Long live the hybrid king
I quite like the new Toyota Prius. Look, it’s never been pretty, but the latest incarnation of that daring original still does its job better than well 20 years down the line while the rest of the world tries to tell you how clever its new-fangled ‘electrification’ is. Wake up you fools – Toyota has been at it for a quarter century already!
Suppose its pertinent that the word Prius means first, original or superior in Latin and with four generations and six and a half million Prii sold since then, the halo Toyota hybrid has earned it place and then some.
I first drove a pre-production Prius on a ‘97 sojourn to Japan when the world's first mass-produced petrol-electric hybrid it was still a radical new idea. It went on sale in Japan in ’98, before a more economical, more powerful version hit world markets in the year two thousand.
Always pushing the limits of quirkiness, the second generation dropped drag to a 0.26 coefficient and fuel economy to an unheard of 4.9l/100km back in 2004, before the boxy third generation dropped another point in CD as fuel consumption fell to 4.2 litres per hundred. Now this fourth-gen car has shaved a further decimal point off its drag for a miserly 3.7l/100km at a squeaky-clean 87 g/km CO2.
Not that much has changed under the skin – delivering a combined 90kW from a hopped-up version of the same old same old Atkinson Cycle lump tethered to a pair of motor generators cobbled around a CVT transmission, Prius musters a fine balance between performance and fuel efficiency.
The changes to this one are mainly cosmetic with tweaked front and rear treatment and edgier, ‘more horizontal’ new bi-beam LED headlamps and LEDs for the fog and taillights too. Add redesigned aerodynamic 10-spoke caps for its 15-inch aluminium wheels, as well as two new hues in a red and this Sky Blue.
While all that Toyota-speak sounds so snazzy, I stand by what I said about it last time around – Prius remains fully in contention for the Ugliest Car in the World award.
Step inside to find a few ergonomic changes in the black leather cockpit – the aggressive old white trimmed centre console is thankfully refinished in a far more palatable piano black and that vital piece of cabin real estate also gains a couple of all-important cup holders and increasingly necessary wireless phone charging.
Prius retains its pleasing spec, with smart entry, dual-zone climate, cruise control, reverse camera, a heads up display, rain sensing wipers and 6-speaker touchscreen audio infotainment among its arsenal. A full active electronic alphabet soup of VSC, ABS, EBD, BAS and TC in also place, while seven airbags and ISOFIX points are on standby.
On the road, not much has changed either – Prius is a very different car to drive, from understanding it is actually on to selecting Drive, it’s always been unique. On the road it remains a hoot to test yourself against those economy displays on the dash and to maximise the electric – you soon learn how to use the regeneration and its mass and momentum to Prius’ best advantage.
I also easily matched its improved eco claims and that’s good – Prius has always majored on thermal efficiency and this one surpasses 40% – little wonder that this great original remains an eco marvel. It’s pretty handy on the road too, although its inherent weight brings its own foibles, but a mid-ten zero to hundred is in the middle of the mainstream.
I looked forward to it and enjoyed my regular reacquaint with the latest Toyota Prius as usual – it’s an honest and well-proven eco solution that continues to makes a mockery of so many a new-fangled hybrid’s fresh claims and that keeps it special. Till next time then… – Michele Lupini
Image: Michele Lupini
ROAD TESTED: Toyota Prius
Engine: 90kW 142+eNm 1798cc petrol I4 + e-motor
Drive: CVT FWD
0-60km/h: 4.78 sec
0-100km/h: 10.51 sec
0-160km/h: 27.95 sec
400m: 17.7 sec @ 130km/h
80-120km/h: 7.26 sec
120-160km/h: 13.09 sec
Fuel: 3.6 l/100km
CO2: 83 g/km
Warranty/Service: 3y 100K/6 service 90Kkm
Battery Warranty: 8k 195Kkm
LIST PRICE: R498K