The first Prius, launched in 1997 and updated in 2000, appealed to the responsible side of human nature with its low-emission hybrid drive. Even its odd styling, which made it stand out for all the wrong reasons, didn’t stop Hollywood stars, eager to publicise their green credentials, rushing to Toyota showrooms – Cameron Diaz drives one, and Leonardo Di Caprio has several.
The new car looks better and is bigger, with a full five-seater, five-door bodyshell, and its Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive now has more power. Most of the time, the Prius works as a parallel hybrid, which means both petrol engine and electric motor power the car. The pair are coupled by a planetary gear set, with a controller deciding on the proportion of power coming from each source depending on the conditions and driver demands.
An electronically controlled CVT completes a complicated set-up which can run in several modes. The electric motor can boost the engine’s power, drawing energy from the engine’s generator, battery pack, or both. The engine stop-starts in traffic, the electric motor routinely powering the car on its own when pulling away, and European models will have an EV mode capable of powering the car for short periods on electric power only.