From £23,3198
Fourth-generation Prius promises yet-better eco credentials and a new dose of driving appeal. We find out if it delivers

Our Verdict

Fourth-generation Toyota Prius

The reborn Toyota Prius may be the world’s most popular hybrid, but it faces stiffening competition from Hyundai, Volkswagen and Audi

10 February 2016

What is it?

Toyota's Prius once seemed such a futuristic machine, and the green baggage it carried made it the darling of the planet-saving classes. But through 18 years and three generations it has gone almost mainstream, and mini-cabbers like no car better. Now meet Prius version 4.0, recognisably Prius-shaped but longer, lower, wider and sportier.

That sounds like a standard set of evolutionary steps for a new model, but they're slightly unexpected for a pious-minded Prius. The fact that the driver's hip point has dropped a hefty 59mm doesn't sound right for a car whose owners to date equate driving enjoyment with adultery or worse, and who favour a good view forward over a feeling of one-ness with the machine.

But the intention this time is not only to snare existing owners who will be thrilled about the new one's 70g/km CO2 score, bigger boot space and enhanced refinement, but also to attract new converts who will discover a Prius that drives like no other before it.

This is the first Toyota to be built with the Toyota New Global Architecture set of platform components. Its particular combination of ingredients is called GA-C; it brings a structure 60% torsionally stiffer than the old car's, a new rear suspension that's a hybrid of double wishbones and trailing arms, and that lower-slung architecture.

Petrol-fuelled power still comes from a 1.8-litre engine running on the high-economy Atkinson cycle, but it now features a two-level cooling system, which restricts flow during the now-quicker warm-up, when the coolant is further heated by exhaust gas.

There's an electric water pump, too, and other refinements that together give the engine a thermal efficiency of 40%, claimed to be the highest ever for a production engine. The hybrid drive's CVT transmission is smaller and lighter, and the two electric motors working with it have a greater speed range, which makes the Prius up to 14% more efficient at high speeds.

Other numbers include 20% less power loss in the transmission, an electrical inverter that's 30% smaller, and a new nickel-metal hydride battery pack that's 10% smaller - it now lives under the back seat, allowing full hatchback versatility - and the ability to take 28% more charge per unit of time.

What's it like?

Visually it's like a smaller, calmer version of the Mirai fuel-cell car. Beautiful it is not, but it's certainly striking with its steeply-rising waistline, blacked-in rear pillars and spiky light designs. Slippery, too, with a Cd of just 0.24. An automatic shutter for the lower front air intake helps here.

Inside, that lower hip point doesn't compromise the view forward because the scuttle is lowered even more. Ahead of you is a smooth facia with the usual Prius central instrument display below the windscreen, while the centre stack fronts the padded crash roll and houses a large TFT multimedia display.

Below sits the transmission selector in imitation transparent-blue carbonfibre, and trimmings in piano black and satin white give an air of calm. Most surfaces that you'd hope to be padded are, except in the base model. This feels quite an upmarket car now.

There's plenty of headroom under that rounded roof, plus ample rear leg room and a decent boot. So far, so worthy, but the surprise comes when you drive it. Toyota's promise of an involving, entertaining drive rings as true here as it didn't with the deeply disappointing Lexus CT200h.

The 121bhp powertrain responds vigorously from low speeds, helped by the greater slug of electric motor assistance; it will even spin its wheels in Power mode. Eco mode equates to the old one's Normal, while the new Normal is lively enough to suit most of the time. The engine revs still shoot upwards in typical CVT fashion when you accelerate, but not as much as before and the rev rise is now matched by a pace rise. The engine feels properly connected to the wheels.

This connectedness continues with the steering, which is precise, quick and credibly weighted. It's the gateway to tidy, fluent handling that even allows a touch of line-tightening when you throttle-off. The Prius is stable in a crosswind, it rides with well-damped suppleness and it cruises quietly. And the transition from regenerative to friction braking is imperceptible.

Should I buy one?

You probably should. It will be offered in four trim levels: Active, Business Edition, Business Edition Plus and Excel, starting at £23,295 and peaking at £27,450. Sat nav is standard on the upper two, while a wireless phone charger and the expected suite of today's safety gear and self-parking systems also inhabit the equipment and price lists. The upper two have 17in wheels and a 6g/km CO2 penalty, but you can insist on the 15in wheels and get £400 back

Real-world economy will of course be worse than the claimed 94.1mpg official average on 15s, but the Prius will still be a very frugal city driver. And this Prius is the first one able to tow a trailer (up to 725 kg).

This is a Prius better in every way than its predecessors, then, which clears the old one's fog between you and the major controls and borders on being fun to drive. Who'd have thought it?

Toyota Prius Excel

Location Valencia, Spain; On sale Now; Price £27,450; Engine 4 cyls, 1798cc, petrol plus two electric motor/generators; Combined power 121bhp; Gearbox CVT automatic; Kerb weight 1400kg; 0-62mph 10.6sec; Top speed 112mph; Economy 94.1mpg (15in wheels) or 85.6mpg (17in wheels) combined; CO2/tax band 70 or 76g/km, 9 or 13%

Join the debate


10 February 2016
Not a thing of beauty to look at but these things are beginning to function properly now. All the taxi drivers around here are moving over to them. Don't even consider traditional driving pleasures but instead think of a car developed for the future - to get people around safely and quietly. And to use as little fuel as necessary in doing so. Not perfect, not even eco-perfect but definitely worthy.

10 February 2016
Well at least the car's consistent, ugly inside and out. Difficult to comment on the technical features as there’s not to many in the article but good to see they still making big improvements in the electrical department like 28% better charge times and a smaller battery for the same capacity, seems strange they haven’t been able to downsize the engine. 94 mpg, this is going to be down to the individual as it could vary so much depending on distance of the journey but even if you take 20% off that it’s still impressive. Any plug-in Prius owners care to comment on their experiences?

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

10 February 2016
xxxx wrote:

I was pretty ugly at 18 too

And are you a delight on the eyes now??

10 February 2016
I know it is ugly, but I kinda like it. It has far more personality in its looks than any of the previous hum drum versions. Inside, meh. It is ok, but just a little 1990's stil. Toyota really struggle with their interior style. I'm sure it is all screwed very well together, just bleugh. Not sure if that is the technical term, but it fits lol

10 February 2016
The review from the back seat is more important, seeing as more of us experience the Prius as passengers rather than driver. Will be interesting to see how the new Hyundai hybrid matches up to this.

10 February 2016
I think the deep crease from the rear door to the back, no doubt to disguise the steeply rising window line, is a huge miscalculation because it draws too much attention to itself. Otherwise it's the interior that disappoints. Reminds me of one of those sci-fi films which predicts what the future looks like but always gets it wrong.

10 February 2016
Exactly what I was thinking: it reminds me of American futuristic concepts from the 1950's or something out of the Jetsons cartoon series with those vestigial tail fins. Whats going on with the rear hatch? I guess it must be the rear thre-quarter camera angle, but the glass doesn't seem to align with the lower metalwork. I wonder how many potential customers, although attracted to its efficiency, couldn't live with its "challenging" looks? (Me, for one.)

11 February 2016
The only futuristic dashboard that looks good that comes to mind is the Citroen CX's. By contrast, the DS's dashboard looks dated compared with its futuristic exterior.


10 February 2016
"...a car whose owners to date equate driving enjoyment with adultery or worse,"

Really? Is there a correlation between environmentalism and Puritanism? I bought one because it was the best environmental and tax option at the time. I'd have loved it to be more fun to drive.

The issue now is that there are more environmentally friendly options which are better to drive and better on BIK. The Prius will continue to be a cabbie's favourite, but the environmentally conscious have moved on.

10 February 2016
bol wrote:

"...a car whose owners to date equate driving enjoyment with adultery or worse,"

Really? Is there a correlation between environmentalism and Puritanism? I bought one because it was the best environmental and tax option at the time. I'd have loved it to be more fun to drive.

The issue now is that there are more environmentally friendly options which are better to drive and better on BIK. The Prius will continue to be a cabbie's favourite, but the environmentally conscious have moved on.

Absolutely, such a lot of garbage talked about the Prius. The changes to the transmission set-up worry me a bit - have they lost any efficiency by dumbing it down to fit motoring journalists' expectation of what a car should sound like? The Prius engine has always been more irrevocably connected to the wheels than in any other transmission - including manuals.


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