Toyota’s tacit sales message seems to be that the Prius has now developed to the point where you can consider it a normal, mainstream family hatchback in most respects – albeit one capable of 94mpg, which is a claim we’ll verify shortly. On outright pace at least, you can believe it.
Our test car proved only 0.2sec slower to 60mph than a Ford Focus 1.5 TDCi – one of the biggest-selling five-door hatchbacks in Europe – and a bit quicker than the Ford in almost every other way that we measure: from standing to 70mph and onwards to 100mph, over a standing quarter-mile, over a standing kilometre, and when accelerating from 30mph to 70mph.
It still isn’t remotely exciting or involving to spirit along in a hurry, though. Instead, it seems a disinterested and relatively unwilling conspirator.
You need to plunge the accelerator pedal almost all the way to the floor to get any really urgent reply from the powertrain, although when it comes, it comes more quickly than it used to. By and large, and keenly or otherwise, the Prius gives you what you imagine it will at full power. And broadly, it gives enough: for overtaking, slip-road accelerating and getting smartly away from junctions and into gaps.
The real advancement that Toyota has made is to the usability and assured feel of the Prius’s hybrid powertrain, which now responds with greater proportionality to smaller requests.
So when you dip into the accelerator by just an inch or so to pick up speed, the car comes back with detectable forward impetus.
It needn’t now necessarily rev its petrol engine up to a bothersome speed and doesn’t suffer so much of what Toyota itself recognises and quite accurately describes as the ‘elastic band effect’ of the previous car. The electric motor alone will now do enough to take care of most give-and-take requirements in town and it’s even powerful enough to allow the petrol engine to shut down frequently, and for reasonable stretches, on 50mph country roads.
The relaxed efficiency with which the car deals with heavy traffic, meanwhile, is its true trump card. Radar-based adaptive cruise control, a standard fitment, takes care of slowing and speeding up automatically in motorway jams, and scavenging energy that would otherwise be wasted. So there you sit, in a bubble of quiet calm, watching your economy return actually improve – while all others around you seethe and stress.