The Toyota Prius is aimed not just at eco-literate pioneers or even early adopters of new technology, but also at mainstream buyers with open minds. So says Toyota, which is why the Prius mixes conventional and radical styling. Its case is helped by the way many recent hatchbacks have adopted a more Prius-like shape, partly to look modern and partly to meet crash test legislation. Honda’s Insight has more than a hint of Prius to its lines, while even Nissan’s Leaf has adopted the tearshape profile that’s become synonymous with these eco-friendly cars.
Visually, the Prius is not quite the pioneer it used to be, although the optional photo-voltaic glass roof adds some sci-fi. It helps power the air-con but was absent from the test car on account of the 17in wheels we used for our review.
Even so, the Prius is still a roomy five-door hatchback with a very streamlined shape and it occupies a size of class one notch above that of the cheaper Honda Insight, its closest conceptual rival.
At the back, tail-lights are vast, vertical, clear-lensed edifices with fashionable chrome fins and detailing inside. A separate, slender rear window sits under the rear spoiler, just like it did in Honda’s original CRX, and a spoiler helps towards a remarkable 0.25 Cd.
Seventeen-inch alloys are standard on top-spec T Spirit, wearing 215/45 R17 tyres. The base car has 15in wheels with ugly five-spoke plastic covers — strange, as the magnesium wheel beneath is handsome.
Of course, where the fundamental design of the Prius changes is with the Plug-In variant. While the tandem hybrid system is identical and the 1.8-litre engine is carried over, the EV aspect of the Plug-In is suitably advanced from the standard Prius. The nickel-metal hydride batteries are now lithium-ion, which offer more energy density, swifter recharging times and, most importantly, an increased all-electric range. Toyota claims an EV range of 15.5 miles at up to 51mph, a significant increase from the regular Prius electric range of 1.2 miles at up to 31mph. A full recharge of the batteries in a Prius Plug-In takes 90 minutes.