Road test: Prius proves that things can only get better

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The latest Toyota Prius


It’s 17 years since we first tried the Toyota Prius and who would have dreamed that by 2018 the technology would have powered Toyota to first and second place on the podium at the Le Mans 24 hours race?

In 2001, Prius was the only hybrid family car as Honda’s Insight was just a two seat coupe. Toyota was not that confident of many people buying into the concept, anticipating the majority of drivers would be in fleet cars. To reassure people about the technology, and there’s plenty of it, they had guaranteed buy-back pricing.

The reason for its popularity with business users was soon-to-arrive changes to company car taxation penalties that would offset a potential rise in their personal bills for having a company car. Nothing’s changed on that score because its Benefit In Kind (BIK) costs are now well below those of diesels. It also gets into congestion charge zones free.

We have never adopted hybrid technology for our own cars and are still diesel dinosaurs. But after driving the latest Prius we can see the potential for changing to hybrid motoring when our lease runs out in a couple of years.

The plain truth is that the improvement in hybrid fuel consumption is now demonstrable and while it won’t consistently match the “test” figures any time soon because manufacturers work to rules slanted in their favour, we reckon that the buying public has now woken up to the figures’ basic irrelevance and now just appreciate the cars for what they really deliver on the streets – a cleaner atmosphere.

Some people still kid themselves there’s such a thing as a zero emissions electric car and some makers even reinforce this with their marketing and badging. Indeed, that’s where the misconception arises in the first place. The stark truth is that zero emissions are not even as good as a myth. They don’t exist because somewhere the power for the car has to be generated and that’s where the pollution sits.

There’s also a tendency to only think of what comes out of the tailpipe when there’s far more to it than that. For instance, all cars produce rubber and brake dust particles. But, where the tailpipe’s concerned, on the Prius at least it’s only 76 g/km of CO2 coming from the 1.8 litre petrol unit.

The combination of petrol engine and hybrid transmission pack with a high voltage battery is just about the best way to get about. We’ve looked at plug-in hybrids and remain unconvinced because their range is so limited and there’s a lot of extra palaver involved with storing heavy cables and getting a charging point set up.

Toyota’s straight hybrid works well enough and, given the correct driving style, there’s sufficient power in the battery for sudden extra acceleration or to flick it into electric vehicle (EV) mode when whispering along in a traffic queue.

Any attempt to get beyond around 30 mph sees the petrol engine cut in again, as does trying to get up the hill in our road. But overall the system seems to work and although Toyota’s claimed 85.6 mpg result for every part of the test cycle is not always achievable (we actually got 86.5 mpg on one trip, though) the overall 70.2 mpg we got was impressive, as good as any diesel but much quieter.

The original Prius was an odd-looking car, the current one is all coupe style and swoopy lines, with a rising waistline and teardrop shape to the side windows while still deceptively spacious inside. Our Business Edition +2 test car seemed to have everything on it that we needed, apart from powered seats, and was really enjoyable to drive.

One of the good things is that it makes you think about what you are doing and how you approach each trip. You plan ahead on routes you know so you remember to flick the transmission into the B setting on downhill stretches with a need to brake at the bottom. The B setting is like a retarder, putting power back into the battery but not heat into the brakes as you use them less. More energy is recaptured to propel you along the flat or up the next slope.

With cars like this fourth generation Prius available, it’s hardly surprising that sales of alternative fuel cars are taking off as diesels decline. The percentages sound fantastic, the real numbers less so. But hybrid technology is enjoying rising driver awareness and that has to be a good thing. Toyota has slogged at this long and hard and deserves the payback.

Maurice and Annette Hardy

Car: Toyota Prius Business Edition +2

Does it fit your ego…

0-62 mph: 10.4 secs

Top speed: 112 mph

Bhp: 97 @ 5200 rpm (engine) 71 bhp (electric motor)

Torque: 142 Nm @ 3600 rpm (engine) 163 Nm (electric motor)

…and your wallet…

Price: £26,895

Combined: 85.6 mpg

CO2 emissions: 76 g/km

Best bits: powerful argument for technology

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