What is it?
The Toyota Prius+ is a new three-row, seven-seat version of the Prius hybrid that is likely to be introduced next June. Buyers of people-carriers, Toyota says, are getting worried about their cars’ economy. Choose something with the seven-seat carrying capacity you need, they complain, and you’ll be stuck with vehicle that consumes more fuel than you can afford.
Defeating this problem is why Toyota plans to introduce the Prius+, and the company recently allowed Autocar an early drive in one.
What’s it like?
The Prius+ draws much from existing hatchback models: suspension, chassis components, hybrid drivetrain and many interior features, for instance. In fact, given its extra row of seats, it feels remarkably like a regular Prius to drive, probably because it is only 135mm longer and keeps the sleek Prius family look.
Even so, Toyota has introduced improvements likely to feed back into existing models. The Prius+ uses more advanced li-ion batteries that weigh less, are little more compact but preserve the EV-only range of about two miles.
The steering ratio is a little quicker, the damping has been re-calibrated, there is an improved exhaust heat recovery system, and a slightly shorter final drive ratio means the Prius+ accelerates like a Prius hatchback even though it is 80kg heavier. The Prius+ also introduces a new anti-dive, anti-pitch system that varies powertrain torque – by a couple of per cent so you don’t feel it – to level the body under brakes or over bad bumps.
Driving the Prius+ is a nice surprise. In EV mode it is expectedly silent, and even with the engine running it has all smoothness and quietness we’ve come to expect. The quicker-acting steering is pleasantly firm, the chassis turn-in is better than the MPV norm, yet the Prius+ feels serene and stable at all times. You never feel the powertrain varying its torque, but the car certainly does ride flat.
Should I buy one?
Toyota can expect success with its Prius+, mostly because few rivals can match its 50mpg-plus. Its main drawback is that the rear seats are too cramped for European-sized adults, but then, cars like this are mostly for kid-carrying anyway. For that purpose, the Prius+ is ideal.