Green­ing from ear to ear

Dig­ging be­neath that di­vi­sive skin un­cov­ers real depth of abil­ity FAREWELL

Wheels (Australia) - - Our Garage - BY­RON MATHIOUDAK­IS

FOUR months in and nearly seven thou­sand kilo­me­tres on, it’s time for our Toy­ota Prius to check out. And, pun aside, what a shock this petrol-elec­tric hy­brid has been.

In­trigu­ingly, YGJ-73P has had to live along­side an ac­tual elec­tric ve­hi­cle, my part­ner’s 2012 Nis­san Leaf – a car with true zero tailpipe emis­sions. I wanted to as­cer­tain how a petrol-elec­tric se­ries-par­al­lel hy­brid would seem against a real EV.

Ul­ti­mately, re­gard­ing the Prius as elec­tric is like ex­pect­ing an emu to fly. Nei­ther of­fers much range. The pal­try 2km (at un­der 37km/h) in the Toy­ota’s case barely reg­is­ters, ex­cept in slow and heavy traf­fic, and when the in­ter­nal-com­bus­tion engine does flare up, any EV smug­ness turns to smog.

Far bet­ter then to fo­cus on how the Toy­ota’s electricit­y en­hances the ex­pe­ri­ence in­stead. Such as with added ac­cel­er­a­tion; ex­cel­lent real-world fuel con­sump­tion (4.8L/100km em­bar­rasses most diesels); and re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing that al­lows the driver to min­imise ef­fi­ciency-de­stroy­ing and/or jerky brak­ing with just a flick of the trans­mis­sion lever across from ‘D’ to ‘B’. Bril­liant.

How­ever, while ev­ery Prius has man­aged all this since the 1997 orig­i­nal, where the boxfresh fourth-gen leaps ahead is in how much more driver ori­en­tated it is.

While not es­pe­cially tac­tile, the steer­ing is now ea­ger and mea­sured in its re­sponse; fast tight turns re­veal a taut and con­trolled chas­sis that points pre­cisely where di­rected; and the struts and wish­bone sus­pen­sion set-up soaks up bumps big and small like no pre­vi­ous it­er­a­tion could. Keen driv­ers will find some­thing here to dig.

And fi­nally, there is the com­fort and re­fine­ment. Larger in­side than its diminu­tive hatch­back di­men­sions sug­gest, the lat­est Prius of­fers room, prac­ti­cal­ity and peace akin to a mid­sizer, com­plete with a use­fully long and deep boot. Ex­cept for lower-than-nor­mal rear-door aper­tures due to the slop­ing roofline, this is proper fam­ily car fare.

Dis­ap­point­ments? Few re­ally, like the vi­sion-im­ped­ing and filth-col­lect­ing bi­sected rear glass, busy in­stru­ment graph­ics, and fid­dly park-brake pedal. But all this pales against the car’s crinkly styling, as though some­body slept on the orig­i­nal pa­per draw­ings. Pretty she ain’t.

Mas­sively im­proved none­the­less, the lat­est Toy­ota hy­brid is an in­ter­est­ing, en­joy­able and ef­fec­tive al­ter­na­tive to any num­ber of hatch­backs, sedans or SUVS un­der $50K. One day soon fuel prices will rocket and the Prius’ time will ar­rive. When that hap­pens rest as­sured that the car is fi­nally ready. But why wait un­til then to en­joy one?

NOT DRESSED FOR SUC­CESS Toy­ota needs to fix the styling. It must be the only rea­son Prius sales are down 30% this year

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