The light of the charger brigade
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.