The Toyota Prius made history when it was first launched back in 1997 as the world’s first hybrid car. Toyota’s pioneering technology combined a petrol engine with an electric motor to produce a low emission vehicle that had the potential to return excellent fuel efficiency.
The beauty of the Prius was that competitive pricing meant this was the car for everyone, not just a trophy piece of cutting-edge technology for the rich and famous. Ironically it became something of a statement for those very people, not for its exclusivity, but for what it stood for, the eco-credentials that it turns out, you just can’t put a price on in Hollywood.
The Prius didn’t look sexy but even before we knew what ‘normcore’ was the Prius was just cool because it was so ordinary, green and clean. The Prius was the world’s most famous environmentally friendly car before the tech bods starting building cars.
Toyota has bounced back for the fourth generation of the Prius with something that looks very interesting. The styling of the new Prius is inspired by Toyota’s Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell car and it really is a talking point. Yet somehow the styling suits the pioneering character of this car – the technology underneath may be less groundbreaking than it was back in the late 1990s but in the company of this new sharp, avant-garde Prius, you feel a little bit like you’re already two steps ahead of everyone else.
The headline economy data is also worth talking about. Each new generation of the Prius has delivered improvements in fuel economy, emissions and efficiency. In the new Prius, fuel efficiency is up to a claimed 94mpg and CO2 is down to 70g/km.
Inside, it’s like sitting into a concept car for the first time, but unlike something you might find on a stand in Geneva, New York or Paris, everything here is completely usable and functional. The interior works together so well once you get over the shock of the centrally dash mounted driver information screen and handbrake that’s released by a pedal in the footwell.
Instead you have a small compact steering wheel and the car on test had a head-up display with important vehicle information like your speed displayed in the driver’s direct line of vision. It’s futuristic but beautifully clean and simple, and the material quality nods to the premium, not the cheap and nasty. Just to the left in your field of vision is a digital speedometer, and other information displayed about your fuel consumption, range, and a power meter.
The Prius again takes the shape of a practical five door hatchback. In the back you will fit three adults and a low transmission tunnel means the middle passenger has a nice flat space to put their feet. Boot space is up to a generous 502 litres thanks to a smaller hybrid battery located beneath the rear seats and a new rear suspension set-up.
The Prius sits on a new generation of Toyota’s hybrid powertrain. The new platform has a lower centre of gravity for better handling and stability. The Prius feels agile on the road. The steering is light when you want it around town but it weights up nicely in the corners so you can place the car accurately on the road, and there is no problem nipping in and out of corners on a tight country road.
The most pleasing thing about the way the Prius drives is just how smooth, silent and effortless it is on the move. Underneath there’s a conventional 1.8-litre petrol engine and together with the electric motor the system produces 122bhp. That sounds like quite a modest amount of power for a large car but 0-100kmh is just 10.6 seconds. You get a boost of torque from the electric motor so the Prius pulls away swiftly from a standstill, and even once cruising, there is always more power to tap into.
The Prius features a CVT automatic gearbox as standard and it mostly performs well, unless you should hit the accelerator very hard to pick up speed quickly where it does get noisy, sounding like it’s holding onto the gear without changing, but this is quite characteristic of these gearboxes. The car switches between electric and hybrid power independent of any driver input and the process is completely silent and seamless. As you pull off and around town under 30kmh you’ll notice the car runs on pure electric power favourably, which we know is good for your wallet too.
And what of that economy? On some trips I saw as high as 74mpg, though my average for the week with the car was 67mpg. Not bad considering this is a large car with an automatic gearbox, and that also included some motorway runs. With a number of gauges and meters to measure how economical you are driving, the car actually encourages you to drive in a more eco-friendly way.
The new Prius range starts at €31,450 in Ireland, rising to €33,550 for the Luxury trim. Standard equipment includes LED lights, 15” alloys, Bluetooth, ‘Toyota Touch 2’ multimedia system with touchscreen, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering control, road sign assist, and rear view camera. Luxury models add 17” alloys, keyless entry and start, wireless mobile phone charger, dual zone climate control, heated front seats, head-up display, blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert.
Toyota has made a valiant effort with this new Prius and it really does feel like a step forward in the right direction for hybrid power. This car could prove to be very economical to run while still enjoying the benefits of a large petrol car with an automatic gearbox – the smoothness of the drive and the blissful noise-free cabin. The styling of this new car will be divisive, maybe just too unusual for some, but at least in the cabin, the futuristic design makes absolute sense and the number of high tech features on this car as standard makes the Prius seem like very good value.
Since the Toyota Prius was first launched, hybrid technology has moved from the fringes to being a more mainstream choice. Yet in Ireland, large cars like the Prius are typically diesel powered…I think a drive in the Prius will make you rethink how you like your big cars.
Model Tested: Toyota Prius Luxury
Price: €33,550 (Range starts at €31,450)
Engine: 1.8-litre four cylinder petrol and electric motor
0-100km/h: 10.6 seconds
CO2 Emissions: 70g/km
Motor Tax: €170 per year