12.2.2016New Toyota Prius review
Toyota's new, more stylish, fourth generation Prius re-establishes itself as the flagship of Toyota's hybrid range. It delivers an improved hybrid performance with fewer compromises that make it more like a conventional car to drive. From a technical point of view there's a lot to appreciate and around town it feels great knowing you aren't pumping dangerous fumes out of the exhaust much of the time. Taxi drivers are convinced of their reliability too. Toyota won't talk about future models but a Prius+ and Prius plug-in must be on the way.
Review by Russell Bray
The new fourth generation Prius has more exciting looks but accelerative performance rightly is still not a priority. With the 97bhp and 128 lb ft of torque of the completely re-engineered 1.8 litre petrol engine boosted by the 71bhp permanent magnet synchronous electric motor, the Prius will whizz and whirr itself from rest to 62mph in a leisurely 10.6 seconds, even if you switch from eco mode to power mode. Eco mode incidentally corresponds to the old normal mode so the new normal is welcomingly more lively than before. Combined output is 121bhp and it is delivered in a more "user friendly," less rubber-band like way when accelerating than before, which disguises the fact the car is a hybrid. Top speed is 112mph. Motorway cruising is more relaxed and quieter though than with Prius version three.
It sounds like damning with faint praise but the Prius still isn't a car you would take out for a spirited drive on your favourite back road. You still feel too remote from the action, though it is much, much better than before. And anyway the Prius's goal is comfortable transport with minimal environmental impact. Thanks to a lower (25mm) centre of gravity and lower driving position it feels less top heavy than before and you feel more part of the car rather than just a passenger. More complicated rear double wishbone suspension has helped handling responses and ride comfort at the same time as increasing boot space. Body rigidity has also been increased so the car feels more solid and predictable. Suspension settings have been revised but enthusiastic cornering still creates quite a lot of body lean. Toyota says the electric steering has been recalibrated but the feel still isn't as good as a non-assisted or hydraulic set-up. I can't see that fussing owners though.
With the reputation of the Prius well established Toyota has made the new model much more stylish, both inside and out, which should widen its appeal beyond committed green motorists. It looks lower, sleeker and more sporty, and less obviously a hybrid with an unusual mix of curves and hard edges. New headlights are slimmer and more of a feature than before. Only the rather mundane wheels detract from what looks more of a premium product than before. Though the car is lower the view forward is even better thanks to a lower bonnet line and a bigger windscreen area, partly because of narrower windscreen pillars - other car makers please copy. Depending on your height/driving position the bar across the back window where it dips down to the boot might obstruct your vision. Boot space is up by about ten per cent to 502 litres providing you chose a tyre repair kit rather than a space saver spare wheel. The Prius is 60mm longer, 15mm wider and 20mm lower than the outgoing model. Length 4540mm. Width 1760mm.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
The front seats proved comfortable over a 172 mile journey. It would have been less but the satellite navigation was the worst behaved I have come across. Somewhat ironically it is called Toyota touch and go. Rear seat headroom is tight if you are tall but there's plenty of leg room. Noise levels are relaxingly low unless you ask for strong acceleration and the ride supple. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) now works smoother and more consistently, feeling more like a conventional auto. The regenerative brakes, which harvest energy for the electric motor, were snatchy when going quicker. It is simple to select normal, eco or sport modes depending on mood and driving location. The test car benefited from a small head-up display which showed road speed and whether you were driving economically. Other information is rather jumbled on various displays you can call up on the centre screen just below the base of the windscreen. I suppose you get used to it, but I would prefer it in front of the driver. There is a foot applied parking brake, which people used to ones you pull on with a finger using a console switch might find irritating. The electrically assisted steering has been modified but though more precise (from memory) still feels like a video game.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
Plump for the 15-inch wheels, which are available on any model, and the official combined fuel consumption for the new Prius is 94.1 MPG, or 85.6 MPG with the larger 17-inch wheels fitted on the test car. Going for the smaller wheels reduces the car's price by Â£400. In the rather free-flowing traffic around Valencia, Spain, the car ran on electric power for 66 per cent of the time and returned 52.3 MPG. Braking for the many traffic lights kept the battery system well topped up. Out of town some spirited driving on twisty roads saw 52.7 MPG. A colleague who did not try the power mode returned 74.3 MPG both in and out of town. Carbon dioxide emissions are 70 g/km with 15-inch wheels, which lets the car escape the London congestion tax. Its band A rating also means there is no road tax to pay. The bigger 17-inch wheels increase CO2 emissions to 77 g/km. The Prius comes with a five-year / 100,000 mile warranty.
Power still comes from a 1,798cc four-cylinder petrol engine running on the leaner Atkinson cycle and now achieving a world beating 40 per cent thermal efficiency, up from 38.5 per cent with the previous model. The engine warms up faster thanks to coolant being heated by the engine's exhaust gases. For reliability and cost reasons Toyota has stayed with a nickel-metal hydride battery pack, rather than lithium-ion, but it has been reduced in size by ten per cent and is said to be more durable. Power losses in the transmission have been cut by 20 per cent and the two electric motors driving it are claimed to be 14 per cent more efficient. Resin coated engine connecting rods and special camshaft chains reduce engine friction. An electric water pump reduces power drain from the engine. Toyota says the battery pack charges 28 per cent more quickly. According to our calculations, the tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 29.
Toyota has had a rethink on the names and trim levels for the new Prius. Prices start at Â£23,295 (up Â£1,200) for the Active model. All versions have LED headlights with automatic high beam, keyless entry and engine start, dual-zone air conditioning, DAB radio and multi-media system with touch screen. Higher grade models gain colour head-up display, blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert, heated front seats, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, wireless phone charging and auto dimming rear view mirror. The top Excel model (tested) had leather upholstery, satellite navigation, JBL premium audio, intelligent park assist, which can now squeeze into a tighter space using its 22 sensors, and rain sensing wipers. Options include a black or chrome pack (Â£350) which adds a rear diffuser, front fog lights and side sill trims.
Model tested: Toyota Prius
Body-style: Five-door hatchback
Engine / CO2: 1.8 litre four-cylinder petrol engine and synchronous electric motor / 77 g/km
Trim grades: Active, Business, Business Plus and Excel
On-road price: From £23,295. Price as tested £27,450
Warranty: Five years/100,000 miles
In the showroom: March
Review rating: 4.0 Stars