Prius plugs in power

Toy­ota has made huge im­prove­ments to its new hy­brid model, writes PAUL GOVER

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page -

SO MUCH has changed since the first Toy­ota Prius hit the road. For a start, Toy­ota now makes a profit on its hy­brid hero, in­stead of the es­ti­mated $2500 it lost on ev­ery first­gen­er­a­tion Prius it sold.

The car it­self is very dif­fer­ent from both the orig­i­nal and the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion car, which shares a sim­i­lar shape and packaging.

To­day’s Prius is — as I have said be­fore — much more of a car and far less of an ex­per­i­ment. It gets along well, has gen­uine sus­pen­sion and cor­ner­ing abil­ity, and is eas­ily used for day-to-day jobs.

Prius III is rel­a­tively costly from $39,900 when com­pared with sim­i­lar-sized reg­u­lar cars, but you can buy it for rea­sons be­yond a green state­ment. And it is ter­rific to watch the fuel econ­omy hov­er­ing be­low 5 litres for 100km on a stop-start city crawl, and to feel it idling along as an elec­tric car at a time when big SUVs are at their pol­lut­ing worst.

The lat­est Prius has been to­tally re­vised, though you don’t see all the changes un­til you park it along­side the pre­vi­ous model.

The body shape is much the same, but the de­tail­ing and styling have moved well away from Prius II.

Toy­ota has even taken on a bright blue badg­ing colour for its new green car. And that is where the trou­ble starts. The green­ing of the world’s car fleet has raised more ques­tions and con­flicts than we’ve seen since the 1970s su­per­car war in Aus­tralia.

And there are no Fal­con GTHOs, To­rana XU-1s or Charger E39s to be seen.

Hy­brids are up against diesels, tiny petrol motors are be­ing touted, and every­one has a po­si­tion on their rel­a­tive ben­e­fits. Diesel peo­ple at­tack hy­brids over their raw econ­omy and bat­tery dis­posal, hy­brid peo­ple at­tack diesels over ‘‘whole of life’’ emis­sions and toxic ni­tro­gen ox­ides emis­sions, and baby petrol sup­port­ers say there is plenty to be gained from 1.2-litre tur­bo­mo­tors for the fu­ture.

But this week’s test car is the Prius, and I can say it de­liv­ers im­pres­sive econ­omy. Toy­ota says the bat­ter­ies will last 15 years and it has a plan for dis­posal. The com­pany reck­ons the over­all ‘‘green­ness’’ of the car beats a diesel af­ter a cou­ple of years.

I’m sure there will be plenty of mail on the sub­ject, but let’s move on to the rest of the Prius pack­age.

The car is a five-door hatch with seats for five adults. There is im­pres­sive new en­gi­neer­ing, which goes be­yond the lat­est bat­tery pack and tweak­ing of the trans­mis­sion.

Prius III has a 1.8-litre petrol en­gine to an­swer calls for bet­ter per­for­mance, but it has been ex­ten­sively tweaked, and there is no con­ven­tional drive belt to drain it. Ev­ery­thing that would nor­mally be pow­ered from the crank­shaft — power steer­ing, air­con­di­tion­ing, al­ter­na­tor and wa­ter pump — is worked on de­mand and with elec­tric power.

The i-Tech model has a so­lar panel in the roof that vents the cabin to re­duce heat when the car is parked in the sun.

There is much more, but this is a news­pa­per and Prius III re­quires a book. Sales in July were 446, more than 60 ahead of the Prius best in Aus­tralia. And that’s without the plug-in model be­ing de­vel­oped in Ja­pan, which will take Prius closer to the first gen­er­a­tion of al­l­elec­tric cars ex­pected here from De­cem­ber.

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