Toyota Prius Hatchback review (2004-2009)
Toyota is a fine effort and a tribute to the company's engineers. Yet the hybrid isn't sophisticated enough to beat the best diesel hatches
Driving: The Prius is one of the cleverest cars you can buy. When you start it up, the hybrid powertrain runs on electric power only, the 1.5-litre engine starting quietly up as you move away. However, it does become noisy as you accelerate hard - though this is as much to do with the CVT gearbox, which keeps the motor spinning at high revs. It keeps up easily with urban and motorway traffic. However, while it's comfortable on most surfaces and contains body roll reasonably well, the Prius can't compete with the class leaders as the ride is harsher around town. Some more compliancy over mid-corner bumps would also be welcome.
Marketplace: The Prius is one of the most distinctive vehicles on sale today, boasting a fresh look, courtesy of the upright headlights and smooth bonnet and bumpers. The large glass area helps, but the car also appears sleek and coupe-line when viewed from the side, because of the rakish roof angle. Only a single powertrain is offered - the hybrid set-up that is the reason for this car's very existence. It comes in three well-equipped trim levels, with enough equipment to justify the car's rather high list prices.
Owning: The interior is as futuristic as the exterior, but the Japanese firm has been careful to pay attention to the practical needs of the modern motorist. There are cupholders everywhere, and the glovebox is a clever split-level console, offering twice the capacity of a normal one. The boot is vast, too, while the dash is also impressive. Steering wheel-mounted controls are the most distinctive feature. You can operate everything from the air con to the radio, so rarely need to take your eyes off the road. Rear legroom is OK but the sloping roofline restricts headroom. Similarly, the driving position is compromised, as you sit too far away from the steering wheel, and a little too high. As for fuel efficiency, city drivers will be delighted. Urban economy, thanks to extensive use of battery power instead of the petrol motor, gives it a 20mpg boost over even the best turbodiesels, though the Toyota's advantage is eroded on the open road. It's exempt from the London Congestion Charge and ultra-low CO2 emissions will also please company car drivers. Retained values are high and servicing costs low, while even the insurance rating is competitive. High list price apart, it's hard to fault the cost of running a Prius.