Toyota Prius+ Review: first drive
The ‘+’ in Prius+ should tell you all you need to know about this new Toyota that further expands the company’s hybrid line-up. However, there’s a little more to the Prius+ than a third row of seats and 135mm extended length.
For starters, the battery pack in the Prius+ MPV is a lithium-ion item rather than the older tech nickel-metal hydride type used in the Prius hatch. On top of this, the MPV’s battery now resides under the centre console between the front seats instead of under the boot floor. This allows more room for the third row of seats and a larger boot.
As importantly as the extra space it frees up by being repositioned, the lithium-ion battery is more compact than the Prius hatch’s yet delivers the same performance. This is a win-win situation as the relocated battery is 8kg lighter than the hatch’s and its new position delivers better weight distribution.
On the subject of weight, Toyota is very proud the Prius+ adds only 135kg to the overall kerb weight of the hatch model. The Japanese firm points out none of its petrol- or diesel-powered rivals gets close to this minimal weight gain over the hatch models they’re based on, which is impressive given the Prius+ is longer, wider and taller than its hatchback origins.
Toyota has also made great strides with the aerodynamics of the Prius+, which records a drag coefficient of 0.28Cd to be the slipperiest shape in its class. Granted, the Prius+’s appearance is not as distinctive as a Citroen C4 Picasso’s or a Ford S-Max’s, but there’s no denying the Toyota’s styling helps reduce wind noise at higher speeds to barely a brushing of bodywork through the airstream.
On the smooth central European highways and byways where we tried the Prius+, it also made a sterling effort at keeping road noise to a minimum. We’ll reserve full and final judgement on this till we drive the car in the UK, but it’s a step on and up from the Prius hatch’s mediocre refinement.
The MPV version of the Prius also bests its hatch sister for ride comfort and handling. While it’s no hot hatch rival, and nor should it be, the Prius+ feels stable and composed in corners and offers a sufficiently supple ride to keep undulations and interruptions at bay.
Toyota has used the Prius+ to introduce its Pitch and Bounce control, which uses the torque of the electric motor to cancel out some of the floating sensation that might otherwise be experienced. There’s no perceptible intrusion from the system and the Prius+ provides good comfort, so we can only conclude that it’s doing a good job.
If only we could say the same for the 98bhp 1.8-litre petrol engine. It’s attached to the same CVT (continuously variable transmission) as the Prius hatch and suffers the same drawback of the engine gurning away when asked to serve up some decent acceleration. As well as the noise, the engine only manages to offer adequate oomph, even when the petrol and 81bhp electric motors are working in tandem for maximum power to give 0-62mph in 11.3 seconds.
The switch between electric and petrol power is seamless and, in electric-only mode, the Prius is near silent. Sadly, there’s only enough juice in the battery for the Prius+ to drive around one mile on battery power alone before the petrol engine kicks in.
Still, with the mix of engines working at their optimum, the Prius+ can deliver 68.9mpg and impressively low carbon dioxide emissions of 96g/km. These figures are for the T4 model, which comes with 16-inch alloy wheels instead of the T Spirit’s 17-inch items that contribute to its 64.2mpg and 101g/km emissions.
Toyota expects the T4 to account for 70% of Prius+ sales in the UK, which is made all the more likely by its £26,195 list price compared to the £29,495 asked for the T Spirit. These are high prices for a compact seven-seat MPV, especially when compared to the likes of the Citroen C4 Grand Picasso or Ford S-Max.
Admittedly, the Citroen and Ford, or any other direct rivals for that matter, cannot match the Toyota for emissions and economy, but they are considerably cheaper to buy in the first place. The Ford and Citroen, among others, also offer far better engine refinement and a modicum of entertainment to their drives that is low on the agenda of the Prius+.
These same rivals also offers as much or more cabin space as the Prius+ and have interiors made from materials that feel of a higher quality. There’s no doubt the Prius+ will be hard wearing, but it’s shame Toyota has made the cabin plastics and trim look and feel a little low rent.
As for the MPV side of the equation, the Prius+ has enough space in the third row of seats for kids, or adults for short hops. The middle row of three individual seats slide, tips and folds flat, and with all five of the rear seats folded down there’s 1750-litres of cargo room. In the more oft-used configuration where the two rear-most seats are sacrificed for luggage space, there’s 784-litres of capacity.
In the front of the cabin, the driver is treated to a raised driving position, good all-round vision and fine comfort. A head-up display is standard on all UK Prius+ models and is clear to read where it projects on to the windscreen. The rest of the equipment and safety is as generous as you’d expect of the two upper trim levels from Toyota’s repertoire.
Even with the long list of standard kit, much of it standard where it’s an option on rivals, the Prius+ is an expensive car in its class. It has its merits, such as electric-only running, supremely low emissions and fine economy, but the ‘+’ isn’t quite enough to add driver or cabin appeal to the Prius package.
Words: Alisdair Suttie
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