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.
* 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