The Prius

The Prius III hy­brid now drives like a real car, writes PAUL GOVER

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Special Report -

PRINCE Charles Toy­ota Prius. Pa­tron­age from Bri­tain’s green prince tells you ev­ery­thing about where Toy­ota’s ecow­ar­rior has been, but noth­ing about where it’s go­ing.

Prius III, which ar­rives in Aus­tralian show­rooms next week, has ad­vanced from a so­cial and sci­ence ex­per­i­ment into a real car for real peo­ple.

Hol­ly­wood celebri­ties will still drive one to prove they care, and Charles Wind­sor is al­most cer­tain to up­grade, but the world’s largest car­maker plans to con­vert more than 300,000 or­di­nary own­ers from more than twice as many coun­tries as the old model was sold to.

The big­gest change to the Prius is well hid­den and shows im­por­tant new think­ing: it is ef­fec­tively twinned with the Corolla and RAV4.

Shar­ing plat­form parts with the com­pact su­per sell­ers has cut costs for Prius, but also made it into a real car with a no-ex­cuses driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

The price for Prius III has risen a lit­tle, start­ing at $39,900 and top­ping at $53,500, but value is bet­ter. The ba­sic car even gets a heads-up in­stru­ment dis­play, key­less en­try and start and seven airbags. The top-line i-Tech model is re­ally loaded, with a


a so­lar-pow­ered ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem to re­duce cabin tem­per­a­tures when the car is parked, an au­to­matic park­ing sys­tem, pre-crash safety pack­age, dy­namic cruise con­trol and LED head­lamps.

But the real work has gone into the ba­sics. The petrol en­gine has grown to 1.8-litres, the hy­brid sys­tem is 90 per cent new — and smaller with dozens of fresh patents, to­tal power is up 100kW, fuel use is of­fi­cially 3.9 litres/100km and CO2 emis­sions are 89g/1km.

‘‘Our phi­los­o­phy is we can take a com­plex project and achieve a sim­ple, el­e­gant so­lu­tion. The essence of this is noth­ing is dif­fi­cult; it’s just peo­ple who make things dif­fi­cult,’’ Prius chief en­gi­neer Ak­i­hiko Ot­suka says.

He is in Syd­ney for the Aus­tralian press preview and happy to talk about ev­ery­thing from the 1000 en­gi­neers who worked on the car to the need to fo­cus on a bet­ter driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

‘‘Cus­tomers told us they wanted more per­for­mance. We also im­proved fuel econ­omy by re­view­ing the en­tire ve­hi­cle de­sign, es­pe­cially the aero­dy­namic char­ac­ter­is­tics,’’ he says

In the en­gine room it meant a com­plete lack of drive belts — and elec­tric air­con­di­tion­ing, power steer­ing and wa­ter pump. Drag was re­duced to 0.25, a fig­ure matched only by the new Mercedes E-Class coupe.

Weight has risen a lit­tle but changes in­clude eco-plas­tics in some ar­eas, a big­ger boot, more space for three adults in the back seat and three driv­ing modes, from elec­tric to a gen­uine power set­ting.

The new-de­sign Prius looks al­most iden­ti­cal to the out­go­ing car, un­til you put them side by side. Then the new car looks more ad­ven­tur­ous and trendy, not just around the re­shaped nose but even in the side pro­file. The high­est point of the roof has been moved back to give more head space in the cabin.

The third-gen­er­a­tion Prius will never be a big seller in Aus­tralia, only 4500 cars a year, but it has al­ready re­newed in­ter­ested in hy­brids and trig­gered a lot of diesel-ver­sus-hy­brid

‘‘ Com­pa­nies such as Honda, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Ford and even Fer­rari are em­brac­ing hy­brid tech­nol­ogy,’’ says Ot­suka, leav­ing out Porsche from the com­pa­nies cur­rently com­mit­ted.

Prius III also points to Aus­tralia’s forth­com­ing first lo­cal hy­brid, the Camry, which will adopt a sim­i­lar Hy­brid Syn­ergy Drive sys­tem and un­der­cut the hy­brid flag bearer on price with more space.

Toy­ota Aus­tralia be­lieves the new Prius will win buy­ers from all sorts of other cars, and not just peo­ple who want to fly the green flag.

‘‘They’re con­cerned about the en­vi­ron­ment, yet they are in­ter­ested in more than just fuel econ­omy,’’ Toy­ota Aus­tralia’s head of sales and mar­ket­ing, Dave But­tner, says. ‘‘Ev­ery­thing is a sub­tle state­ment about what they stand for. They’ll shop at lo­cal mar­kets and re­cy­cle ev­ery­thing, but they’re not eco war­riors. They have the lat­est gear, such as an iPhone and iQ, but they’re not tech nerds.’’

The big­gest test for Prius III will come when Honda launches its bor­na­gain In­sight next year, with a price ad­van­tage that could be as much as $10,000. Toy­ota be­lieves it will have the edge on size and have a more­so­phis­ti­cated hy­brid sys­tem, but says it is happy to have more com­pa­nies push­ing the hy­brid drive.

Prius III is still not a sports car, but it has gen­uinely com­pli­ant sus­pen­sion, good cor­ner­ing grip, and a pow­er­pack with real punch.

It’s still hy­brid su­per-quiet, and you can drib­ble around the park­ing lot in si­lent elec­tric stealth mode, but put your foot down and the elec­tri­cally boosted 1.8-litre en­gine gives a sur­pris­ing kick.

The hard­est thing about driv­ing the Prius briskly is over­com­ing the be­lief you should al­ways put econ­omy first in a hy­brid car.

Fuel ef­fi­ciency is still one of the

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