Big improvements in both design and technology give the Toyota Prius newfound appeal that is now enough to really make the mainstream market sit up and take note. Here's our first drive of the new hybrid hatchback.
In the metal
The new Toyota Prius is significantly more angular than its predecessor and stands out much more from the rest of the current model line-up. Nonetheless, the exterior styling will be highly divisive and is clearly influenced by the hydrogen-powered Mirai, but aerodynamics have also played a dominant role is shaping this new Prius. The silhouette and proportions are still instantly recognisable as those of a Prius though.
Overall the Prius is now 25mm lower thanks to the all-new 'GA-C' platform that forms parts of the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) that will encompass all future models. Shell rigidity has increased by 60 per cent, which should contribute to improved handling.
Some of the biggest improvements to the Prius come inside where the layout and styling of the cabin has been greatly improved. The dashboard and centre console retain a familiar Prius layout, with the main instrument display located in the middle at the base of the windscreen. As the small, stubby gear selector is located on the centre console itself (as with previous models), there is a large storage area between the front seats. This includes a deep storage bin, two cup holders and can be equipped with a wireless charging point for mobile phones. There is still a lot of plastic throughout the cabin, but both the look and quality of this has been improved.
Space for rear passengers is good, even with that sloped roofline. The middle seat does leave the occupant sitting a little higher up, but for two adults the rear is more than roomy. Boot capacity has also increased by 56 litres to 501 litres thanks to a new shape for the battery, which is 110mm thinner. The large boot lid is manually operated and gives a generous aperture for loading bulkier items though the load lip is a little high.
Where the new Toyota Prius really impresses is on the move. It was all too easy to criticise the unrefined nature of previous models' CVT automatic transmissions, but this time around the Prius has firmly put those to bed. In everyday town driving light to moderate use of the throttle delivers a smooth and quiet ride. The interaction between the combustion engine and electric motor is far less perceptible than before.
The hybrid battery comes with a 28 per cent improvement in charging, which translates to being able to spend more time at lower speeds in pure electric mode. At higher speeds the car can also engage a coasting function in EV mode to further prolong driving distance without impacting on range.
When the petrol engine does engage it does so smoothly and noticeably quieter than in previous models. Refinements to the engine itself, as well as better sound insulation, contributes to this and it demonstrates how a hybrid should perform. Official consumption figures suggest a rate of 3.0 litres/100km being attainable and on our test drive, which was on a variety of roads including motorway speeds with three people in the car, the average consumption of 4.8 litres/100km was respectable - and on a par with most diesel cars. A CO2 emissions figure of 70g/km will also add to the appeal of the Prius for some.
The new car's comfort levels also deserve a mention, with newly designed front seats providing good levels of support without looking or feeling overly bolstered. This isn't a car that you're going to drive too enthusiastically; that's not what this is about, but the Prius is more than capable of carrying speed while remaining composed.
What you get for your money
In Ireland there will be two Prius models offered, the standard version and a more generously equipped Prius Luxury; these will be priced at €31,450 and €33,550 respectively.
The standard Prius will feature 15-inch alloy wheels, electrically folding mirrors, front fog lights, Smart Entry for the driver, automatic air conditioning, a reversing camera, seven-inch Toyota Touch multimedia system, LED headlights and daytime running lamps, a 4.2-inch TFT dashboard display and lumbar support.
For an additional €2,100 buyers can move to the Prius Luxury. Over the equipment listed in the standard model this adds 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone air conditioning, a leather steering wheel, heated front seats, Smart Entry for passenger and boot, Wireless Phone Charger, Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
Both models will also feature Toyota Safety Sense. This package includes Road Sign Assist, which recognises and displays roads signs such as speed limits, Lane Departure Alert, Pre-Collision System, Auto High Beam and Adaptive Cruise Control.
Toyota has really upped its game with this new Prius. It is a well-finished car in its own right that just happens to also have a hybrid powertrain. The technical improvements and competitive pricing makes it a good alternative to the current crop of diesel-powered alternatives.