The Toyota Prius + is the first seven-seat hybrid people carrier, resulting in impressive sub-100g/km official CO2 emissions – but is a hybrid MPV a winning formula?
Toyota is now well-known for the Prius, a petrol-electric hybrid family hatchback. The company has made no secret of the fact that it wishes to roll out its hybrid technology to as many models as possible, and so now the Prius + has joined the family, a seven-seat people carrier.
Design & Engineering
The Prius + shares the same basic petrol-electric hybrid system with the Prius hatchback, but it has new lithium-ion batteries, which save 8kg (the pack now weighs 34 kg) and reduce battery volume by 50%. This has allowed the battery to be moved from under the boot floor to the central console where you would normally find a gearlever.
The Prius + also has an all-new body, which is larger and heavier, and on small wheels, it does look somewhat ungainly. Compare it with a Ford S-Max, and the Prius + looks seriously out of contention in the design stakes.
Although the dashboard is new, the interior will still be familiar to Prius owners. Immediately in front of the driver there are no instruments – as they all sit in the centre of the dashboard – leaving you to stare at a wide expanse of grey plastic. However as a form of acknowledgement that you have to take your eyes well away from the road to view the central controls, you do get a head-up display showing your speed.
Despite the battery sitting between the two front seats, there’s no conventional handbrake or gear selector here, so there’s storage space and a cupholder where the gear selector would normally be – which is an absolutely perfect place to store items such as your mobile phone.
One feature we’re not sure about is the control for the temperature, fan and climate mode – it’s one large dial to control three climate functions, and it’s a bit fiddly – we’d prefer more conventional controls so you can quickly change the temperature. The Prius + also has a touch-screen infotainment system, which is quite hard to control when driving.
Overall we’re not fans of the dashboard – especially for an MPV that costs so much.
At the rear, the Prius + gains an extra two seats, along with increased headroom compared to the hatchback model. The middle row of seats, which can accommodate three child seats side-by-side, slide forwards and backwards to allow access to the third row.
Toyota Prius + Driving Experience
The Prius + is a people carrier with a petrol-electric hybrid system incorporating Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT); if you think it sounds about as far removed as possible from the Toyota GT86 sports car, then you’d be right. Push the accelerator in the Prius + and there’s no instant response, then, thanks to the CVT, the engine revs climb and the engine noise gets louder, but there is little extra forward progress. As well as dulling performance, the large, heavy body also doesn’t do any favours for the car’s handling. Steering is light, so in combination with its CVT transmission, it’s easy to drive. If you want to transport a large family around a city such as London with the lowest possible emissions, then the Prius + could be the car for you. But this is not a driver’s car.
During our week with the Prius + a journey to Lotus in Norfolk was undertaken. The SatNav said the fastest route was over the Pennines, but trying to climb up over a range of hills in the Prius + sounded like a nightmare, and so a motorway-only route was chosen. This was a good decision, as life in the Prius + was actually perfectly comfortable and refined at a constant speed on a straight and level motorway. It’s just a shame that such route decisions, avoiding any hilly cross-country roads, had to be made due to the car’s abilities.
The Prius + comes with three driving mode buttons; EV, Eco and Power. EV provides an almost silent electric-only driving experience, officially for up to around one mile, although in practice you won’t enjoy this mode for very long before the petrol engine kicks in. Eco mode aims to dull down responses to extract higher economy figures, and Power mode provides more power, but the car also becomes very revvy. You’re likely to enjoy electric-only travel when in reverse, and so you get loud beeping to accompany any rearwards travel.
The transmission has a neutral setting, however it seems almost impossible to engage; it’s much easier to just press the Park button. There’s also a foot-operated parking brake, which also seems somewhat redundant.
Toyota Prius + Economy and Emissions
The laws of physics govern the real-life fuel economy of the Prius +. Drive it very carefully and you’ll be able to achieve something near the official fuel economy figures (although in our experience it’s unlikely that most people will match the official figure). However the harder you drive the Prius +, the further away you will find your economy slipping. Yes, this is the case for all cars, but the combination of the extra size and weight of the Prius +, together with its CVT transmission, makes the situation worse.
Driving on the M62 from Wetherby to Manchester, over the Pennines, we achieved 62mpg; that was the best result of our entire week with the car. Overall we averaged only 48.4mpg; this is compared to the T4’s official figure of 68.9mpg (equating to 96g/km CO2 emissions) – showing that the Prius + is not happy out of its NEDC cycle comfort zone. We didn’t have the chance to try the Prius + with a car loaded full of people, but we’re convinced that the performance and economy would suffer accordingly.
Thanks to the official emissions of the T4, company car drivers pay just 10% benefit in kind company car tax, which is excellent for a car of this size.
Note that the higher-spec T Spirit model is slightly less economical with 64.2mpg, and it has a very unfortunate CO2 rating of 101g/km – so missing out on benefits such as zero London Congestion Charge by just 1g/km CO2. We would expect Toyota to be working on that CO2 figure, just as Honda did with the Insight.
Price, Equipment and Model Range
At £26,195 the Prius + is expensive for an MPV. However it is well-equipped. There are just two versions of the Prius+. The T4, as tested, has alloy wheels, a panoramic glass roof, Bluetooth, a touch-screen multimedia system, a reversing camera and a head-up display. The T Spirit, which costs £29,795, adds leather upholstery, satnav and an upgraded stereo. Our test car had optional metallic paint (£450) and Toyota Touch and Go (£850). Based on the Prius, the Prius + should be reliable.
We like the Prius. Even though it’s not a driver’s car, it does its job well. That job is to convey people in comfort and with efficiency. We also like the Prius Plug-in, which carries out a similar task to the Prius, but with even greater levels of economy. We can see the rationale behind the Prius +, ie. greater practicality for large families, whilst maintaining improved efficiency and comfort. However it looks and feels like a bloated Prius, and compared to a Ford S-Max, it just doesn’t look special enough, and doesn’t drive as well.
While Toyota on one hand is saying that it wants to get back to building appealing cars such as the GT86, with the Prius + it seems to have forgotten that people buy cars based on how they look and how they drive. On the positive side, the Prius + is practical, comfortable and more efficient than the average MPV. It has very a low company car tax rate, and it makes sense if transporting families in cities such as London. It will probably do well in North America, a market that it seems to have been designed for. For most of the UK, a diesel Ford S-Max will probably be the preferred choice of most families. The Toyota Prius + gets a Green-Car-Guide rating of 7 out of 10.