High-quality interiors with superior styling
The Toyota Prius has been the go-to eco-friendly car since it was first introduced 20 years ago. However, with lowering emissions a key agenda for the whole automotive industry, it now has more hybrid and all-electric rivals than ever. Last year it the fourth generation was introduced with wild new styling and even better economy.
Power comes from a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine mated to an electric motor to improve economy. The motor is used at lower speeds and to assist the engine under acceleration to take some of the load off, thus improve economy – the result is a claimed 94mpg on the combined cycle. In real-world driving we managed 62mpg, which is still very respectable.
As more-premium manufacturers such as Audi and Volkswagen have entered the hybrid market, there are more refined hybrids out there. However, with the latest Prius, Toyota has done a great job of closing the gap – the previous car felt a bit cheap and nasty thanks to scratchy plastics and lightweight materials, but the new car more than holds its own.
Where this is most apparent is on the motorway, where road noise is much less obvious. The CVT transmission, which doesn't actually use traditional gears, still feels 'elastic' under acceleration, but it's much less obvious than in older Toyota hybrids. Meanwhile, few hybrids switch between electric and engine as imperceptibly as the Prius.
Where it is perhaps let down a bit is performance. A family hatchback like this doesn't need to be fast, but other hybrids take advantage of the punchy torque an electric motor provides to make inner-city driving easier – the Prius feels sluggish by comparison.
As the car that made hybrid driving popular, the latest Prius has a lot of expectations to meet, and for the most part it's successful. The bold styling might be divisive, but for low-emission, low-cost motoring it's up there with the best of them. The fact it's more refined than ever for those on board makes it a compelling prospect.
The Toyota Prius is fairly expensive to buy – starting at £24,115 for the basic model it's fairly good value, but the top-spec Excel trim at more than £28,000 feels a touch too pricey. That said, low running costs help offset that – we managed 62mpg without really trying, so if you learn how to make the most of regenerative braking and drive in town regularly then 70mpg is feasible.
The interior is extremely spacious for passengers in both the front and back, which will be great news particularly to those who drive private hire vehicles and are looking to upgrade their Prius. Boot space is acceptable but nothing to write home about – at 500 litres it's pretty much bang on for this segment, with better battery packaging meaning the boot is more spacious than ever before in a Prius.
Those new to the Prius might be confused by the staggered dashboard screens – the instruments usually found behind the wheel are mounted in the centre. It doesn't take long to get used to, but doesn't feel as intuitive as the traditional layout. The screens themselves are quite low resolution but do a decent job of displaying information.
While road noise has been drastically reduced compared with previous Prius models, those who travel long distances regularly might find that the subtle roar becomes a bit annoying. However, for shorter journeys the seats are more than comfortable enough, while the silence of the electric motor helps you get to your destination in a relaxed mood.
To help protect the car from being stolen, the Prius is fitted with basic security equipment. It has an immobiliser with an alarm system and remote central door locking all available as standard.
The Prius comes with plenty of safety equipment as standard, including lots of front passengers airbags, whiplash-lessening seats and Toyota's semi-autonomous collision prevention system. Driver aids include vehicle stability control, traction control and ABS. In Euro NCAP crash testing the Prius received the full five-star rating, with an impressive 92 per cent for its adult occupancy safety.
Car enthusiasts would be better served looking elsewhere. There's very little driving appeal to the Prius, though its quiet inner-city credentials make it ideal for those who do regular short trips. Other hybrids do this with more refinement, though – the Prius' image is built on eco-friendly credentials not driveability.
The Toyota Prius would make the ideal family car for a number of reasons. Not only is it cheap to run, it's plenty spacious enough in the cabin with more than enough boot space available for family outings. The interior materials also feel like they could stand up to a life of being knocked and scraped by youngsters.
While it's relatively big, the Prius would make an excellent first car. The low running costs associated with hybrid motoring will make it mighty appealing, while the lack of performance is well-suited to those who are inexperienced behind the wheel.
One aspect where the Prius feels like it's lacking is interior quality – it's much better than before but it still feels some way behind its rivals. The lightweight, eco-friendly ethos goes some way to justifying this, but it's a long way from being 'premium'. Meanwhile its image goes two ways – car enthusiasts look down their noses at it, but environmentally conscious people love what the Prius stands for.
Its relatively large size makes the Prius much easier to get into and out of than some in this segment. The doors open wide and feature large apertures, while the seat cushions are relatively high removing the need to drop down into the seat. The driving position is okay, but taller drivers might find the limited steering wheel adjustment awkward.
Toyota's Touch 2 multimedia system is available as standard on the Prius and offers a decent number of functions such as Bluetooth connectivity and DAB radio. Sound quality is pretty average though – there's not a great deal of bass, and turning it up in the settings leads to distortion. Opt for the top-spec Excel trim and the sound system is upgraded to a 10-speaker JBL set-up, which much improves matters.
The range of colours on offer in the Prius is relatively limited. The only free colour is white, with a shinier Pearl White available for £795. Other colours include blue, black, grey and silver for a £545 premium, and red for £795. The latter was on our test car, and we highly recommend it if the extra cost isn't too off-putting. The interior trim is much improved over the previous generation, though it does still feel a bit cheap compared with some rivals.
Parking the Toyota Prius is pretty easy, though it is deceptively big. Fortunately, there's a reversing camera fitted as standard across the range, while the top-spec trim gets parking sensors front and rear included. These are optional extras on other trims. Due to its deceptive length, they do come in useful in tight spots.
Emergency tyre repair kit supplied as standard.
Petrol engine options: 1.8-litre petrol-electric hybrid (97bhp). Diesel engine options: N/A. Transmission options: CVT. Trim levels: Active, Business Edition, Business Edition Plus, Excel.