Toyota Prius gets better

RACV RoyalAuto magazine

Prius has been, and continues to be, the cornerstone of Toyota’s hybrid technology in its growing model range.

Now moving into the fourth generation, Prius has undergone substantial changes. While maintaining the traditional “Green focus” of Prius with revisions to the petrol/electric hybrid system delivering improved fuel economy, there is also a new platform and improvements to the on-road dynamics; making it a more enjoyable drive.

Dare to be different

In terms of styling, the Prius has always dared to be different, and once again the fourth generation has a distinctive look that will no doubt, polarise opinions. It is not just the bodylines (that are designed with a focus on aerodynamic efficiency) but also the bold interior presentation.

If nothing else, the striking white centre console, containing a wireless phone-charger (for compatible phones), and the sleek centrally mounted instrument panel creates a look and feel to the cabin that characterises the techno influence. The option of switching-on the head-up display and placing the speed readout in front of the driver is a handy feature.

With so much focus on using the latest technology, it seems strange that Toyota has employed an awkward foot operated park-brake. Reviewing the Prius, we found the continuous beeping inside the cabin when reverse is selected quickly becomes annoying. Vision is also quite a mixed bag with an excellent forward view but it does have thick pillars and looking out the rear is not great. The split view created by the rear spoiler can be distracting.

Premium pricing

Prius has always been a premium-priced small-to-medium size car, which in part can be justified given its advanced level of technology, but Toyota does offer lower priced hybrid models in their Camry and Corolla ranges. This fourth generation Prius is available in two versions; the standard Prius at $34,990 plus on-road costs and the i-Tech with a price tag of $42,990 (plus on-road costs). Base model is relatively well equipped with standard safety and comfort features, while the i-Tech steps it up another notch. The LED headlights provide great lighting and have an excellent auto-dipping function.

The heated, leather clad front seats in the i-Tech version we tested provided plenty of comfort and support. Those in the back had respectable legroom and sufficient headroom, although taller passengers may find the sloping roofline a limiting factor.

A new platform, smaller, lighter hybrid components, relocation of the nickel-metal hydride propulsion battery under the rear seat and a new double wishbone rear suspension, translates into greater luggage space. The i-Tech version actually has more usable luggage space, but it does come at the expense of a spare wheel. The standard version carries a space saver, whereas the i-Tech only gets an inflator kit.

Fuel economy and low emissions

The new model now has a more mainstream feel in the way it drives and handles but it is still not going to excite an enthusiast. The performance is certainly adequate for everyday use but the main focus of this car is fuel economy and low emissions. Engine and driveline changes for the new model have been about size and weight reduction of components, great efficiency and a more refined operation; rather than extra grunt.

Toyota retains the 1.8 litre VVT-i Atkinson cycle petrol engine, with internal refinements for improved efficiency, while new higher revving motor-generators provide greater assistance to the petrol engine as the revs climb. With improved electronics and new battery the charging is faster. Add to this reduced mechanical losses with the all-new multi-shaft transaxle (a hybrid first), less drag from the air-conditioning, low rolling-resistance tyres and improved aerodynamics, there are noticeable improvements in fuel economy.

Official ADR fuel consumption is a mere 3.4L/100km – an improvement of 12.8 per cent. In real-world driving, our test car averaged a pleasing but not spectacular 4.8 l/100 km.

Helped by the electric motor system, which does its best work down low, initial acceleration is quite spritely but overall the car is still not an exceptionally strong performer. The response and transition between electric and petrol feels a little better but the combined maximum power output is down slightly on the previous model.

Improved on-road dynamics

Where the new Prius has really stepped up its game is the on-road dynamics. Riding lower on an all-new platform, with revised front suspension and a more sophisticated double-wishbone rear set up, the Prius is comfortable, composed and more enjoyable to drive. New electric power-assisted steering provides good response and feedback, while the brakes now have a more progressive feel that’s reassuring and easier to control than other hybrids. 

Capped servicing

Although the Prius is relatively hi-tech, it is still covered by Toyota’s capped price servicing. Called “Toyota Service Advantage”, it covers the car for the first 6 services (3 year or 60,000 whichever comes first). Maximum cost is $140 per service.

Car review: Ernest Litera

Talking points

Economical to run but the savings will take quite some time to recoup the premium price of this hi-tech car

Improved dynamics

Easier to live-with and drive than any of its predecessors

As well as the technology, both versions are relatively well kitted out with advanced safety features

Awkward foot operated park brake

Toyota has not taken the plug-in hybrid path for Australia

Toyota Prius i-Tech

Price: $43,850 + $4130 ORC. Premium paint: $470. Range: $35,690 to $43,850.

Safety: 7 airbags. Pre-collision safety system. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic detection. Lane departure warning. Auto-levelling Bi-LED headlights. Active cruise control.

Features: Rain-sensing wiper. Reversing camera. Heated front seats. Tyre pressure monitoring. Satellite navigation. Toyota Link connected mobility with seven-inch colour screen. 60/40 split-folding rear seats.

Specifications: Drivetrain: 1798cc, 4cyl petrol. CVT auto. Petrol: 72kW@5200rpm, electric motor: 53kW. Combined power output: 90kW. Petrol: 142Nm@3600rpm, electric motor: 163Nm. CVT auto. Battery Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH)

Fuel Consumption: 4.8L/100km (RACV test figure); 3.4L/100km (govt figure); 43L tank. 91RON petrol.

Towing: Not recommended

RACV Car Share

Hire an RACV Car Share powered by Thrifty and you’ll be driving a Toyota Prius. There is no joining fee and the hourly rate s $12.50, with the daily rate $85. RACV members save 15% with Thrifty Car Rental for Australia and New Zealand books.  

Written by Ernest Litera
October 20, 2016