Toyota Prius review
The hybrid benchmark just got better
I remember the first time I drove a Toyota Prius. It was back in 2005 when the Prius, along with hybrid technology, had been introduced locally for the first time, and I was lucky enough to have one to test for a week. On this particular day I was at a mall in Durban, driving along looking for a parking space when I noticed that I was doing so in total silence – there was absolutely no engine noise, but I was stealthily creeping along (and emitting no emissions either!). This was the moment that made me realise that electric power, hybrid in this case, had finally made it all the way to the tip of Africa, which meant it was now a mainstream technology and so here to stay.
14 years have passed and hybrids have become more and more common on our roads, but Toyota and Lexus still lead the way, while the Prius remains the poster car for petro-electric hybrid technology and a byword for an environmentally friendly vehicle. As an indication of how hybrids have been accepted, Toyota sold its 10 millionth hybrid globally at the beginning of 2017!
2019 saw a refresh of the fourth-generation Prius, which was originally launched in South Africa in 2016.
The latest iteration of the car looks as technologically advanced from the outside as it actually is beneath the skin. The exterior design is striking and thoroughly modern, and the cabin is just as good. While the dashboard is fairly unconventional, it is easy to use, comfortable and intuitive, centred around dual 4.2-inch full colour TFT (thin film transistor) LCD screens with easy-to-read displays. The materials used in the cabin have been made even more upmarket, with a genuine feeling of quality about them, while the space on offer in a Prius is up there with the best for a family car of this size. The boot, too, is spacious, with 502 litres of storage space.
At the heart of the Prius is a 1.8-litre petrol engine, essentially no different from the petrol engine in an average vehicle but re-engineered to deliver significantly better fuel economy. On its own this petrol engine produces 72kW and 142Nm. The magic starts when the electric motor-generators (there are two in the system) are taken into account, because it boosts overall power to 100kW and adds another 169Nm to the equation. It’s this torque that is most useful in the real world, allowing quick and easy overtaking or sailing up hills, while the electric motors come into their own around town, cutting down hugely on fuel consumption. The batteries are recharged while driving, mostly from regenerative braking, so the Prius is not a plug-in hybrid like some cars that need to be charged from mains electricity. A Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) is used to get the power to the wheels, and this has been fine-tuned with each generation of Prius, making this one easily the most pleasant to live with in terms of both noise levels and drivability.
As you’d expect, the Prius has become more fuel-efficient with every generation, so it makes sense that the latest models are the most economical to own yet. Toyota claims an average combined fuel economy of just 3.7l/100km, but that’s just one benefit of hybrid technology – the CO2 emissions of the Prius are a very planet-friendly 87g/km.
The current generation Prius was the first car to be built on Toyota’s new TBGA platform, which afforded it many positive attributes – it’s more entertaining to drive and more spacious, while the ride comfort and noise levels are vastly improved. In fact, this is something you will notice when driving the Prius – it is very quiet even on the highway at the national speed limit, with the petrol engine doing the work.
Finally, the Prius is a family car, so Toyota has equipped it with 7 airbags, Traction Control, ISOFIX child restraint system, ABS braking with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake force Distribution, and Vehicle Stability Control.
You’ll pay R498 000 for a brand-new Toyota Prius, which is actually something of a bargain when you consider the vast amount of technology that has been packed into it. Services are scheduled at 15 000km intervals, and the Prius comes with a six-service/90 000km service plan. A warranty of 3-years/100 000km is included in the purchase price, as is an 8-year/195 000km warranty on the hybrid battery system.