Speed rat­ing

A short, slow drive con­firms the qual­ity of the lat­est Prius but new tech will be miss­ing from ver­sions ar­riv­ing here

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - RICHARD BLACK­BURN CARS­GUIDE ED­I­TOR richard.black­burn@news.com.au

WHEN you travel 15,000km for a car launch, you’d ideally like to spend more than 4km be­hind the wheel. Sadly that’s what we got at the first of­fi­cial me­dia drive of the new Toy­ota Prius, the world’s best-sell­ing hy­brid.

As is of­ten the way in Ja­pan, ev­ery sec­ond of our time with the Prius was care­fully chore­ographed by the head of­fice PR ma­chine.

Even the tiny bumps on the bil­liard-ta­ble smooth test track at Ja­pan’s Mount Fuji race­way were man-made, while our pace car driver en­sured we wouldn’t drive faster than 40km/h through cor­ners. It was a strange ap­proach given the ear­lier me­dia brief­ing had fo­cused on how the new car was more fun to drive.

De­spite all the un­wanted at­ten­tion, we gleaned a few im­pres­sions, helped by the fact we were al­lowed a brief drive of the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion car be­fore the new one.

The good news is the new Prius is bet­ter. The bad news is it hasn’t changed as much as many Aus­tralian buy­ers would like.

First, the good news. The next-gen­er­a­tion Prius is qui­eter and bet­ter to drive, with a much more at­trac­tive cabin. And Toy­ota is pre­dict­ing it will be 18 per cent more ef­fi­cient than the cur­rent model.

The bad news is Aus­tralian buy­ers won’t get the more ad­vanced lithium-ion bat­tery pack avail­able to Ja­panese and US cus­tomers. Toy­ota Aus­tralia says the com­pany will stick with old-tech nickel metal hy­dride bat­ter­ies here be­cause of “avail­abil­ity” is­sues.

But a Toy­ota en­gi­neer at the Prius test drive says the lithi­u­mion bat­ter­ies have been al­lo­cated to mar­kets where fuel econ­omy is a pri­or­ity. And that’s not Aus­tralia ap­par­ently. The com­pany is coy about whether the lithium-ion pow­ered Priuses will be more fuel ef­fi­cient than the nickel metal hy­dride bat­ter­ies. How­ever, it con­firms the lithium pack is smaller and roughly 15kg lighter, suggest­ing there may be a dif­fer­ence.

Toy­ota won’t con­firm the of­fi­cial fuel consumption but says the tar­get is 40km a litre on the Ja­panese cy­cle, up from 32.6km. Based on those fig­ures, the Aus­tralian version would use 3.2L/100km, down from 3.9L.

The maker says the only dif­fer­ence be­tween the two bat­tery packs is size; out­put’s the same. How­ever, ex­perts say lithium ion bat­ter­ies last longer and charge and dis­charge faster. More im­por­tantly, com­peti­tors are in­creas­ingly offering a lithium-ion al­ter­na­tive.

Nickel bat­ter­ies are cheaper to make, though, so there is less like­li­hood of a price rise when the car is launched in Fe­bru­ary.

The nickel bat­tery isn’t the same as the ex­ist­ing one. It is now 10 per cent smaller and Toy­ota says its charg­ing per­for­mance has in­creased by 28 per cent. Both the petrol en­gine and the elec­tric mo­tor are sig­nif­i­cantly less pow­er­ful than the pre­vi­ous model. The petrol en­gine out­put drops to 72kW from 100kW and the elec­tric mo­tor is down from 73kW to 53kW.

The smaller bat­tery has al­lowed Toy­ota en­gi­neers to shift it for­ward, adding an­other 56 litres of lug­gage space to the boot. The ca­pac­ity is now more than some mid-siz­ers at 501L.

Toy­ota says the bet­ter econ­omy comes mainly from im­prov­ing the ther­mal ef­fi­ciency of the petrol en­gine. It says it has re­duced fric­tion and im­proved com­bus­tion and cool­ing.

In Ja­pan, the new model will also get Toy­ota’s lat­est driver as­sis­tance tech­nol­ogy, which in­cludes au­to­mated low-speed brak­ing with pedes­trian de­tec­tion, lane de­par­ture warn­ing, radar cruise con­trol and high beams that dip au­to­mat­i­cally. Toy­ota Aus­tralia won’t say if all or some of the tech­nol­ogy will be avail­able on lo­cal mod­els, but says the car will get a blind spot mon­i­tor and rear cross-traf­fic alert.


It may only have lasted eight kilo­me­tres but our back-to-back test was sur­pris­ingly in­struc­tive.

The new Prius cabin looks more up-mar­ket, with “pi­ano white” sur­faces and blue in­stru­men­ta­tion giv­ing it a space-age feel. Gone is the float­ing cen­tre con­sole and the speedo in front of the driver. Toy­ota has moved the in­stru­ment panel to the dash cen­tre and the roof ’s high point has come for­ward, lib­er­at­ing more front head room. There are Prius lo­gos in the air­con vents and the leather seats, with blue stitch­ing, feel high qual­ity. Rear legroom re­mains on par with some mid-sized sedans.

The car has been low­ered by 20mm and Toy­ota says the lower cen­tre of grav­ity and a 60 per cent stiffer body struc­ture al­low the car to sit flat­ter through cor­ners and pitch less un­der brak­ing and ac­cel­er­at­ing.

A quick dash through some witch’s hats at lower speeds was enough to con­firm less lean through cor­ners and bet­ter grip, while the steer­ing feels more direct and ac­cu­rate than the old model. It felt more com­posed over the (man-made) bumps.

De­spite the power re­duc­tion, the new Prius also feels more re­spon­sive off the mark, while en­gine noise is bet­ter quelled, thanks to more ab­sorp­tion ma­te­ri­als in the en­gine bay and bet­ter seal­ing around the win­dows and doors.


It’s im­pos­si­ble to give a de­fin­i­tive ver­dict af­ter such a short drive at low speeds.

On the sur­face the new Prius feels more re­fined and com­posed, but we will re­serve judg­ment un­til the lo­cal launch.

The fail­ure to adopt more mod­ern tech­nol­ogy may cause prospec­tive Prius buy­ers in Aus­tralia to make a judg­ment even be­fore it gets here.

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