The minimalist cabin features fewer buttons and switches than the Mk3 car. The shift to the new TNGA platform has reduced the height of the top lip of the bonnet by 620mm, allowing more light into the cabin and providing better visibility for the driver.
The feeling of spaciousness provided by increases in front and rear head room is emphasised by the thinner frames on the quarter glass ahead of the door mirrors; on the previous car, the elements were obscured by thicker pillars.
The previous car’s distinctive centrally mounted instrument panel is retained, although it is less recessed into the dashboard and has sharper graphics, making it easier to read at a glance than the old design. The main infotainment screen is larger, and the climate controls simplified.
The foot-operated parking brake also remains, freeing up space between the front occupants. The stubby gear lever is familiar, too, albeit mounted higher on the central stack than before.
There is a lot of plastic on show, although the materials used for the main points of contact are of an acceptable quality, and there’s some silver brightwork to lift the ambience. Some ergonomic quirks remain: the switches for the seat heaters are inexplicably hidden behind the floating central stack, a full arm’s stretch away.
Our first test of the car came as part of a strictly speed-controlled convoy run over two laps of the Toyota-owned Fuji Motor Speedway.
Operation of the new Prius is child’s play to anyone familiar with hybrids – and with EVs, for that matter. Press the power button to the right of the steering wheel and the car chimes into life, showing the ‘ready’ prompt on the instrument display.
The battery-powered component of the petrol-electric Hybrid Synergy Drive system propels the car silently away from a standstill, with the petrol engine kicking in quietly and smoothly at higher speeds.
Toyota has also tweaked the power delivery to provide more linear, consistent acceleration, smoothing out the curve by using more of the battery’s power; floor the throttle and you hear less of the engine’s buzzsaw drone that was a trait of the previous car, although it hasn’t been eradicated entirely.
Three drive modes – Eco, Normal and Power – are available at the press of a button, although Normal seems adequate in most occasions. Power mode is said to provide more throttle response, but the difference feels minimal.
Of course, this car’s unique selling point isn’t its performance – and driving a Prius in an over-enthusiastic manner traditionally plays havoc with the fuel economy – but the Toyota is definitely more composed during cornering than before, steering fairly precisely and cornering in a neat, flat manner. The brakes, too, have been improved, providing a more progressive and ‘natural’ feel that was somewhat corrupted by the regenerative braking system on the old car.
The ride of the old car could feel harsh and fidgety over uneven roads; Toyota’s claim of an improvement brought about by the new suspension felt valid on a smooth race track, but we’ll require a more thorough test on UK roads.