Unleash the electrons!

Like David Suzuki seizing the Nurburgring. Sort of

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

PIOUS. Enviro-wanker. Greenprius. Okay, I made the last one up, but the first two are actual insults levelled at me, and even occasionally in relation to my Prius.

Well, you can add hoon too, to such not entirely unwarranted barbs. I am, after all, a cyclist and a vegetarian.

This month, in the middle of nowhere early one cold and dreary Sunday, the Prius and I bonded. Truly bonded. The very ribbonlike stretch of rural road was invitingly damp, bumpy and completely desolate for as far as the eye could see, so I went for it.

Hard, fast and furious, with the Sport Mode activated (oh, how comically horrible are the graphics!), the chassis’ response proved revelatory. At speed (and there’s plenty of it instantly if you’re willing to prod the pedal), the steering weights up nicely and reacts with a newfound sharpness. The front end tucks in naturally with pleasingly taut body control and little understeer. Actual fun. From a Toyota hybrid. Will wonders never cease?

Sure, the helm still feels artificial, there isn’t much driver involvement beyond pointing the wheel, and there’s no escaping some of that dreaded CVT-induced engine drone, but this gen Prius’s tidy handling, roadholding and ride comfort when pushed are totally unforeseen delights.

Underlining this was the hallowed company the Toyota kept during that weekend away – my 1982 Alfa Romeo Alfasud Super. In convoy just because, the Italian model, which UK’s Car magazine dubbed the Car of the Seventies, showed just how far the Prius has progressed. While the Alfa’s incredible steering tactility and delicate control still beguile four decades on, the hybrid is like a 787 Dreamliner to the 1.5-litre boxer four’s Lockheed Constellation – slow, noisy and smelly.

If only the Toyota could infuse something approaching the Alfa’s visual charm.

Admittedly, the profile and rear have grown on me and I even find delight in seeing the snaking LED tail-light strip stay on as I walk away at night. But its wilfully divisive nosecone must surely keep prospective buyers away.

Which is a shame because it is turning into a dynamic, enjoyable and – of course – extremely economical five-seater with ample boot space and practicality to go with its green credentials.

If detractors could see just how expertly the Prius can dance under duress, they might be less liberal with their labelling. Can you imagine how shocked some owners would be at the shenanigans their sanctimonious hybrid is capable of?

Kanpai, Toyota!

GLASS HALF CUT

The Audi 100 Avant in my drive has bisected tailgate glass like the Prius, but it doesn’t even have a wiper

CR-Z DNA?

Our 2011 Car of the Year-winning (and now sadly departed) Honda CR-Z is probably as controversial as the Leyland P76 (1973), Holden Camira (1982) and Holden VN Commodore (1988) victories, but as our Prius’ country road blast reminded me, a well set-up hybrid can be a joy. Though utterly different in design and execution, the pretty little Honda’s can-do enthusiasm makes you forget that frugality is actually this car’s main focus. There’s a little bit of CR-Z charm in the latest Toyota hybrid.

TOYOTA PRIUS

Date acquired: March 2017 Price as tested: $43,850 This month: 1468km @ 5.0L/100km Overall: 3089km @ 5.3L/100km km