CONVENTIONAL wisdom dictates that series parallel petrol-electric hybrids like our Prius work best in inner-urban areas, where the battery-fed motor can more-often take over rather than merely assist the internalcombustion engine.
The thing is, we’re neither conventional nor particularly wise, as two sizeable intrastate trips, each taking in hundreds of kilometres, proved. One was work related. The other an extended public holiday getaway.
Our Prius’ 1.8-litre Atkinson Cycle fourcylinder engine (which refers to a combustion process that prioritises fuel economy over performance) was indeed working overtime, since there was only limited electric assistance during those long stints, mostly sitting at a safe 106km/h indicated, though occasionally hitting 118km/h, as one friendly policeman pointed out.
Besides copping a $300 fine and three points, the upshot was a jump in fuel consumption, from an outstanding 4.8 litres per 100km to a still-commendable 5.5L/100km average. Pretty good, actually, considering how packed-to-the-gunwales our ride has been this month.
Remarkably, the latest Toyota hybrid is more than agreeable out on the open highways. Much noise has been made about how much stronger and quieter the Mk4 Prius is over its raucous predecessors, but now there is evidence to back this up; even on the frugal-focused Bridgestone Turanza 215/45R17 tyres, the i-Tech feels planted and poised at speed in the wet. Road drone is subdued and wind rustle at cruise is pleasingly contained – helped no doubt by excellent aerodynamics.
More good news. The large front seats have a sumptuous look and feel, yet there is more than sufficient support even after a few hours. Taller occupants will appreciate the extra amount of downward as well as rearward adjustment. And smart detailing abounds, including a passenger-side seat heater light so the driver knows if it’s been left on. Minor but useful. For the first time ever, the i-Tech’s $45K premium pricing seems justified.
Downsides? Rear seat entry and egress isn’t made any easier by that sloping roof line and resulting small door aperture; the foot-operated park brake catches me out if somebody else has activated it; jutting dash extremities can snag kneecaps; the battery pack’s back cushion-sited fan is noisy; and rear vision is hampered two ways – first by that bisected hatch, and then by the lack of a wiper for the bottom pane, which excels only at collecting grime.
Still, as our country adventures revealed, Toyota’s petrol-electric hybrid is no longer a fish out of water away from the urban jungle.
I’d even call it an unlikely grand tourer.
A smaller battery pack and related electrical gubbins means the Prius’s boot is more spacious than it might seem. Rear seats folded, we crammed way more into the Prius than the pic (right) suggests, including a mountain bike, enough food and booze for six to eight people over five days, lots of clothes, bedding, one upright oil radiator, a VCR (we went retro with our entertainment) with about 25 associated tapes (where else can I find Barbara Stanwyck classics?), and — last but not least — our 13-year-old Labrador Retriever, Romy.