kids slumbering in the back.
Handling’s not inspiring, as you’d expect, but is at least safe and predictable, which is perhaps all you should reasonably ask of a people carrier. Despite tall tyres and generous dollops of body roll, however, the secondary ride’s not quite as smooth as you might hope.
For Prius fans who want to combine hybrid motoring with family life, the Plus offers a genuinely practical and surprisingly versatile option. It’s not without drawbacks, however. Refinement, for one. The engine component of the drivetrain is simply too noisy and coarse in combination with the CVT, and the low-rent feel and sheer oddness of the front cabin will be too much for some.
Unless you’re particularly keen to own a hybrid, or you’re a company car buyer with an eye on tax bands, when it comes to people carriers boxiness is still best. The likes of the Citroen C4 Picasso and Ford C-Max do it better.
Click here to read CAR’s review of the plug-in version of the regular Toyota Prius.