Wheels (Australia) - - 2017 Car Of The Year - JOHN CAREY

BODY Type 5- door hatch­back, 5 seats Boot ca­pac­ity 457 – 502 litres Weight 1400kg DRIV­E­TRAIN Lay­out front- en­gine ( east-west), FWD En­gine 1798cc 4cyl ( 90kw/ 142Nm) + bat­tery Trans­mis­sion CVT au­to­matic CHAS­SIS Tyres 195/ 65R15 – 215/45R17 ADR81 fuel con­sump­tion 3.4L/ 100km

CO emis­sions 80g/ km 2 Col­li­sion mit­i­ga­tion Crash rat­ing 5-star (ANCAP) Prices $ 35,690 – $ 43,850 AL­MOST two decades have passed since Toy­ota launched the Prius, now a name vir­tu­ally syn­ony­mous with hy­brid propul­sion. Few would have imag­ined the dorky-look­ing petrol-elec­tric sedan that went on sale in Ja­pan in 1997, and which reached Aus­tralia in 2001, marked the be­gin­ning of a global phe­nom­e­non. Now at gen-four, it’s the most suc­cess­ful eco-car the world has ever seen.

Toy­ota’s hy­brid driv­e­train – four-cylin­der petrol en­gine and two elec­tric mo­tor-gen­er­a­tor units, all con­nected by a Cvt-mim­ick­ing plan­e­tary gear – has evolved grad­u­ally with each gen­er­a­tion. For the new Prius, en­gi­neers im­proved the ther­mal ef­fi­ciency of its 1.8-litre en­gine. No other masspro­duced en­gine bet­ters it, they claim. At the same time, the hy­brid’s mo­tor-gen­er­a­tors, trans­mis­sion and power elec­tron­ics were re­designed for less weight and more ef­fi­ciency. The driv­e­train’s con­trol soft­ware was also up­dated.

The re­sult is a fuel-ef­fi­ciency im­prove­ment of more than 10 per­cent com­pared to the third­gen­er­a­tion Prius. The new car’s re­sult in the of­fi­cial con­sump­tion test is a very im­pres­sive 3.4L/100km. But the driv­e­train redesign also brings a re­duc­tion in power. The max­i­mum com­bined sys­tem out­put is now 90kw, a 10 per­cent cut. There is, how­ever, lit­tle ap­par­ent loss of per­for­mance. The new Prius doesn’t feel any slower.

But the car’s new ar­chi­tec­ture does bring wel­come im­prove­ments in driv­ing dy­nam­ics. The new Prius is the first car to utilise the Toy­ota New Global Ar­chi­tec­ture, specif­i­cally the GA-C ver­sion. This brings greater stiff­ness, a multi-link rear end in place of the pre­vi­ous tor­sion beam, a lower cen­tre of grav­ity and an im­proved steer­ing sys­tem.

It’s the best Prius yet to drive, no ques­tion. Ride, han­dling and re­fine­ment are no­tice­ably bet­ter. But it’s ca­pa­ble and com­pe­tent, rather than in­volv­ing and in­spir­ing. The ESC sys­tem is both late act­ing and noisy.

The five-seat in­te­rior, which is slightly larger in most key di­men­sions, is bet­ter equipped than ever. Sen­sor-based safety and driver-aid sys­tems are stan­dard even in the ba­sic $34,990 model. The i-tech ver­sion, with some ex­tra driver-aids, larger wheels, sat-nav and leather, costs $8000 more. Both come with seven airbags and the Toy­ota scores a five-star safety rat­ing from ANCAP.

Where the Prius fails spec­tac­u­larly is de­sign. Toy­ota seems to have run out of ideas on how to ad­vance with its hy­brid icon. And this is ev­i­dent in­side and out…

The in­te­rior is all new, but it retains the same too-low steer­ing wheel po­si­tion and foot-op­er­ated park­ing brake of the pre­vi­ous car. The in­stru­ment panel lay­out, too, sticks with a lay­ered de­sign and cen­tralised dis­plays. These were all fea­tures in­tro­duced in the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Prius.

It’s even worse on the out­side. The new Prius is an ob­vi­ous evo­lu­tion of the 2003 model’s shape. But in­stead of cre­atively up­dat­ing the ba­sic form, Toy­ota’s de­sign­ers have done lit­tle more than des­per­ately add de­tails… un­til it was prop­erly grotesque.

The new Prius brings in­cre­men­tal im­prove­ments – some of them long over­due and quite wel­come. But the hy­brid’s style, es­pe­cially its ex­te­rior, is a gi­ant step back­wards. And it goes al­most with­out say­ing that small ad­vances, plus ug­li­ness, is not a Coty-win­ning com­bi­na­tion.

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