Toyota’s best-selling hybrid hatchback is more efficient and stylish than ever before
The Toyota Prius launched hybrid cars into the mainstream when it first went on sale in 1997, and this year's new fourth generation model is the sleekest and most advanced version yet. Toyota has recently started introducing hybrid technology to other popular models in its range including the Auris and Rav4, but the Prius remains the name that everyone associates hybrid technology with and it has garnered an incredibly loyal following with environmentally-conscious drivers as a result. Competition in this space is tougher than ever before however, with an increasing number of manufacturers investing in hybrid technology, including Hyundai which is set to release its new Prius-rivalling hatchback the Ionic. Can the Prius continue to set the standard for hybrid hatchbacks in 2017? We spent time with it recently to find out.
What is it like?
There’s no denying it, the new Prius is much improved in the looks department. It’s longer and lower than before, with sharpened exterior features including a new front nose, dark coloured window mouldings and interestingly-shaped LED lights at the rear. All of this lends the new Prius a more futuristic look and helps it to stand out from the crowd, particularly in this pure white metallic colour scheme. The modernised look continues inside with a fresh feel to the cabin.
It’s obvious that Toyota has worked hard to improve the interior of the fourth generation Prius when you step into the driver’s seat. There’s more visibility of the road thanks to a lower bonnet, larger windscreen and higher mirrors than before. There are welcome tweaks to the layout of the cabin too, with more supportive seats and higher quality plastics than before, although the steering wheel can’t be adjusted as much as we’d like. We like the integrated touchscreen infotainment system and also the integration of the instrument cluster along the top of the dashboard, which is easy to read and lends the driver’s area a decluttered feel.
The Prius is powered by a combination of a 1.8-litre petrol engine and two electric motors which both send power to the front wheels through an automatic CVT gearbox. Although this can seem complicated, it’s an incredibly easy and relaxing car to drive, particularly at lower speeds around town when in electric mode. In terms of performance, the Prius can cover 0-100km/h in 10.6 seconds, though there isn’t much low-down torque available and it has to be revved hard at times as a result. The driving system alternates between the petrol engine and the electric motor, depending on the speed you are driving at and also if there is enough charge stored in the battery.
The lower stance of the new Prius means its handling credentials have improved and changes to the front suspension have also made it more comfortable on bumpy roads. When you apply the brakes energy from the process is recycled and sent back to Prius’ battery packs, which does mean the brakes are jolty when you apply them and this means you do have to alter your driving style accordingly. Buttons on the dashboard allow you to alternate between different driving modes, including a ‘Power’ mode, an all-electric ‘EV’ mode which works provided there is enough power available in the batteries and an economy-focused ‘Eco’ mode. Most people will keep the car in its default ‘Normal’ setting which offers a happy medium between economy and performance.
Fuel economy and running costs are chief considerations for hybrid car buyers and we’re glad to say the new Prius excels in this regard. It slots into one of the lowest motor tax bands at €170 per year and we regularly achieved over four litres per 100 kilometres (70MPG) in economy with a mixture of city and motorway-based driving. The Prius is available with 15-inch alloy wheels as standard which are the best option for strong fuel economy while 17-inch alloy wheels are fitted to the higher specification model; our test car being fitted with the latter. The base serving of equipment is strong with adaptive cruise control, road-sign detection, a reversing camera and Toyota’s Touch 2 multimedia system all standard fare. This higher specification ‘Luxury’ model gains niceties such as a heads up display, large alloy wheels, heated seats and keyless entry for an additional €2k investment.
Carzone verdict: 4/5
The Prius has long been the yardstick which by hybrid hatchbacks are measured, and this is certain to continue with the new model, which offers improved efficiency, comfort and technology across the board. More and more manufacturers are entering the hybrid marketplace with cars like the plug-in hybrid BMW 3 Series 330e, Volkswagen Passat GTE and the diesel electric Citroen DS5 now on sale in Ireland, which means there are now a lot more options for buyers to mull over than before. The Prius is a proven performer and an established name however with well over a decade of strong sales and proven reliability, and many buyers will forgo the aforementioned alternatives for this reason.
Test Car Details:
Model driven: Toyota Prius Luxury
Prices from: €31,450
Price as tested: €33,550
Annual Road Tax: €170
Engine: 1798cc four-cylinder Petrol/Electric Hybrid
Power/Torque: 120bhp, 142Nm
Top Speed: 180 km/h
0-100km/h: 10.6 seconds
Body style: 5-Door Hatchback
Boot Space: 343 litres
Euro NCAP Safety Rating: 5 Stars