The Toyota Prius has long been the butt of jokes for anyone with even the slightest hint of motoring enthusiasm. There are plenty of very unkind insults you can throw in any hybrid’s direction, but the fact remains they have a cult following and have done since arriving on the scene a couple of decades ago. So we thought we’d send Chris Bowen on a trip to Canberra to sample the latest, greatest and supposedly most exciting Toyota Prius yet.
The 10 Minute Test Drive.
For anyone who hasn’t driven a hybrid the first 10 minutes behind the wheel is certainly a little strange. Pressing the power button gives little indication the car has even sprung to life. The battery pack simply turns the dash lights on, while novel startup graphics splash across the off-centre instrumental panel.
Once you work out the strange looking shifter it’s simply a matter of engaging drive and accelerating away. Forward momentum starts with the faintest high frequency whirl, much like what you hear on a light-rail carriage. When enough weight is applied to the pedal the 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine smoothly joins in.
Apart from the uniqueness of the hybrid-petrol drivetrain, there’s very little else that stands out while you go about your daily drive. It’s simply a combination of relaxing levels of acceleration and silent electric glides to a stop. You can creep along during peak hour traffic in EV mode but the lightest prod from the right foot fires up the engine again. It’s all very benign really.
You certainly won’t be missed around town; the overall design is a little erratic for my liking. It’s a mish-mash of angles and creases that I could never fall in love with. But then again the Prius has always been for people a tad “different”.
On the handling front you could say things are well balanced, it corners flatly but the steering is a little too vague for my liking. On a long haul such as the Sydney to Canberra round trip it also starts to wear you down as a driver. A lot of road noise finds its way from the tyres into the cabin, the constant drone from parts of the finely grooved Hume Highway created a soundtrack that was far from pleasant. Having said that, comfort levels for my two passenger seemed adequate, with decent interior space and suitably cushioned seats.
Ins And Outs
The centrepiece of the Toyota Prius is of course the petrol-electric drivetrain. That involves an improved 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine and a nickel-metal hydride battery pack under the rear boot. Power is sent via a continuously variable transmission (CVT), the automatic transmission of choice for virtually all hybrids. The 1.8-litre engine pumps out 72kW and 142Nm, while the electric motor delivers 53Kw and 163Nm. The combined output is said to be 90Kw.
The interior is not typically of Toyota, it does at least have a go at introducing some flare and interest. Although the white glossy plastic on the lower half of the steering wheel and centre console misses the mark a little. There are two 4.2-inch screens in the centre console along with a much larger infotainment screen beneath. In general it’s an attractive, well-crafted cabin.
The Tech Inside.
The Prius i-Tech model is fully laden with goodies. Highlights include a reversing camera, head-up display, bi-LED headlamps, 10 speaker-JBL sound system, a wireless phone charger (forget about this if you have an iPhone!), satellite navigation, blind-spot monitoring, automatic cruise control, leather accented seats, pre-collision warning system, lane departure alert that will intervene if required and automatic high-beam headlights.
The Hip Pocket.
The biggest claim to fame for any hybrid is fuel economy. Toyota say on a combined cycle 3.4L/100km is possible, that’s a little ambitious. But the fact that I managed 4.6L/100km on a 600km run to Canberra and back is commendable. The various modes such as ECO, Power and EV can probably be mastered after a longer term drive to bring that down a fraction. A capped price servicing plan at $140 ever 10,000km is solid value while the three-year/100,000km warranty is fairly run of the mill stuff. You need not worry too much about the battery, that’s covered for eight years or 160,000km, but there are plenty of taxis getting around with far more than that. The i-Tech model does weigh in at a hefty $42,900 before on roads.
The EFTM Rubber Stamp.
The Prius i-Tech will only ever interest those who are committed to reducing emissions and are committed to the belief petrol-electric technology is the current and best solution to achieve that. As a car, the Toyota Prius i-Tech does what it says it will, that is using minimal fuel while carting you around in relative comfort. The problem is you really need to be onboard the Prius bandwagon to ever consider one. I award the Toyota Prius i-Tech the EFTM Credit Rubber Stamp of Approval.