The new Toyota Prius is extremely efficient in real-life driving and all the focus on diesel emissions and local air quality suggests that Toyota may have gone down the right route with its petrol-hybrid technology.
The Toyota Prius was the car that started the whole hybrid thing. The first generation Prius didn’t take off in great numbers, but it’s done very well with worldwide sales since then. And it’s proven highly reliable. Does the latest fourth generation incarnation keep the Prius sufficiently ahead of the ever-growing competition?
The powertrain of the Toyota Prius is well known even by people who know little about cars: it’s a hybrid – a petrol-electric hybrid – in other words it has a petrol engine and an electric motor powered by a battery, and it doesn’t need to be plugged in to charge the battery, the car does that all by itself (although you can buy a separate Plug-in Prius model). The petrol engine is a 4 cylinder, 1.8-litre unit, mated to an electric CVT transmission, with front-wheel drive. The whole ethos of the car is that it’s designed primarily with energy efficiency in mind, the hybrid system which charges the battery by regenerative braking being the big idea, but there’s a whole range of energy saving tech, including its aerodynamic properties (0.24Cd).
The aerodynamics have directed the profile of the body, which is essentially a wedge-shape. We thought that the last generation of Prius looked good, but the styling of this new model certainly splits opinion. The front of the car looks reasonably futuristic, but the rear of the car – which shares many styling elements with the hydrogen fuel cell Toyota Mirai – just looks weird to most people.
The futuristic theme continues inside, with the dashboard being comprised of two-tone light grey and dark grey, which gives the overall impression of being contrasting black and white.
It will come as no surprise that the Prius doesn’t lay out its stall as being a driver’s car, and it’s not, but it is a perfectly pleasant vehicle to live with. It’s easy to drive, it’s comfortable, it’s quiet, it’s (mostly) refined, and has a decent ride. There are even useful gadgets such as a reversing camera to make life easier when parking. Overall both of the last two generations of Prius have been better to drive than their predecessors.
There are different drive modes: eco, normal, and power. We experimented with all modes and there’s not a huge difference between these options – and despite the title, power mode doesn’t endow the Prius with huge performance. There’s also EV mode, but the battery just doesn’t have enough capacity to allow you to drive very far on all-electric propulsion.
One of the most common complaints about Toyota’s CVT system has been the way the revs (and more importantly the noise) rise under acceleration, yet with little perceptible increase in forward progress. The company claims that it has done much work to re-tune the hybrid system for the latest Prius and although the revvy sensation is still there, it does feel much improved.
Some quirky features still remain such as the main instruments are in the centre of the dashboard rather than in front of the driver’s line of sight. Our car had a head-up display, but this just showed speed rather than any other useful information such as satnav instructions. The gear selector is in a slightly strange place and some buttons are now similar to how they were in the Vauxhall Ampera – on a large piece of plastic, without any indication to show you where the edge of the button is. We thought this was a bad idea in the Ampera, and we’ve not changed our view now that this feature has appeared in the Prius.
Our view about touchscreens hasn’t changed either – trying to press small buttons on a screen in a moving car, especially on uneven road surfaces, is still not the best way to control functions in a vehicle.
And the driving position in the Prius isn’t great. To make matters worse, there’s a plastic panel on the gear selector surround which can dig into your left knee while driving.
The official combined fuel economy of the Prius (with 17-inch wheels) is 85.6mpg (which is exactly the same figure for the urban and extra-urban cycles). This equates to amazingly low emissions of 76 g/km CO2.
After a week with the car during mixed driving, with around 70-80% of miles on motorways and A-roads, we averaged 68.4mpg. This falls short of 85.6mpg, but is still highly impressive for what is essentially a car primarily powered by a petrol engine.
If you drive the Prius carefully, then you’ll be able to achieve high economy figures. If you drive it like a sports car, then you’ll be disappointed with the economy.
The new Toyota Prius Excel T+G Plus costs £27,450. The other key thing you need to know is that thanks to its low CO2 figure, its BIK tax liability is just 13% – this makes it an attractive proposition as a company car.
Strangely, the CO2 emissions for this model are 76g/km CO2. Although this is impressive, the limit for exemption for the London Congestion Charge is 75g/km CO2. So this car misses out on saving on the Congestion Charge fee by just 1g/km CO2.
However all is not lost. You can buy a Prius – on 15-inch wheels – with 70g/km CO2 emissions, equating to 94.1mpg.
There are three trim levels, Active, Excel and Business Edition. The Prius comes with a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
The new Toyota Prius is still the definitive hybrid. You don’t need to plug it in, and it rewards with high levels of efficiency – if driven carefully. It’s perfectly pleasant to drive, if you’re not expecting the characteristics of a driver’s car. It’s also practical, with five seats and a big boot.
The styling of the latest model may be somewhat challenging, especially from the rear, but with all the current attention on diesel emissions, you can’t argue with Toyota for persevering with a petrol-electric powertrain. The Prius is economical on long journeys, and thanks to its battery and electric motor, it can offer zero emissions at critical points in urban journeys, such as when it’s at a standstill, and when crawling in traffic jams – so helping to minimise issues with local air quality. The Toyota Prius gains a Green Car Guide rating of 9 out of 10.