First Drive: Toyota Prius boasts 94mpg and family space

New hybrid now full-sized family car boasting good fuel economy and quieter engine

Make: Toyota

Model: Prius

Year: 2015

Fuel: Hybrid

Date Reviewed: November 12, 2015

Mon, Dec 7, 2015, 19:28

   

Toyota has some headline- grabbing figures to shout about with its new Prius: an average fuel economy figure of 3 l/100km (or 93.8mpg in old money) and emissions of just 70g/km. Those are eye-catching figures for the poster boy of the hybrid generation.

Consider, for instance, that the outgoing model had an official fuel economy figure of 3.9 l/100km (72.4 mpg) and emissions of 80g/km, which were generally regarded as a benchmark.

Of course, there’s more to the new Prius than its fuel- sipping ability. Perhaps the biggest draw is the fact that it’s now a full-sized family car.

Past editions were more akin to booted hatchbacks of the Corolla ilk. This car has the interior space to rival an Avensis, due to the fact it’s actually longer than the regular family Toyota. To put some perspective on the growth spurt of this latest Prius compared to the first model back in 1997, the car is a noticeable 265mm longer.

The only dimension that has reduced is the height, down 20mm on the previous versions to create better aerodynamics.

We got to test the new car on the Fuji Speedway test track in Japan, perhaps not the natural home for a hybrid family car. Nonetheless the big news from behind the wheel is that Toyota has tackled two of the biggest bugbears of the current model: a whining engine when you kick down on the throttle, and lacklustre handling.

Tight corners

Starting out the car glides away on electric power before flipping seamlessly to its 1.8-litre petrol engine. The CVT automatic gearbox has never been a favourite of mine, but it does mean there’s no time lag between changes.

On the long straight I push the throttle to the floor and prepare for the high-pitched whine that curses the current Prius when you demand full power. The good news is on this new model a lot more attention has gone into reducing the whine, or at least keeping it out of the cabin. It’s still there in the background, but it’s much more couched than before.

Into the first few corners and the car feels heavy but well balanced. Even for Toyota’s highly-regarded engineers, the underpinnings of this hybrid are a four-cylinder petrol engine up front and a nickel-metal hydride battery pack on the rear axle.

Yet this is a far more refined offering than in the past, poised in corners and impressive through the coned slalom part of the track. Kick down again for a hill climb and battery power joins petrol push to maintain a constant momentum up the hill.

We’ve continually complained in the past about the engine noise and relative unresponsiveness when you pushed a Prius to the brink in acceleration. Toyota executives have always countered that in real life no one drives that aggressively in a Prius. The debate seems more redundant now as the issues don’t seem to be as prevalent in this Prius.

Buddhist approach

While performance has been improved - with 0-100km/h times of 106 seconds and 80km/h to 100km/h overtaking time of 8.3 seconds – and handling is noticeably better, this car encourages a relaxed driving style.

It’s about comfort during the commute or long journey. That’s also reflected in the open uncluttered cabin. The new Prius takes the traditional traits of the hybrid and adds a touch of quality and family functionality to the mix.

For Toyota, hybrids are now part of the mainstream model mix, offered in everything from the Yaris upwards. They’re no longer the preserve of the eco-evangelist and the recent scandal over diesel emissions is making motorists rethink their engine needs. This Prius is rightfully a mainstream family car consideration now.

Hybrids have rightly been criticised for overplaying fuel economy. The reality is if you are a high-mileage motorist spending most of your driving time on motorways then you are effectively running on a petrol engine and would be better off with a diesel.

However for the majority of Irish motorists, average car usage is in suburban traffic. Here hybrid works well and you may even be able to hit that magical 94mpg figure.

Practically-minded motorists who make decisions based on cash concerns should be lured by the impressive fuel economy and price. The increased space and refinement of the Prius will also help. Finally, the reduction in engine noise will appease us motoring hacks. We’d still love it to be quieter and ideally feature a plug-in recharging option as well – one for the future? – but what we have here is a very strong package.

All in all, starting at €31,450 the new Prius should lead to a major increase in the number on our roads from 2016.

The lowdown: Toyota Prius Engine: 1,797cc 98bhp four-cylinder in-line petrol engine putting out 142Nm of torque @ 3,2000rpm and combined with a 72hp electric motor powered by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack.

Fuel consumption: 3 l/100km (94mpg)

0-100km/h: 10.6 seconds

Price: Starting at €31,450