Toyota's new hybrid family car is on a charge
There have been a few issues surrounding the motor industry of late. Insurance premiums are a hot topic, as is the dreaded DPF (diesel particulate filter) that has reared its ugly head, seeing owners of diesel cars getting a rather hefty repair bill.
Brands like Skoda are pushing petrol and, in many cases, it makes sense – especially for owners doing less than 12,000km a year.
The hybrid engine is another choice, although it hasn’t really kicked on from the initial success the Toyota Prius had back in 1997. The Toyota group, including Lexus, are still championing the hybrid powertrains and even though it’s still ‘old’ technology for them, they are sticking to their guns and flying the green flag for battery/engine combination.
I drove the new Prius at the European launch earlier this year and given that I wasn’t a fan of the hybrid motor, I was pleasantly surprised at both how it looked and performed.
The Prius was a car that brought much acclaim back in the day, as those who wanted to save the polar bears jumped on the hybrid bandwagon. Not me – I couldn’t warm to it and there were more negatives than positives for me.
Even though my first impressions of the new one were glowing, I was withholding final judgement until I finally got it on Irish roads for a week. Well, after spending nearly 1,000kms behind the wheel, Toyota has a new fan, not a superfan, but a fan none the less.
The new design has that Marmite feel about it; it’s daring and edgy and I really like it. If this was a conventionally designed hybrid, then it would have no appeal, therefore Toyota has embraced the concept-car look for its new Prius and it got plenty of attention during my week-long test.
The interior is a lot different than the host of family hatches, from the funky stubby little blue gear lever on the dash to the digital offset displays, including a large touch-screen infotainment system plonked right in the middle of the console. My Luxury model came with a head-up display, which is great for keeping your speed in check, but it annoyed me after a while, so that was switched off.
The interior has also been upgraded and the plastics are of much higher quality. Gone are the scratchy materials and the soft-touch gives it a more premium feel with refinement levels vastly improved. It’s more comfortable than before and the new driving position gives a better overall view of the road.
I found the new Prius a comfortable car to drive, and there is a serene feeling when you are stuck in traffic and in EV mode. It doesn’t last long, but it will get you out of the city centre without burning any fuel, as long as you don’t plant your right foot.
Toyota has given the Prius more space, not only for passengers but they’ve added more luggage space, which is important for families. The added 50 litres of luggage gives the Prius a 457-litre boot space, which makes it more practical and a more viable choice for families.
The biggest issue I have always had with Toyota/Lexus hybrids has been the dreaded CVT gearbox. This one gear auto is supposed to be more reliable and economic, but it makes a noise that really isn’t very pleasant. I don’t think I’ll ever warm to it, but in the new Prius it wasn’t that bad. Yes, if you put it in power mode and plant your foot it screams, but driven at normal speeds it felt fine.
The noise has been suppressed more in this new Prius, which is a good thing, and in and around town you won’t notice the CVT’s downfalls. For the first time driving a Toyota CVT, I wasn’t put off by it.
I enjoyed the Prius much more around town and shorter journeys as you get the use of the electric mode. You feel calm behind the wheel and road rage, like the noise, is dampened.
Get the Prius on the open road or a motorway stretch and it has a good turn of pace. I never was tempted by the full power mode as the noise isn’t worth it. In normal mode it can get up to speed rapidly and has plenty of overtaking power.
This new fourth-generation Prius feels like a much different car – but it’s not perfect. You could nitpick at things like the foot-operated ‘handbrake’. It’s just wrong in a car with this technology – a simple push button would be more fitting. Also, the white, glossy plastics running between the front seats and lower part of the dash look cheap.
This new Prius isn’t a car for the cabbie or eco warrior, it’s now a very good family car. The price tag of €31k is a little high and there are still a few things not to like. Overall, though, it is a major improvement. It’s not just a good hybrid car, it’s a good car in its own right.
Model: Toyota Prius Luxury
Price: from €31,450 (test car €33,550)
Road tax: Band A1 €170
Max speed: 180kph
Fuel economy: 3.0 litres per 100kms (claimed)
Boot space: 457 litres