Prius is almost a brand in its own right. In 1997 the first main stream hybrid from Toyota set the Japanese firm off on a long road. Perennially popular with actors in California who like to be seen being green, Prius is a common sight on the streets of Santa Monica and Beverly Hills.
I drove the original four-door saloon Prius for a TV show in Ireland and remember being impressed by the notion of hybrid power but was also well aware of the limitations of battery technology at the time. Needless to say as the technology was so new the car got little support from buyers. The combination of petrol power with rechargeable batteries that were hidden under the rear seat (they also took up half the boot) was something that car buyers needed time to get used to. Today Prius is the worlds best selling hybrid car. However noble the quest Toyota was on – the original car was seriously ugly… I mean really ugly… did I say how ugly it was? Thankfully the five-seater has evolved over the years in to a more acceptable form.
The ability to run on electricity alone is a key part of Prius but also is the idea that hybrids are economical. Toyota made claims for miserly fuel consumption that were simply unrealistic. In lab conditions you could get reasonable consumption but in the real world Prius at best delivered diesel-like mpg. The latest car is truly economical as during our test we were hard pushed to do less than 58mpg in all sorts of driving.
Styling is still challenging but it is fair to say that the new Prius is the best looking yet. Its look is an evolution of the 2003 hatchback but its sits lower and is more sharply styled. The fourth generation Prius is built on Toyota’s new global architecture (TNGA). Inside it is spacious and fresh. The cabin has always been entertaining with offset displays that include all passengers in the driving experience. Our test car featured a head up display and while these can be great when you want to press on (no one can see the speedometer) Prius spoils the fun by displaying your speed for all to see in the upper centre display. So gone is the 10% +2 rule that was the traditional UK police guide to bending the speed limit.
Prius still has a horrible CVT-like gearbox, but the whine when accelerating is more muted, thank goodness! The petrol engine remains with a 1.8-litre four-cylinder unit driving the front wheels. CO2 is a lowly 70-76g, which means official fuel figures of 3.0-3.3 l/100km are quoted (circa 94mpg). Road tax is a modest €170 per annum.
Prius gets new rear suspension, so gone is the less than sophisticated torsion beam axle now replaced by a clever double wishbone set up. Prius is more aerodynamic than the outgoing car. On the open road there is more low-down pulling power and the drive is quite pleasant. The steering is geared for fast turn-in and Prius about town is very easy to nip about the place in. We have always loved the stubby gear lever, perhaps the smallest in production, but the key part is the B setting that allows you get some regenerative braking when pressed. You can quickly become a hybrid nerd after a spin in a Prius and I must admit to being obsessed with generating electricity by efficient driving using a very light right foot.
New Prius is now an attractive proposition. Prius prices start at €31,450 and rise to €33,550 for the Prius Luxury.