GREEN is definitely the colour as far as new cars are concerned. The big manufacturers are
pumping a lot of money into developing cars with improved economy and lower emissions, which is good news both for the environment and drivers’ wallets.
Toyota’s Prius was one of the first hybrid vehicles – cars that raise efficiency and lower emissions using an electric motor in tandem with fuel- to be launched, in 1997 in Japan and in 2000 in Europe.
In three generations since then economy, C02 emissions and performance have been greatly improved until we now have this latest version, with a 1.8litre engine across the board replacing the previous 1.5litre. Toyota Prius T-Spirit.
This new Prius is the most advanced yet, with a host of high-tech goodies packed in.
Visually the Prius is certainly going to split opinion, if my week with the five-door T Spirit version is anything to go by.
At one point I was flagged down by friends who were practically drooling over
it, and yet a colleague in the works’ car park just said: “Why do they feel they have to make these eco-cars look so weird?”
The wedge shape, with its flattened sides, the ridge going from front to back and flat rear end are a design gamble but from certain angles the Prius looks stunning. From others it does look weird Inside the car, things are equally quirky.
The main displays are housed in a long central screen on the top of the dashboard, with a plethora of details ranging from how many miles per gallon you’re getting to which part ofthe engine you’re using.
The high-spec T Spirit I drove featured a satnav and top quality CD player housed in a “floating” central column, with space below for CDs and the like. With decent quality plastics used and some nice touches, such as the central air vents, it all adds up to a nice feel.
The seats are a good size and there’s a lot of head and legroom both in front and back, making the Prius a comfortable car to spend time in. The boot, while not huge, is adequate for most occasions
One of my complaints was the layout of the gearstick.
Unlike the traditional automatic ‘gearbox, where the stick slots into the new position and stays there, the Prius stick pings back to its original position in the same manner as a joystick on a computer game.
The new driving mode – drive, park, reverse etc – is displayed on the dash This is fine and means that the gears tick is small and funky looking, but I found it fiddly to manoeuvre. And with the handbrake
positioned on the floor next to the brake, coupled with a keyless ignition and push start button, pulling away was the equivalent of rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time.
But once that is safely negotiated, the Prius performs admirably. There are three modes to drive in. At low speeds it can potter around using the battery alone, which makes things practically silent.
There’s an eco mode, which combines motor and battery and a power mode, which gives you a bit more oomph but increases petrol consumption.
While the Prius notches up 70mpg, the eco mode lacks pull off the mark, and while it’s great for around town, the power mode offered a welcome boost of thrust.
But in all modes the Prius ranges from quiet at speeds to spookily silent at a crawl.
Wind noise is negligible and the engine only gets noisy when revved hard. It’s happy at all speeds and comfortable to drive, only really suffering on very poor street surfaces.
The Toyota handles well although the steering is a little light and the turning circle
isn’t all it could be.
Visibility is good at front and sides, although there’s a whacking great plastic bar splitting the rear screen which makes reversing hard work, and it’s not helped by the fact that the rear wiper doesn’t clear a very big area.
There’s a lot of technology going on here and this is reflected in the price. With the base model starting at nearly £18,500, with the range topping off at more than £21,000, the green option isn’t the cheapest option around. But that 70mpg-plus fuel economy is a definite plus point and the low emissions mean a low car tax band. You also get a lot of kit for your money.
Entry-level models get all-round electric windows, air con and head-up display, where the speed is digitally shone onto the bottom of the windscreen for instant visibility.
Moving up the range you get, among other things, sat nav, rear parking camera and parking sensors.
Toyota always comes out well when it comes to safety and there are loads of devices and airbags throughout.
The green technology on board this Prius hybrid integrates brilliantly with the day-to-day needs of the driver, and the switches between various modes are almost imperceptible. It’s a good family car which, although slightly pedestrian in eco modes, can turn it up a little in fuel mode.
It’s a green car that can be driven day-in, day-out at speeds or around town easily and comfortably, while you’re doing your bit for the environment.
Toyota Prius T-Spirit
Engine: 1.8-litre petrol
Top speed: 112mph
Combined mpg: 70.6mpg
OTR price: £21,230