AT A GLANCE

The Weekend Post - Motoring - - ROAD TEST - TEST DRIVE THE PRIUS I-TECH AT PA­CIFIC TOY­OTA, CAIRNS

OUR Fed­eral and state gov­ern­ments , un­like those in Ja­pan, the US and Europe, pro­vide no in­cen­tives apart from a to­ken con­ces­sion on the lux­ury car tax to en­tice buy­ers into clean, green ma­chines.

Bri­tain’s car tax is based on car­bon diox­ide emis­sions. If we had the same reg­i­men, you’d cough up about $2000 up­front on a Com­modore V8, which pro­duces 300g/km, then $1000 ev­ery year. Ouch.

A Corolla (143g/km) would cost about $200 a year. On a Prius, which av­er­ages 80g/km, you would pay noth­ing.

The fourth-gen­er­a­tion 2016 Prius is the best yet but the driv­e­train is no longer pointyend hy­brid engi­neer­ing.

In the ab­sence of fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives to take one for the planet, plus a pretty stiff $34,990 start­ing price, what’s the at­trac­tion?

DE­SIGN

Su­per-slip­pery aero­dy­nam­ics (the drag co­ef­fi­cient is 0.24) max­imise fuel ef­fi­ciency.

As to whether it’s a good­look­ing thing or drop dead ugly, that’s a mat­ter of taste. Front and rear ends re­sem­ble rad­i­cal au­to­mo­tive origami — sharp edges, fins and tri­an­gu­lated cor­ners cleave the air cleanly, cre­at­ing less tur­bu­lence and drag than sweep­ing curves.

The base Prius is $34,990. It’s an $8000 hike to the $42,990 i-Tech, a bit rich for the ad­di­tion of blind spot mon­i­tor­ing, rear cross traf­fic alert, 17-inch al­loys, leather seat fac­ings and dig­i­tal ra­dio, which as in other Toy­ota and Lexus mod­els only picks up a few of the avail­able sta­tions, at least in Syd­ney.

You also get an ex­tra 45L of lug­gage space (502L) be­cause there’s no spare, just a re­pair kit. The base model has 15-inch wheels, which al­lows a space­saver to fit un­der the boot floor.

ABOUT TOWN

The Prius’s self-charg­ing hy­brid setup com­bines a 1.8-litre petrol en­gine, twin elec­tric mo­tor­gen­er­a­tors, nickel metal hy­dride bat­tery and con­stantly vari­able trans­mis­sion to de­liver smooth, seam­less per­for­mance.

This comes with a sat­is­fy­ing surge of elec­tric mo­tor torque — rel­a­tively mild in Eco mode, am­pli­fied to se­ri­ous grunt in Power mode.

Au­to­matic stop-start, re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing and the abil­ity to travel a kilo­me­tre or so on bat­tery power alone at up to about 35km/h means that you can beat Toy­ota’s claimed 3.4L/100km if you use Eco mode and play “let’s drive green” to the max in heavy traf­fic. Eco-score read­outs on a dash-top screen spur you on.

Drive the Prius as you would any other car and you’ll do mid 4.0L in town — less than half the ur­ban con­sump­tion of most 2.0-litre four-cylin­der en­gines.

Un­for­tu­nately, Toy­ota Aus­tralia has no plans to im­port the new Prius Prime plug-in hy­brid, which can travel up to 35km on bat­tery power alone.

The driver’s seat is com­fort­able, though short in the cush­ion for long legs.

Touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment in­cludes nav­i­ga­tion, easy Blue­tooth pair­ing and voice con­trol that works.

Its foot-op­er­ated park­ing brake is an an­noy­ing, clumsy piece of an­cient engi­neer­ing.

The raked, panoramic wind­screen and large glass area af­ford clear vi­sion and a pleas­ant sense of space and light.

ON THE ROAD

Toy­ota is spruik­ing this Prius as the most dy­nam­i­cally ca­pa­ble to date. That’s true but it’s still no sports car.

Its steer­ing has greater pre­ci­sion and feel, the brakes no longer give the im­pres­sion that the discs are made of con­crete, the ride is lux­u­ri­ous and wind noise al­most non-ex­is­tent. At high­way speeds the 1.8 drones qui­etly in the back­ground.

Hy­brid torque is sim­i­lar in char­ac­ter to turbo diesel — just squeeze the ac­cel­er­a­tor and the force will be with you shortly.

Over 1200km I av­er­aged high 4.0L on the high­way — slightly thirstier than in town, which is nor­mal for a hy­brid.

A 1.6 to 2.0-litre turbo diesel gets sim­i­lar high­way econ­omy. Even the Golf. Hon­est.

VER­DICT

Un­less you’re an eco-war­rior out to make a state­ment, the pre­mium prices make lit­tle sense — and even if you are, you’re still buy­ing B-grade eco-tech. What you re­ally want is the plugin Prius, which Toy­ota Aus­tralia didn’t have in 2012-15 but surely must this time around.

A Golf, Mazda3 or Ford Fo­cus costs $10,000 less than the base Prius.

They’re hardly big drinkers and are also bet­ter drives and smarter buy­ing.

WHAT IT’S GOT

Seven airbags, sta­bil­ity con­trol, rear cam­era with mov­ing guide­lines, pre-col­li­sion warn­ing and brak­ing, radar cruise, lane de­par­ture warn­ing, au­to­matic high beams, head-up dis­play, 15-inch al­loys, auto lev­el­ling bi-LED head­lights, Toy­ota Link (via your smart­phone), Blue­tooth, voice con­trol, nav­i­ga­tion, wire­less phone charg­ing (for Qi sup­ported de­vices), key­less en­try and start­ing.

WHAT IT HASN’T

Blind spot mon­i­tor and rear cross traf­fic alert only on i-Tech. No Ap­ple CarPlay or An­droid Auto con­nec­tiv­ity. No spare in i-Tech. Lithium-ion bat­tery that’s on over­seas mod­els.

OWN­ER­SHIP

It’s bul­let­proof. That’s why you now see so many work­ing as taxis. Ser­vice in­ter­vals are short at 6 months/10,000km but capped at $140 a time for the first six ser­vices.

WHAT WE LIKED

The nas­tier the traf­fic, the bet­ter the fuel econ­omy — on reg­u­lar un­leaded, too. Smooth, tractable, quiet per­for­mance. Sup­ple ride. Great vi­sion. Toy­ota qual­ity, re­li­a­bil­ity and dura­bil­ity. Spa­cious and com­fort­able.

WHAT WE DIDN’T

Still noth­ing spe­cial to drive and cost-ben­e­fit anal­y­sis doesn’t stack up when you con­sider what sim­i­lar or less money will buy else­where. Min­i­mal range in elec­tric-only mode. Short driver’s seat cush­ion. Clumsy foot-op­er­ated park brake.

BILL McKIN­NON

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