The Toyota Prius. Loathed by petrolheads the world over and yet, arguably, one of the most talked about cars ever built. If popular opinion was anything to go by, it wouldn’t warrant a single mention on PetrolBlog. The Toyota Prius is an object of derision, hatred and ridicule.
But can it really be that bad? Toyota and Lexus have sold more than five million hybrid vehicles, with the Prius accounting for around 80% of these. In the UK alone, the Prius has amassed 63,000 sales since it was introduced in 2000.
As Sir Arnold Bax reputedly said, “you should try everything once except incest and folk dancing”. And as the Prius falls into neither category, I wanted to give it a go.
And you know what? I didn’t hate it.
I was testing the new Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, rated as many as the best Prius to-date. OK, to some people that’s like saying Justin Bieber’s latest single is his best ditty to-date, but the Plug-in is arguably the best Prius you can buy.
And so it blimmin’ well should be. At £28,245 – after the government’s £5,000 grant – the Prius Plug-in Hybrid has one of those price tags that is genuinely quite shocking the first time you see it. On the outside it looks nothing like a £30k car.
But then saving the planet doesn’t come cheap. Even though the Toyota Prius is now approaching its 16th birthday, the purchase cost of cars of this ilk remain high. To the point where to some people they can’t be justified, even if the day-to-day cost savings present a compelling case for ownership.
Fortunately the Prius Plug-in Hybrid is very well equipped, with Toyota pretty much throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the car.
Standard kit includes a 7-inch screen, heads-up display, cruise control, smart entry and start, rain sensing wipers, dusk sensing lights, sat nav, Bluetooth, rear-view camera, 15-inch alloys and air conditioning. It all helps to make the Prius Plug-in Hybrid feel a bit special.
Which is just as well, as the Prius Plug-in Hybrid is just about the least satisfying car I’ve ever driven. There’s a total disconnection with the road and a complete lack of involvement. The steering is vague, the handling is abysmal and any attempt at enthusiastic driving is something you’ll try once. There you go, Sir Arnold, you can add that to your list of things never to try.
That said, I did actually enjoy driving the Prius in built-up areas. Using a featherlight approach to throttle control and keeping an eye on the dashboard display, I found it uniquely satisfying trying to run the Prius on electric power for the maximum amount of time. In the long term I’d have to add an additional 30 minutes to every journey, but there was a real novelty factor associated with driving it.
I actually spent quite a bit of time in the Toyota Prius, including one 500-mile round trip to Luton. And to be fair to the Prius, it was more than up to the task of long distance driving, with the 1.8-litre engine providing enough pace for motorway cruising. It was let down only by a slightly harsh ride and an intrusive engine note.
The interior is a bit of a mixed bag, too. I guess I wanted something a bit more ‘space-age’, more along the lines of the Chevrolet Volt. But the Prius Plug-in somehow manages to fuse cutting edge technology with a cabin which seems stuck in the 1990s. However, the clarity of the displays and simplicity of the layout needs to be applauded, especially for what is in essence a rather complicated car.
I also need to give a special mention to the brilliant Touch Tracer steering wheel-mounted controls. Even the slightest of touch allows for control of the air conditioning and stereo, with the button replicated on the heads up display. It’s a very cool thing.
Focusing on the relatively minor details like the Touch Tracer controls is obviously completely missing the point of the Prius Plug-in Hybrid. Its cleverness lies in the new rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, giving the car a theoretical electric range of 15.5 miles from a single 90-minute charge. Whichever way you cut it, that’s impressive.
When you combine this with the ultra-low CO2 emissions of 49g/km, you can begin to mount a strong case for the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid. At least you can for someone who lives out the outskirts of London and needs to drive into town every day for work. The Prius is one of the few cars which manages to creep under the new 75g/km London Congestion Charge tariff, meaning it can be driven in the city without needing to pay for the £10 fee.
For sure, if I had the money I’d much rather opt for the Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid or the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, but I don’t. Plus I live in rural Devon, where the Prius Plug-in Hybrid makes very little sense for the kind of motoring I do.
But because the Prius doesn’t suit my lifestyle, does that give me the right to slam it and pour scorn on anyone who chooses to own one? Of course it doesn’t.
Consider the positives. It will seat five adults with ease. Its 443 litres of boot space is over 60 litres more than you’ll find in the new Volkswagen Golf. A full charge could cost as little as 50p. It’s extremely well equipped and – aside from the sombre interior – it has a light and airy feeling interior.
Look beyond the obvious benefits of electric power and the Prius Plug-in Hybrid should be relatively cost effective to run in the short term, too. Buyers benefit from Toyota’s five-year warranty, plus the low rolling resistance tyres are said to be good for at least 30,000 miles of driving.
OK, there’s a theme developing here. I’m stretching things well beyond the limits of true PetrolBlog territory. Justifying Prius ownership is rather like justifying the purchase of an ultra-efficient fridge over a Smeg. Or a cup of instant coffee over a Barista-prepared, but hideously overpriced latte. The Prius is a car that’s bought for completely rational reasons. Free of emotion. An appliance. Nothing more, nothing less.
Sir Arnold Bax was right, you should try most things once. And this includes driving a Prius, especially if you’re going to liken it to the work of the devil.
Now if you don’t mind, I must dash. I’ve booked a folk dancing lesson for this evening…