What is it?
As if you need to ask. It is the new Prius, of course. It is the car that Toyota hopes will take hybrids from being niche to mainstream, capable of offering a normal car experience with all the good stuff you get from a hybrid. The last one did all that, too, but this one promises to somewhat better resolved and better equipped to take on conventional five-door, five seat family motors.
So it’s a bit bigger, with more legroom in the rear, and more efficient, with a 90 per cent of its hybrid drivetrain renewed. That means a lighter, smaller electric motor, a slightly more powerful battery (although it’s the same unit), a new 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and a completely new body and interior.
What’s it like?
Well, they’ve certainly created a more complete car this time round. Although it’s still recognisably a Prius, with its cut-off rear, tall taillights and split rear window, it’s a much sharper and cleaner piece of design, even if it still looks a little underwhelming on standard fit 15-inch wheels. They’re alloy, by the way, even though they have a plastic cover (making the Prius possibly the only car in the world to have alloy wheels with wheel trims) – the explanation is, according to a Toyota Europe exec, because the very light wheels are “not the best looking alloys in the world.”
Inside, too, it’s all been moved on; neat and cohesive touches include the ultra-slim air vents The wheel is very upright and dash rather slab like in front of you, but it’s clean and clear, even if the Eco Monitor (which tells you how “green” your driving is) is confusing.
Toyota’s added three driving modes to the Prius, selected by buttons on the centre console. So in EV mode you can drive the Prius on electric power (but only for 2km), Eco cuts throttle response and air-con output, and Power improves acceleration – or you can just leave them alone and drive normally.
And it drives well. It rides nicely (especially when you consider it’s got a torsion beam rear axle), doesn’t flop about too much and has some of that instant step-off afforded by electric motors, which deliver all their torque from 0rpm.
It falls down on refinement, though – there is plenty of road noise, and it’s not all down to the tyres, as well as a near permanent disturbance from wind noise around the windscreen at much over 60mph. It’s not a deal breaker but you would expect more from a car that, in its cheapest format, is still £18,370.
Should I buy one?
This is still not really a car for anyone who really enjoys, well, cars. But the engineering is well developed and the Prius is much improved – closer now to being a genuine alternative to more mainstream fare then ever before.
It’s still outclassed by a 1.6 petrol Focus when it comes to ride and handling but the efficiencies of the drivetrain are much harder to argue against – even if you can’t match the claimed 89 g/km of CO2 and the 72.4mpg, you’re still going to be reaching at least 65mpg if you’re conservative with the throttle.