Seven seats, near 70mpg and Band A emissions - the Toyota Prius+ sounds like it should have the compact MPV market all sewn up. And if you specifically want a hybrid MPV then it does, as there are no direct rivals in this very niche segment. However, in this part of the world traditional rivals may answer the question better.
In the Metal:
Well it looks better than the regular Toyota Prius - to our eyes at least. The extra bodywork behind the C-pillars gives it much better balance than the slightly awkward looking hatchback model. It does share much of its design DNA with that car though, and is instantly recognisable as one of the family - despite the bespoke front end detailing.
It's recognisable inside as well, though this time there's a bigger departure from the car it's based on. The dashboard now sports a centre binnacle for the main instruments, as well as a head-up display, and new controls for the climate control. There's a bulky centre console where the transmission tunnel normally sits, housing the lithium-ion battery packs, and the gear lever sits up on the main dashboard. Oh, and of course there are seven seats. As you'd expect they're tight for fully grown adults, but thanks to a deep storage area in the boot, load space is actually pretty good - even with all the chairs in place.
Gently: it's the only way to drive a hybrid properly. Do so and you'll see this seven-seat MPV can actually return some pretty impressive fuel economy - and be almost silent with it. Around town it's in its element, the EV-only mode (if you're extremely gentle with the right pedal) allows you to glide gently to your destination, emitting no CO2 emissions and burning no fuel.
If you need a little more acceleration the engine kicks back in instantly, and combined with the boost of torque from the electric motor makes for impressive urban progress. Admittedly the suspension borders on firm, the springs having to deal with the battery weight, but it still remains a comfortable and stress-free environment.
However, out of town things don't look so good for the Prius+. Try and extract any sort of urgent performance from the seven-seater and it all starts to fall apart, the engine revs rise uncontrollably and your ears are assaulted by the accompanying din. There's no let-up either, as the CVT gearbox tries to maintain optimum acceleration, and only releasing the accelerator pedal sees things quieten down.
And while on-paper performance (and indeed on our road test two-up) appears more than adequate we can't help feeling that when fully loaded with children and the detritus they carry that the Prius+ might struggle to convince like those rivals with torque-rich diesel engines. But straight line performance isn't our only bugbear with the Toyota, as the steering is devoid of weight and feel, while the suspension that felt firm across inner-city tarmac now feels soft and squidgy around anything but the gentlest of bends.
On top of that there's the traditional Prius braking bugbear, with the pedal offering little in the way of feel and reacting rather sharply to inputs. The result is a less than smooth action when coming to a stop. At least the view out is pretty good, with plenty of glazing including a panoramic glass roof and a high driving position, which offers decent adjustment.
What you get for your Money:
Toyota Ireland remains tight-lipped on the pricing and specification of the Prius+. It seems to be awaiting potential changes to the tax bands in the Budget at the end of the year to set anything in stone. If the bands change to the benefit of cars emitting less than 100g/km Toyota has the option to import a version of the Prius+ that dips into that.
The Prius+ is well equipped in other markets, coming with climate control, head-up display, cruise control, keyless entry and start, a touchscreen stereo with Bluetooth and rear view camera and 16-inch alloy wheels as standard. As yet we don't know if that'll be the case in Ireland
This car is already on sale around the world, and Japan and America also get a five-seat version. It is unknown whether this will be offered for sale in Ireland. There are some major differences in technology and construction, as the five-seat versions use a nickel metal hydride pack that sits under the boot floor, while the seven-seat model comes with lithium-ion batteries in the centre console between the seats. Not only does this allow for extra space, but also the ability to dip below the 100g/km CO2 output marker.
There's plenty to recommend the Toyota Prius+ for, not least the fact that it's incredibly clean and efficient. However, the on-paper figures don't tell the full story, and with a full payload the Toyota is likely to struggle - its lack of torque and CVT gearbox making for less than impressive performance in this state. More traditional MPVs (with diesel engines) might not have broken the sub-100g/km barrier as yet, but until that matters to Irish taxation they would still be our choice.