Prius plugs in power
Toyota has made huge improvements to its new hybrid model, writes PAUL GOVER
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.