Toyota Prius +

3 Jun, 2011 7:00pm Peter Lyon

New seven-seat hybrid promises to build on the success of big-selling hatch.


A SEVEN-seat Prius boasting super-low running costs sounds like a winning formula on paper – and the newest addition to Toyota’s hybrid range stacks up equally well on the road. The extra seating, space and comfort will appeal to families looking for an alternative to a regular MPV. Although the price appears high, it’s in the same bracket as a Ford S-MAX, which doesn’t benefit from road tax-free motoring.

IT would be an understatement 
to say that hybrid cars are serious business at Toyota. Amazingly, 14 years have passed since the first Prius arrived on the market, and Japan’s leading manufacturer is so happy with the two million 
global sales of its petrol-electric hatchback that it now plans to expand the Prius line-up. And rumour has it, create its own Prius brand in the process.

At the base of Mount Fuji, Japan, Auto Express had the chance to try the first new 
addition to the Prius range. And this new, bigger Prius+ might 
just be the car Toyota should have launched all those years ago. Why? Simply put, the new seven-seater MPV answers all 
of the criticisms that have been aimed at the standard version over the past decade.

It’s bigger, has more head 
and legroom, boasts improved luggage space and is better to drive. We think it’s more pleasing on the eye, too, with the higher roofline and MPV-style tailgate providing the appearance of a modern-day people carrier.

Those extra dimensions 
make all the difference inside. The Prius+ is 155mm longer, 30mm wider and 110mm taller than the standard model, while the wheelbase stretches by 80mm. Obviously, you can’t enlarge a car and make it lighter and more fuel efficient at the same time. Those revisions, including the newly 
fitted lithium-ion battery pack, result in the Prius+ being 110kg heavier than the hatchback.

As result, fuel economy falls from 50mpg to around 42mpg, according to Toyota’s claims. However, emissions are likely 
to be less than 100g/km, so as with the standard car, the Prius+ will be exempt from road tax.
This, combined with the extra space on offer, will be enough for many buyers to accept the slight drop in fuel economy over the regular version.

There’s certainly 
no lack of punch, either. Power comes from the same 98bhp 
1.8-litre petrol engine/battery-electric set-up as in the hatch. And due to revisions to the final drive ratio, this combination means the seven-seater can sprint from 0-60mph in the 
same time of 10.4 seconds.

The longer wheelbase has helped the Prius+ make some significant leaps forward in terms of driver appeal. For a start, the steering is more precise. Chief engineer Hiroshi Kayukawa told us: “By giving the front springs and dampers their own bushings and replacing the front aluminium knuckles with rigid steel items, we’ve improved the handling.”

But his secret weapon is a new gadget called Pitch and Bounce Control. This allows the electric motor to increase or reduce torque output to cleverly counterbalance imperfections in the road. As a result, the Prius+ remains flat and more stable in corners. It’s no Ford S-MAX, so keen 
drivers should look elsewhere, but the set-up makes it a very comfortable car to drive, and 
be driven in. Bigger brakes help to inspire confidence, too.

The extra room makes the Prius+ more comfortable over longer family trips, while the 
luggage area provides a similar amount of space to the Ford: 
971 litres with the seats in place, or 1,897 litres with them folded.
In fact, the only issue we see with the car could be its price. Customers will be expected to pay a £3,000 premium over the hatch, taking it to nearly £24,000.

Key specs

* Price: £23,850 (est)
* Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl petrol-electric hybrid, 98bhp
* Transmission: CVT automatic, front-wheel drive
* 0-60mph: 10.4 seconds
* Top speed: 110mph (est)
* Combined economy: 42.8mpg
* CO2: Sub-100g/km
* Equipment: Bluetooth connectivity, climate control, cruise control, rear parking sensors, alloy wheels
* On sale: 2012