£24,100 - £28,255 Price range
85 - 94 MPG
This is the fourth generation of the Toyota Prius – the world’s most popular hybrid car and a rival for models such as the range-extender version of the BMW i3, as well as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and Volkswagen Golf GTE.
Those who like hybrids that blend into the automotive background won’t be fans of the new Prius – it has a striking angular design that’s reminiscent of the hydrogen-powered Toyota Mirai.
Mirroring the futuristic exterior is the similarly modern interior. It suffers from poor rear headroom, but for the first time feels truly special and offers a bigger boot than the outgoing model. The aerodynamic body that’s also lower than in the old model keeps wind noise to a minimum at a cruise.
Underneath the eye-catching body is an all-new platform that’s 60-per-cent stiffer than before. Faster steering and sophisticated new multi-link rear suspension makes the best of the car’s solid base, meaning it is genuinely fun to drive – something that has never been said about the models that precede it.
Powering the Prius is a revised-but-familiar, petrol-electric hybrid powertrain that brings an 18 per cent improvement in efficiency and is smoother in its operation, but a little slower than in the outgoing car.
As with the exterior, the new Prius’ interior could well be an acquired taste, but should be applauded for looking high-tech and modern.
The basic design found in the old model has been ditched in favour of something significantly more swoopy, while the vast majority of buttons and controls are reserved for the centre of the dash to cut down on clutter. Quality has also been improved with soft-to-the-touch plastics establishing themselves not only on the dashboard, but also on the tops of the doors.
Turn the key and the Prius’ dashboard lights up like a christmas tree with colourful graphics that explain exactly what the sophisticated powertrain is up to at any one time. Along with the stylish interior it gives the Prius a spacecraft feel that’s quite appealing next to the humdrum designs you’ll find in regular hatchbacks.
Toyota Prius passenger space
Passenger space in the front of the Prius is plentiful, as it was in the old model, and lots of adjustment for both the driver’s seat and steering wheel means getting comfortable behind the wheel is simple enough. What has improved compared to the old car is visibility, thanks to a lower bonnet that makes it easier to judge where the car is when slotting in and out of tight spaces, although rear visibility through the small split rear window isn’t great.
While in some countries the Prius comes fitted with expensive lithium-ion batteries, in the UK you’ll have to make do with nickel-hydride versions. They are cheaper but also a little bigger and, because they’re hidden under the rear seats, they eat into headroom for taller passengers.
Toyota Prius boot space
By locating the battery under the rear seat Toyota has freed-up extra boot space, so that it now offers a capacious 502 litres – 122 litres more than a Volkswagen Golf offers, and 57 litres more than you get in the current Prius.
The good news is that Toyota hasn’t just been content with giving the Prius a fancy new look – the changes under the skin are just as radical.
Toyota has given its hybrid an all-new TNGA (Toyota Next Generation Architecture) platform, which will soon underpin a variety of different models. As a result, it has a 60 per cent stiffer bodyshell than the outgoing car, which means it has a solid base for the all-new and sophisticated multi-link rear suspension.
Drive the new model back to back with the old car – something reviewers who attended the new car’s launch were able to do – and the changes are, we’re told, bordering on a revolution. Body lean in the corners has been cut significantly, allowing you to tackle a series of corners with real confidence, egged on by steering that is not only very accurate, but also a whole turn quicker from lock to lock.
Peel away from the country roads and onto the motorway and the benefits of the modern chassis and aerodynamic new body are also apparent. At speed the new Prius is much more refined than the old model, with more comfortable suspension and reduced road and wind noise. Even the constant engine drone (caused by the CVT gearbox – a big complaint of the old model) is more muted here.
Judging by the number of Prius models you see scampering around UK city centres, it’s in town where the new model really needs to shine and there have been some big improvements here too. Switching seamlessly from petrol to electric power and back isn’t simple and the new model does a much better job of making the transition. This means it is easier to drive smoothly in town and the car can drive for a couple of miles on electric power alone.
Given the vast improvements elsewhere, it may come as a surprise that the new Prius is actually slightly slower than the old model – 0-62mph takes 10.6 seconds, rather than the 10.4 figure of before.
It’s a silly aside, really, because the Prius is all about fuel economy and the new model blows the old car out the water here, being 18 per cent more efficient. A combination of a 98hp 1.8-litre petrol engine and a 72hp electric motor allow it to return quoted fuel economy of 94mpg (the old car managed 72mpg) and CO2 emissions of just 70g/km that mean it’s not only exempt from road tax, but also free from paying London’s congestion charge – a claim to fame previously reserved only for the plug-in hybrid model.
All cars come with a CVT gearbox that’s designed to keep the engine-motor combo working as efficiently as possible, but the way it holds engine revs is neither aurally pleasing nor particularly good at conveying the sensation of speed. Neither negatives are likely to put off Prius buyers, but do mean the Toyota is less appealing to enthusiasts.
The latest Prius costs a few thousand pounds more than the old model, but to soften the blow Toyota has loaded it with kit. That means standard equipment includes LED lights, electrically adjustable front seats and a wireless phone charger.
The Prius’ safety credentials have yet to be put to the test by Euro NCAP, but with automatic emergency braking, active cruise control, a head-up display (so your eyes need never leave the road) and the tough new platform, we would expect the car to build on the excellent record set by the old model.
Toyota has gone back to the drawing board with its new Prius – and to good effect. The striking looks hint at the clever technology hidden under the skin in a way the old model never did and are backed up by a driving experience that’s much improved.
It’s the Prius’ super low-running costs that matter most here, and the new model makes the significant improvements needed to maintain the car’s dominance in the hybrid sector.