The Toyota Prius is the world’s favourite hybrid, having found 3.5m homes since Toyota produced the first almost 20 years ago. But now everyone else is doing hybrids too, what has the original done to stay ahead?
What’s new about Prius v4.0?
This is the first car to use Toyota’s TNGA (Toyota Next Generation Architecture) that can be configured to suit numerous different models. That means it’s got a stiff new bodyshell and is the first Prius to ditch the cheap torsion beam rear end for a more sophisticated independent arrangement.
What, no flying function? No re-forestation ability? The original Prius was a bit of a trail blazer, but are you telling me this one is resting on its laurels?
It’s true that the Prius formula is sounding rather, well, formulaic. The Atkinson-cycle 1.8-litre petrol engine gets another outing with some minor changes, although it’s mated to a more compact transmission. And while some other markets’ cars come with lithium ion batteries, UK cars are sticking with the nickel metal hydride type that are less energy-dense but help keep the car affordable.
The Prius has really only ever appealed to misers and people who spend their holidays untangling Dolphins from fishing nets. What’s the new Prius got up its sleeve to win over someone who doesn’t actually hate cars?
Well, the interior quality is light years better this time, for a start. The dash and door materials feel distinctly upmarket, the sloping console has gone, freeing up more cabin space and the visibility is much better.
It’s also massively more refined whether you’re talking about ride comfort, road and wind noise or that awful strained mooing noise the Prius has always made (and still does, just less vocally).
But the real surprise is how well it handles. Clearly we’re not talking Golf R jollies here, but if you’ve driven the outgoing car you’ll be amazed at the better body control and steering that’s not only pleasingly accurate, but almost a whole turn quicker between the lockstops.
We drove old and new back to back on a handling course then threaded the new one down a twisty Californian mountain road that would have had us begging for a puncture reprieve in Prius 3. We’re not talking class-leading dynamics, but there are plenty of ordinary non-hybrid family cars that are a whole lot less satisfying to drive.
Why might I still hate it and just buy a diesel Golf instead?
It’s claimed to be the most aerodynamic car on sale, but it’s not the most handsome of machines. Toyota says it was responding to customer demand for more dynamic styling, but to our eyes the old car looked better.
Also, the EV mode is still poor. The electric-only range is tiny and the petrol engine is so desperate to cut in you have to stand on the right pedal like water boatman landing on a pond to keep the spark plugs idle.
And when the engine does fire, the drivetrain has all the charisma of a paving slab, and similar performance. Zero to 62mph takes 10.6sec, which is actually 0.2sec longer than before. We know that’s not the point of a Prius, but it would be nice if we could make decent progress while we’re making the world a better place.
But just how much better will the world be? How green is the new Prius?
Greener than the cucumber, avocado and kale smoothies you no longer need to love to want the world’s best selling hybrid. The old car returned a claimed 72mpg and emitted 89g/km. The new one improves that to 94mpg and 70g/km, an impressive achievement. Meanwhile, back in the real world, the official US economy figures say 62mpg (when extrapolated to take account of our bigger gallon) and we saw the equivalent of 60mpg in normal driving.
Anything else worth mentioning?
The base price rises from £19,995 to £23,295 but UK cars come jammed with far more kit as standard, including LED lights, electric seats and a full suite of safety gizmos including adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking. Higher-spec models get a colour head-up display and wireless phone charger (for Android phones).
Aside from impressive eco numbers that will make it a massive company car hit, the big news here is how much more appealing the new Prius is to those who don’t begrudge putting fuel in our cars or lie awake fretting about the melting ice caps.