Toyota Prius review
The Prius is a true environmental champ, but the styling won't be to everybody's tastes
Thanks in part to the new platform and development of its petrol-electric hybrid powertrain, the new Prius is more fun and quieter to drive than ever before, but is also more environmentally friendly.
It was named our 2016 Green Car of the Year as improvements in electric motor and battery technology see the new Prius offering impressive emissions and mpg figures in official tests. It’s also more spacious inside but that bold exterior styling won’t be to everyone’s taste.
Arguably Toyota’s most famous car, the Prius is also the world’s best-selling hybrid. Since its launch in 1997, more than 3.5 million of them have been sold and the car has introduced a large number of people to hybrid technology in a mainstream car for the first time.
With most car manufacturers now offering hybrids in their model ranges, hybrid is no longer exclusive technology for Toyota, as was the case back in 1997. But most car manufacturers offer petrol-electric hybrid technology as an option in cars that are also powered by conventional petrol and diesel engines (like the Volkswagen Golf and Toyota’s own, more conventional Auris hatchback). That means the Prius is unique in the marketplace as being a standalone hybrid product – that is only for the time being though, as Kia and Hyundai are readying dedicated hybrid models of their own.
The Prius’ appeal extends far and wide with both private and fleet buyers all being advocates of the hybrid hatchback. Thanks to its low day-to-day running costs, long-term servicing and repair bills and strong reliability record, the Prius is a hit with fleets large and small – and in particular taxi and minicab firms in cities with emissions-based charging structures like London.
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The new, fourth-generation Prius is built on a brand new chassis based on Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA). Known as the GA-C platform, the Prius is the first car to use it and in time it will underpin other models in the range. The base architecture will be joined by further platforms for compact sports cars and SUVs. Think of the platform as being similar to Volkswagen’s MQB platform – which is used by VW, Audi, Skoda and SEAT – and you won’t be too far wrong.
Engines, performance and drive
Fundamental to the new Prius is a brand new platform that will be used in a range of new models in the future. Due to cost savings in rolling out the same platform to various models, Toyota has been able to invest in making it extremely high-tech from the outset.
One of the biggest benefits is that the new platform is more dynamic, giving the Prius an agility on the road that previous models could only ever dream of. It’s backed up with light steering that gives more feedback and accuracy than previous Prius models, strong brakes and less body roll. Don’t go thinking the new Prius has become a sporting saloon or hatchback like the BMW 3 Series plug-in hybrid or Volkswagen Golf GTE overnight, though. It’s still noticeably lagging behind those cars, but it is a vast improvement on the slightly soggy handling of previous Prius models.
The new Prius is also more refined to drive than before thanks to increased sound insulation, a new CVT (continuously variable transmission) gearbox, that doesn’t ask the engine to rev as much as before, and the hybrid system spending more time running on silent electric power.
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Around town the Prius often uses electric power alone to zip around the streets, but head outside of the city, and the petrol engine kicks in. The transition between electric and petrol power is near silent with only the real noise intrusion into the cabin being from the super-eco tyres. Like the outgoing model, the new Prius has three distinct driving modes – ‘normal’ gives a suitable balance between fuel economy and throttle responsiveness; ‘eco’ optimises the powertrain and air conditioning to save fuel; while ‘Power’ mode gives more acceleration.
As in the old model, the Prius’s hybrid system features a 97bhp 1.8-litre VVT-i petrol engine. However, the unit has been re-engineered to deliver significantly better fuel economy – the Prius will return 94.1mpg on the combined cycle in certain versions. While that might seem hugely optimistic for real world driving, mpg figures in the high-70s and early-80s should be achievable. co2 emissions are low too – Toyota says 70g/km but that depends on the size of alloy wheels fitted.
The combined petrol engine and electric motor power output is 121bhp, allowing the Prius to cover the 0-62mph sprint in a reasonable 10.6 seconds. City driving is where the Prius is most at home as it can rely upon its electric motors adding zip to its performance but it’s less comfortable at high speed. On the motorway, for instance, overtaking acceleration from 50 to 75mph takes a slow 8.3 seconds, while the top speed is only 112mph.
The new model is also the first Prius that can pull a trailer – it has a 725kg towing capacity (braked and unbraked).
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The main reason you would buy a Prius is that it’s a hybrid and, in theory, a hybrid equals great running costs. The new Prius certainly delivers impressive mpg andco figures on paper – combined mpg is a claimed 94.1 on cars with 15-inch wheels while 17-inch alloys decrease this to 85.6. Meanwhile co2 emissions are 70g/km (15-inch wheels) and 76g/km (17-inch wheels), which means zero road tax and all models, whatever size of wheel is fitted, are London Congestion Charge exempt.
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Whether you’ll reach anywhere near those claimed economy figures will depend entirely on how and where you drive your Prius. The Prius is a common sight in big cities like London, which should give you a clue as to the best environment for the car. For those who commute mostly in and around the city, you should be able to hit in excess of 70mpg if you are light with the throttle and use EV mode often. However, if you use a lot of motorways or fast a- and b-roads, you’ll be looking at around 50mpg.
Long-term running costs have been particularly good on older Prius models and the new one should be no different. The Prius has earned itself a reputation – especially from fleets – for being cheaper to run than conventional cars in some cases. Due to it being a hybrid, owners have reported replacing fewer consumable items like brake pads compared to normal petrol-engined cars.
Our experts have yet to calculate residuals for the latest Toyota Prius, but we expect them to be high. It’s also expected in the next three years once the Prius has entered the used car market, second hand prices will be high in cities like London as the Prius is viewed as a favourite amongst minicab and private hire businesses.
Interior, design and technology
If you thought the outside of the Toyota Prius was wacky, the inside is just as mad. Toyota has continued the styling theme into the cabin with a shapely, futuristic design.
The Prius is not a sports car, the dashboard doesn’t wrap itself around the driver; it doesn’t feel cosy for either front seat occupant. Instead it feels like you’re on the deck of a spaceship. With an upper screen containing all sorts of info like the hybrid system seemingly floating in mid air, it’s a tranquil place to be – especially when the car is running in full electric mode.
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In the centre is a touchscreen infotainment system. It runs Toyota’s Touch 2 system which is very easy to use; the only real complaint is that like the Auris, there are touch-sensitive buttons around the screen for different menus and functions, but they need a firm prod to work and sometimes require you to take your eyes of the road to operate them.
There are some clever touches inside too like the passenger air vent – it only blows air when it senses a passenger sitting there, otherwise it shuts off saving fuel. The driving position is greatly improved over older Prius models – the seats are firm but supportive and thanks to plenty of adjustment in the seat and in the steering column, it’s easy to get comfortable.
Overall cabin quality is improved over previous Prius models. The upper part of the dashboard is covered in squidgy soft-touch plastic on ‘Business Edition’ models and above, but from the middle to low parts of the cabin, there are lots of the scratchy plastics. It feels well screwed together but we’d guess it wouldn’t take too long for some of the materials to mark.
There are just three trim levels. ‘Active’ may be the entry grade but it’s well equipped, and comes with dual-zone climate control, keyless entry (driver’s door) and start, Toyota Touch 2, DAB radio, driver’s seat electric lumbar adjustment, adaptive cruise control, road sign assist, lane departure alert, automatic high beam lights and forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking. There are also 15-inch alloy wheels and LED headlights.
‘Business Edition’ is, unsurprisingly, aimed at business users and adds the plusher, soft-touch plastic interior, a wireless phone charger, a colour head-up display, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, heated front seats, a leather-covered steering wheel and auto-dimming rear view mirror.
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‘Business Edition Plus’ comes with 17-inch alloys, Toyota Touch 2 with Go (sat-nav), park assist and front and rear parking sensors, while top-drawer ‘Excel’ is more designed for the private buyer and has leather seats, an upgraded JBL stereo, rain-sensing wipers and an upgraded Touch 2 system with sat-nav and more internet connectivity functions.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The Prius comes as standard with Toyota Touch 2 and DAB radio. It’s one of the simplest systems to use on the market with logically laid out menus. The screen is also large and very easy to read thanks to a sharp resolution, and has a ‘drag and flick’ control for intuitive operation.
Toyota Touch 2 is also ‘MirrorLink’-ready allowing you to connect your mobile phone and then operate them entirely from the system’s touch screen.
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‘Business Edition’ and models above come with Toyota Touch 2 with Go and Toyota Touch 2 with Go Plus. The first adds sat-nav that includes speed camera warnings, automatic zoom, motorway signposting and motorway junction views. It also hooks up to the internet and offers on-board connectivity to an expanded range of services including Toyota Real-Time Traffic powered by TomTom, Google Street View and Panoramio, and Google Local Search.
Owners can also sign up to the MyToyota customer portal that allows users to plan their journeys online and then downloaded them into the car. Meanwhile Touch 2 with Go Plus adds maps with 3D city models, landmark graphics, a ‘text-to-speech’ message readout facility and a wi-fi hotspot.
Only range-topping Excel models come with the upgraded premium JBL sound system, and it’s not available on other models even as an option.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Storage is decent in the Prius. The white tray in the centre console is a good place to store smartphones and in ‘Business Edition’ models and above this tray inductively charges phones. The glovebox is large enough for a one-litre bottle of water and under the armrest between the two front seats is a large cubby that can store all sorts of things like sweets and other paraphernalia.
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It’s spacious up front thanks to plenty of headroom and a dashboard that sits away from the driver. In the back, however, while kneeroom is good and you can fit three people at a squeeze, headroom isn’t the best. This is due to Toyota relocating the Prius’s battery from the boot to under the rear seat. Consequently the rear seats sit high and with the sloping roofline, this means headroom is reduced. It’s a shame Toyota didn’t think more about this especially given Prius’s popularity with taxi drivers.
There is some better news though – it now means the boot is larger. There’s 502 litres with the seats up (457 with a space saver spare wheel) and this grows to 1,633 litres with the seats down. The boot area is also wide and square with no awkward protrusions spoiling the space on offer.
Reliability and Safety
In that time the technology has proven itself to be incredibly reliable and any worries about the batteries will be put at ease by the fact that some of the very first Prius models are still going strong. Moreover, the Lexus IS – which uses a near identical hybrid system as the Prius – came out on top in the 2015 Driver Power survey.
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All Prius models come with seven airbags and Toyota’s comprehensive Safety Sense system, which is comprised of radar-governed adaptive cruise control (which maintains a safe distance to the car in front and can even bring the Prius to a halt in necessary), pre-collision brake assist, lane departure warning, automatic high beam, road sign and assist. ‘Business Edition’ models also get a blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert, while ‘Business Edition Plus’ and ‘Excel’ get park assist.
Like all Toyotas, the Prius comes with a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty; a five-year warranty for the hybrid system; a 12-year anti-corrosion and perforation warranty and a three-year paintwork and surface rust warranty.
For the Prius, you can also extend the five-year hybrid warranty by an extra year or 10,000 miles (which ever comes first) and this can be renewed up to the 10th anniversary of the car’s registration with no limit on total mileage.
Toyota offers a range of service packs for its models as well as fixed-price servicing which really helps those on a tight budget. The Prius also gets a free hybrid system check with ever service.
Toyota’s dealers also finished eighth in the 2015 Driver Power survey with the brand getting an 86.97 per cent rating, so you’re in safe hands.