THE Toyota Prius is the poster child of the eco-friendly car scene.
What is it?
It’s been around an astonishing 20 years now, and its reputation as the friendly, low-emission face of motoring is now as strong as ever.
However, with emissions regulations getting tighter and consumers more conscious of their impact on the environment, there are now plenty of hybrid challengers for the Prius.
Can it hold its own in the face of stiff competition?
Most importantly, given that there are now some more upmarket rivals vying for Prius sales, Toyota has given its flagship hybrid a bit of a nip and tuck.
The most noticeable is what you can’t see – the doors no longer sound like they’re as thin as a tin can when they shut, while road noise has been reduced.
Meanwhile, the interior looks similar to before but slightly better materials are used.
What’s under the bonnet?
The Prius is powered by a 1.8-litre petrol engine mated to an electric motor.
Combined, they make 121bhp and contribute to a quite leisurely 0-60mph time in excess of 10 seconds. But that’s not what’s important here – when it comes to economy the Prius is one of the best in real-world conditions.
We averaged about 63mpg throughout our time with the car, but if you can keep the battery topped up and limit your drives to the inner city you could feasibly see even better than that.
Out on the open road the transition between electric running and traditional engine power is seamless, which makes driving the Prius all the more relaxing.
What’s it like to drive?
Get behind the wheel of the Prius and it’s instantly obvious that this car is not built with fun in mind.
The electric motors have been tuned to return sedate acceleration to extend their range, which quickly results in calming you down to drive it as intended.
Keep it around town and silent EV motoring makes the Prius relaxing to drive even if traffic has snarled up, while improved refinement means that even at motorway speeds road noise isn’t obtrusive.
How does it look?
Toyota clearly decided to make an impact with the new Prius because the styling is pretty wild for an economy-focused hatchback. It’s sure to prove quite Marmite, but love it or hate it, you’ve got to admire Toyota for being bold.
As for the car’s image, that depends entirely on who you ask. It’s become a symbol of derision among many car enthusiasts, but eco-conscious motorists love it. If you want to be seen to be doing your bit for the environment, few cars make that as clear as the Prius.
What’s it like inside?
Disappointingly, it’s pretty dull inside – given the extrovert exterior styling it’d be nice to have something a bit more engaging in the cabin.
However, for the most part it’s a decent upgrade from its predecessor. The buttons and knobs still feel a bit cheap and lightweight, but there are some nice soft-touch materials throughout our top-spec model.
What’s the spec like?
In Excel trim the Prius is generously equipped – as it should be at nearly £30,000.
The black leather seats are an upgrade over the cloth items but are a bit on the shiny side, while the leather steering wheel is nice to hold. Tech included on our car included wireless mobile phone charging, a handy head-up display and adaptive cruise control.
Driver aids include lane departure warning, a reversing camera, parking assist and parking sensors front and rear.
The latest Prius will be familiar ground to owners of previous models, thanks to a similar driving experience. However, it feels like – styling aside – Toyota has given the hybrid a thorough going-over, adding gradual improvements pretty much everywhere.
The result is a nicer drive and better economy.
For low-cost motoring, particularly in the inner city, the Prius is up there with the best of them.
However, if you can afford to fork out for the plug-in version and can charge it regularly, do it – you’ll see savings in the long term.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Toyota Prius Plug-in
Engine: Hybrid - 1.8-litre petrol + 8.8kwh battery
Power (bhp): 120
Torque (Nm): 142
Max speed (mph): 101
0-60mph: 11.1 seconds
Emissions (g/km): 22g/km