Toyota Prius, continuing the company’s foray into hybrid technologies

By Miles Downard

The Prius is exceptionally well known as being the first high volume production hybrid. Took the market by storm too, selling in the region of 250,000 vehicles a year in its heyday. As the rest of the world’s manufacturers have since cottoned on to the hybrid thing, the market has become flooded and Toyota has expanded its range. Accordingly Prius sales have tapered off.

But that hasn’t deterred Toyota. The Prius remains the company’s halo hybrid and accordingly most of Toyota’s hybrid tech innovation finds its way to market via the Prius. Recently the Prius went through a small makeover and Toyota South Africa was kind enough to give me a crack in one for a few days.

What’s good?

This might seem a little obvious, but the Prius is incredibly fuel efficient, especially around town. Being gentle – and keeping a close eye on the onboard computer’s eco driving measures – will yield under 4 litres/100km. The best I managed on a round trip to the office and back home, a 30km journey in Johannesburg rush hour, was actually 3 on the nail. Pretty good going in my books considering very few cars I’ve tested before have managed under 5l/100km aside from a few Suzukis. Consider also that the Prius boasts 100kW and is actually quite brisk if needs be.

Then there’s the Prius’ packaging. Let’s not forget that a hybrid vehicle has to carry around with it a normal combustion engine, in the Prius’ case a 1.8 litre petrol unit, along with two electric motors and the batteries to power it. So the fact that the Prius is as spacious as it is is fairly impressive, easily big enough to swallow a family and a boot full of holiday luggage. Helping that along is an extra bit of length added to this refreshed model.

The cabin has also undergone some tweaks, like the addition of a wireless charging bay for your smartphone. It’s a neat place to sit and has most of the toys one might want in a car nowadays, like smart entry, climate control, cruise control, reverse camera, a heads up display, rain sensing wipers etc.

Lastly the new blue colour is rather fetching in my opinion. Another new colour is ‘Fierce’ red.

What’s not so good?

To my eye there are some angles at which the Prius looks a bit odd. I think it’s got to do with its overall stance that makes the car look like a perpetual motion machine. It’s probably the best shape aerodynamically or something, I just don’t always like it.

Read also: New Toyota Corolla: return of the hatch

While I said the interior is nice on the whole, the placement of the gear lever in the bottom section of the centre control panel, below the climate control dials is not terribly ergonomically pleasing. In most vehicles where you chuck it in Drive and go that’d be fine, but the Prius has two different ‘drive’ modes that regenerate the battery differently while coasting (one mode is almost a form of braking without actually using the brake pedal, which charges the battery more quickly). Accordingly I often found myself switching between these modes which made the odd placement of the gear lever a tad annoying.

Lastly the fuel consumption on the open road, at out legal highway speeds, get’s away from the quoted numbers quite rapidly as the electric motors and battery pack can have far less impact.

Pricing

The Prius costs R490,200, with a 6-services/90 000 km service plan included with intervals pegged at 15,000 km. The warranty period on general items is 3-year/100,000 km whilst the hybrid battery warranty is stipulated as 8-year/195,000 km. In terms of competition one can get a Lexus CT 200h at about R40,000 more. Aside there aren’t any competitors unless you start looking at premium sedans.

Verdict

There’s obviously a price premium attached to purchasing a hybrid vehicle. In the Prius’ case you’re probably looking at R100 000 more than an equivalently sized and spec’d hatchback. Obviously it’d take you quite some time to pay that back in pure fuel savings, near 10 years by my rough calculations. But of course hybrid ownership is not purely about the mere numbers – so if you’re the type of person who gets that then I’m sure you’d be very happy at the wheel of a new Prius.