Greening from ear to ear

Digging beneath that divisive skin uncovers real depth of ability

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

FOUR months in and nearly seven thousand kilometres on, it’s time for our Toyota Prius to check out. And, pun aside, what a shock this petrol-electric hybrid has been.

Intriguingly, YGJ-73P has had to live alongside an actual electric vehicle, my partner’s 2012 Nissan Leaf – a car with true zero tailpipe emissions. I wanted to ascertain how a petrol-electric series-parallel hybrid would seem against a real EV.

Ultimately, regarding the Prius as electric is like expecting an emu to fly. Neither offers much range. The paltry 2km (at under 37km/h) in the Toyota’s case barely registers, except in slow and heavy traffic, and when the internal-combustion engine does flare up, any EV smugness turns to smog.

Far better then to focus on how the Toyota’s electricity enhances the experience instead. Such as with added acceleration; excellent real-world fuel consumption (4.8L/100km embarrasses most diesels); and regenerative braking that allows the driver to minimise efficiency-destroying and/or jerky braking with just a flick of the transmission lever across from ‘D’ to ‘B’. Brilliant.

However, while every Prius has managed all this since the 1997 original, where the boxfresh fourth-gen leaps ahead is in how much more driver orientated it is.

While not especially tactile, the steering is now eager and measured in its response; fast tight turns reveal a taut and controlled chassis that points precisely where directed; and the struts and wishbone suspension set-up soaks up bumps big and small like no previous iteration could. Keen drivers will find something here to dig.

And finally, there is the comfort and refinement. Larger inside than its diminutive hatchback dimensions suggest, the latest Prius offers room, practicality and peace akin to a midsizer, complete with a usefully long and deep boot. Except for lower-than-normal rear-door apertures due to the sloping roofline, this is proper family car fare.

Disappointments? Few really, like the vision-impeding and filth-collecting bisected rear glass, busy instrument graphics, and fiddly park-brake pedal. But all this pales against the car’s crinkly styling, as though somebody slept on the original paper drawings. Pretty she ain’t.

Massively improved nonetheless, the latest Toyota hybrid is an interesting, enjoyable and effective alternative to any number of hatchbacks, sedans or SUVs under $50K. One day soon fuel prices will rocket and the Prius’ time will arrive. When that happens rest assured that the car is finally ready. But why wait until then to enjoy one?

NOT DRESSED FOR SUCCESS

Toyota needs to fix the styling. It must be the only reason Prius sales are down 30% this year

TOYOTA PRIUS

Date acquired: March 2017 Price as tested: $43,850 This month: 2307km @ 4.8L/100km Overall: 6864km @ 4.8L/100km 34 3 3 WEEK 16 34 44 3 0 0 8 0 1 6 3

Dashing display

The Prius’ instrumentation display is at once pleasingly informative and infuriatingly messy. At first all that information is intimidating in its sheer volume (such as the almost unfathomable and ugly energy usage bars), but taking the time to sort out the various screens does reveal method behind the madness — like the one with the excellent sat-nav directions and the track listings in the media page. The i-Tech’s head-up display is also helpful. All it takes is some familiarisation to find the favourites.