Entry to the Toyota Prius requires no key. Nor, of course, does starting – not that a Prius fires up in the conventional sense. Instead, the display screen comes to life, you hear a few distant whirrs and a ‘Ready’ light appears. Then you put the selector in Drive (it springs straight back to the middle), release the foot-operated parking brake (surprisingly low-tech), press the accelerator and off you go, almost silently.
Battery charge and gentleness of accelerator foot permitting, the Prius will run in electric-only mode at up to 31mph. Then the petrol engine discreetly joins in. Its start-up is near-silent because there’s no conventional starter, and you are in a world where what you do with the throttle and what you hear from the engine are only loosely connected. The 0-60mph time is 10.9sec, and motorway cruising is relaxed.
All the while, you have a choice of ghostly green graphics to hold your interest. There’s an energy flow diagram showing, in a side view with rotating wheels, what is charging or being driven by what. Or you can select bar graphs showing fuel consumption and energy regenerated.
The Prius Plug-In delivers a similar driving experience. The extra 36kg of batteries make it seem sluggish from a standstill and the car will of course run on electricity for longer than usual. But the engine is integrated to provide more power just as seamlessly and it can run with faster traffic with ease. The claimed 0-62mph time is half a second slower than standard, at 11.4secs.
Finally, there’s a scale that shows your instant energy use or recovery. You can see on this scale the results of selecting Power mode (sharper response, higher engine revs), Economy mode (the opposite) or EV (watch the battery’s bar graph fall).
The transmission selector also has a ‘B’ (for Braking) mode that increases the amount of regenerative braking. The brakes themselves are soft underfoot and hard to feather smoothly, but the transition from regenerative braking to using the discs is undetectable at the pedal.