The light of the charger bri­gade

Herald Sun - Cars Guide - - SHORT CUT - PETER BARN­WELL CUTS TO THE CHASE

VALUE

En­try level doesn’t have to mean bare bones, as is the case with the new Toy­ota Prius. You might not get the leather trim, blind-spot mon­i­tor and heated seats of the more ex­pen­sive i-Tech model but there is plenty to jus­tify the price. Sat­nav is avail­able, streamed through your phone. It’s ex­pen­sive when com­pared to Toy­ota’s own Camry and Corolla hy­brids but it’s well equipped. Capped price ser­vic­ing is $840 over three years and there is ex­tra­or­di­nary fuel econ­omy at 3.4L/100km (on reg­u­lar un­leaded). The aero­dy­nam­i­cally ef­fi­cient new body has in­te­rior space for five and the large lug­gage area can be ex­panded with rear seats folded flat.

COM­FORT

It’s al­most Lexus quiet. The 1.8-litre engine is as­sisted by an elec­tric mo­tor when ac­cel­er­at­ing hard or cruis­ing on a light throt­tle. Elec­tric-only mode is prac­ti­cally silent but gives only about 2km of range. Im­proved sound dead­en­ing re­duces road noise. Toy­ota tuned the sus­pen­sion for lo­cal roads and there is a good com­pro­mise be­tween ride com­fort and han­dling, aided by su­pe­rior dou­ble wish­bone rear sus­pen­sion. Sup­port­ive seats have plenty of ad­just­ment, con­trols are easy to op­er­ate and large front doors make ac­cess easy. The cli­mate con­trol air­con works quickly and ef­fi­ciently. Toy­ota fits the base Prius with de­cent in­fo­tain­ment and con­nec­tiv­ity, with Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto to stream your phone and there is 10-speaker au­dio. Three screens con­vey info such as fuel con­sump­tion, range and re­gen­er­a­tive brake ef­fi­ciency.

SAFETY

The Prius gets five stars, seven airbags in­clud­ing a driver’s knee bag plus lane de­par­ture alert, ac­tive cruise con­trol and pre­c­ol­li­sion safety. The smaller, lighter bat­tery is safely un­der the rear seat. New, brighter head­lights with auto high-beam markedly im­prove vi­sion at night. The low bon­net and rear view cam­era are handy. All the gear helps you avoid a crash rather than just sur­vive it.

DRIV­ING

In econ­omy mode, the Prius feels as if it has a sock in the ex­haust. In nor­mal or power modes, it’s a dif­fer­ent beast and sur­pris­ingly re­spon­sive. We re­turned 4.2L/100km but that was on mostly coun­try roads. Prius does bet­ter in city driv­ing thanks to engine stop-start and re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing. The con­stantly vari­able trans­mis­sion feels more like a con­ven­tional auto and, with im­proved dy­nam­ics, new Prius isn’t the dullard it used to be. The skinny 15-inch tyres are de­signed more for fuel econ­omy than out­right grip. There are a zippy engine, a com­fort­able and con­trolled ride, im­proved steer­ing and strong if slightly noisy brakes. You can go a fort­night be­tween trips to the servo. Peo­ple stare — it looks edgy from all an­gles.

VER­DICT

At a time of in­creas­ing pres­sure on fam­ily bud­gets, grow­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns and the need for more prac­ti­cal, safe and af­ford­able ve­hi­cles, the Prius makes a strong ar­gu­ment — the Camry and Corolla hy­brid sta­ble­mates re­spond to those de­mands and cost much less.

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