9 March 2016
Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius

Always first

Review | "Prius" means "to be the first". And in the past the Toyota Prius always lived up to that name. When Toyota launched the first hybrid car in 1997, other carmakers just ridiculed them. Now those brands all build their own hybrid cars. What does the fourth generation of the Toyota Prius have to offer in order to stay ahead?
 

Over time, the Toyota Prius built itself a reputation as an innovative and environmentally friendly car. But no more than that. With the all-new Prius, Toyota wants more. Toyota wants to turn the Prius into a desirable car and not only be a vehicle for environmentalists and financial wizards.

And because desire often starts with looks, Toyota took extra effort in making the Prius look attractive. The Prius has literally been sharpened with hard, straight lines. And despite the fact that the "wind tunnel shape" has gone, aerodynamics have actually been improved. This benefits both efficiency and comfort (less wind noise).

Toyota Prius

What remains the same is the futuristic looking cabin. It's only in the middle of the dashboard that some buttons and displays can be found; other than that the cabin is so clean that it looks like a spaceship. A word of warning: no matter how fresh that white dash looks at your dealership, it will reflect in the windscreen and you will be sorry. Go for basic black instead.

Trim levels

The Prius is, depending on the spec level, fitted with all the luxury and safety features that can be expected from a car in this segment.

Toyota Prius

On top of that, the Prius offers some unique features. For example, a mobile phone can be charged wirelessly. This sounds better than it actually is, because the area to place the phone in is so shallow that the phone will slide out during cornering. Also, just a few phones actually support the "Qi" standard required for wireless charging..

More useful is the smart reversing aid. This isn't just limited to the usual camera and audible warnings; when the Prius comes too close to an obstacle (with a minimal height of 60 cm) the car will brake automatically. This seems logical, but so far no one thought of it. Also smart: the climate control will only heat or cool those areas actually occupied, thereby saving up to 2.4% of fuel.

Toyota Prius

Hybrid: in theory

What remains the same is the hybrid-drive system. Just like before, it consists of a petrol engine and an electric motor. The theory is that a petrol engine is efficient at high, constant speeds. An electric motor is more suitable for low, changing speeds. By combining both, a car is more efficient.

The required electricity to power the electric motor is generated while driving (braking, free wheeling) and that's why the Prius never has to be plugged in. The computer decides which engine is active at which time; the driver doesn't even notice. For those who want to, the character of the car can be set by choosing from a normal, sporty or economic mode.

Toyota Prius

Hybrid: in real life

When Toyota launched its first hybrid in 1997, it was ridiculed by other carmakers. But now, things are very different! Most of the brands that once laughed at Toyota, now - finally - offer their first hybrids. And that is what makes the difference: Toyota now has twenty years of experience with this technology.

Toyota Prius

That's why the petrol engine and electric engine work together more harmoniously. Just like with previous generations of the Prius, the electric motor propels the car in the city, while the petrol engine powers the car on the open road. However... the separation of the two is less strict now. At high speeds the electric motor doesn't merely assist the internal combustion engine, up to 60 mph the Prius can be driven electrically.

More important is that the power builds up more smoothly than before. At the same time the response to the throttle is more direct and the engine is more decisive at high speeds. The "whining" noise from the continuous variable transmission (CVT) is now a thing of the past. Thanks to the optimal harmony of the two engines, the entire drive-train doesn't have to work quite so hard to perform. This in turn makes the Prius more comfortable and makes it easier to drive economically.

Toyota Prius

Fuel economy

During the various test drives the fuel economy was between 4.1 (69 mpg) and 4.4 litres per 100 km (64 mpg). Even when driving hard, the Prius seldomly uses more than 5 litres per 100 km (56 mpg). That's a lot more than the brochure promises (3.0 litres per 100 km (94 mpg)), but still less than even the most efficient diesel competitor. Also, the exhaust gasses from a petrol engine are less harmful than those from a diesel engine.

Toyota is conservative when it comes to battery technology, For the all-new Prius, Toyota didn't choose modern lithium-ion batteries. Instead, Toyota uses the now ancient nickel-metal hydride. The reason is that these batteries are cheaper and that Toyota owns a large infrastructure to recycle only this type of battery.

Handling

Next to refined engines, the handling and even the seating position make the new Prius a more pleasant car than before. From now on, the driver is more "in" the car rather than "on" it. This new seating position alone gives a great feeling about the car (although it would be nice if the steering wheel was adjustable over a bigger distance).

Toyota Prius

Not unimportant: thanks to thin A-pillars (the beam between the windscreen and the front doors) visibility to the front and around the car is exceptionally good. This might not be obvious at first, but on a long run this makes the Prius less tiring to drive.

The batteries required to power the electric engine have been mounted underneath the back seat. Thanks to this central and low place in the car, the Prius is very stable while cornering. Steering isn't too light or heavy, but just right. In fact, the only "green" car that offers an even better ride is Toyota's own Mirai.

Toyota Prius

Conclusion

Toyota faced a serious challenge while developing the fourth generation of the Prius. The first generation (1997) didn't have any competitors. But now, many brands offer hybrid cars. Toyota distinguishes itself by using its experience not only to improve fuel efficiency, but first and foremost to making driving more pleasurable.

Not only is the Prius more efficient than even the smallest city car and cleaner than the cleanest diesel car, it offers a better drive. On top of that, its looks have been improved and the Prius offers the latest comfort and safety features. This doesn't only make the Prius an even more rational choice than before, it also makes it more desirable.

plus
  • Fair price
  • Excellent handling
  • Most efficient car in the segment
min
  • Poor head room in the back
  • Not as efficient as promised
  • Space to charge phones too shallow and too slippery

See also

Honda InsightHonda Insight