Quirky new Prius is really frugal

Quirky new Prius is really frugal

Toyota’s Prius, as with every other hybrid for that matter, has always been something of a rarity on South African streets.

That’s in stark contrast to places like California, where the dedicated ‘green’ lanes on highways are said to be so packed with Toyota’s eco warrior that they actually call them ‘Prius lanes’. Clearly its appeal extends well beyond the juiced-kale-swigging celebrity that needs to hide the shiny Escalade when those save-the-two-headed-dung-beetle charity events pop up on the calendar. That said, I’d be surprised if the average Prius owner didn’t know at least five of the vendors at their nearest organic market by name.

It breaks the mould

But let’s put the stereotypes aside for now, because this fourth-generation Prius, just launched in South Africa, really seems intent on breaking the mould. Just look at it. Whereas the previous three generations, though cleverly aerodynamic, had very little imaginative flair in their designs, the new one is radically striking to the point where it’s surely going to prove polarising. The front end could actually seem quite endearing, in a cartoonish kind of way, but I doubt many will warm to those long tusk-like taillights.

Built on Toyota’s TNGA ‘New Global Architecture’, the new car has a more low-slung stance, being 15mm lower and 15mm wider than before, while riding on the same 2700mm wheelbase and sporting a new double wishbone rear suspension. It still offers excellent legroom, although headroom will be tight for taller adults, and the albeit shallow boot swallows a reasonable 502 litres.

Yet apart from turning heads and accommodating humans, practically every body panel, as well as the undercarriage, has been specifically designed to smooth airflow around the car and reduce drag – the result being that its 0.24 coefficient of drag is among the world’s lowest.

Much plusher inside

The design revolution marches ahead inside, and largely in a way that all consumers are likely to appreciate. Most of the surfaces within your general line of sight are either soft and plush, or glossy in a way that adds positively to the ambience. Some might not enjoy all that white plastic on the centre console though.

Front occupants sit lower to the ground than before and the command centre is a rather straightforward 18cm touch-screen, while the ventilation is thankfully controlled by a separate interface with real switches.

Powering the new Prius is a thoroughly overhauled version of Toyota’s petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain, which mates a 72kW/142Nm 1.8-litre petrol engine to an electric motor for a combined output of 90kW, down from the previous version’s 100kW. Still, Toyota claims a respectable 10.6-second 0-100km/h run and a lower combined fuel consumption figure of 3.7 litres per 100km, equating to 87g/km of CO2.

Extremely frugal

I don’t normally mention claimed fuel use figures in stories these days because they’re usually such a farce, but the Prius numbers don’t seem too far off the mark. Driving around Joburg in one earlier this week, I managed 4.3 l/100km/h without really trying, and while tackling heavier traffic the following morning, I was still able to keep it down to 4.9.

The revised drivetrain is smaller and lighter, while the redesigned batteries are more effective in terms of absorbing charge from the regenerative braking and the petrol engine’s thermal efficiency has been increased to a world-beating 40 percent.

Performance is certainly reasonable and power delivery is smooth. The driver can also choose between three self-explanatory driving modes: Eco, Normal and Power, with an EV mode also on hand for when short electric-only stints are wanted.

How much, then?

While Toyota won’t take your Yoga classes in exchange for a new Prius, it is priced at a reasonable (given the rand) price of R427 200, although Toyota had to cut some feature fat in the form of satnav, semi-autonomous parking and the solar roof panel found in the previous version. That’s not to say the new Prius is sparse, with standard leather seats, dual-zone climate control, reverse camera, cruise control and a new heads-up display system.

In addition to the usual three-year/100 000km warranty, Toyota guarantees the hybrid battery for eight years or 195 000km.

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