Toyota Prius+ review
by Tom Stewart (29 June 2012)
It used to be that if you wanted a hybrid Toyota then it had to be a Prius. Then, in 2010, Toyota launched the Hybrid Synergy Drive Auris, and, very recently, the Yaris HSD. In a month or so we’ll be reporting on the new Prius Plug-In - a hybrid that charges its EV battery either via its petrol engine and regenerative braking, or from an external electrical power source. But from July 9 there will also be the hybrid drive Prius+, the first full hybrid seven-seater.
Although the Prius+ is 135mm longer, 30mm wider, 85mm taller and has an 80mm longer wheelbase with a 50mm longer rear overhang than the existing five-seat Prius, it looks fairly similar on the outside - the most obvious visual change being the Prius+'s much less raked rear roofline and rear quarterlight window styling.
Inside, the steering wheel is the same, and there's the familiar Prius central LCD instrument binnacle in the top of the dash with two further displays plus many buttons and knobs in the centre console below, but comparing interior shots of the two models shows that they're different in every detail.
The Prius+ has a 2+3+2 seating arrangement, with independent sliding/spit-folding seats forming the middle row, and a 50/50 split-folding third row. Each row is set 45mm higher than the row in front, while both the front and second tiers have increased head, shoulder and hip room.
As with most, if not all, other seven-seaters of this size, the two third row seats aren't ideal for adults, while with all seats upright boot space is a pretty limited 232 litres, plus a 60-litre bin beneath the luggage deck. This extends to 784 litres, or 1750 litres with both second and third rows folded flat, although the resulting flattish loadspace floor is at a pretty high level.
So how has all this extra space been created in a Prius with a bulky hybrid drive battery? Simple. By relocating it from under the floor of the boot to the central armrest tunnel between the front seats. And, by switching from the current 42kg nickel metal hydride battery (as used in the Prius, Auris and Yaris HSDs) to a more efficient (and more expensive) 34kg lithium-ion type (such as that which powers your mobile phone, only much bigger), the 75kg heavier Prius+ can drive for a little longer in electric-only EV mode so it can in turn boast a sub-100g/km CO2 figure - a £0-road-tax-and-London-congestion-charge-exempt 96g/km on the T4 grade's 16" wheels, or a £20-annual-VED 101g/km on the high-spec T Spirit's 17 inchers.
While we're on the subject of wheels, the 16" ones help toward a combined figure of 68.9mpg, while the 17" alloys yield a slightly less impressive 64.2mpg. And while we're on the subject of fuel consumption I should mention that the twenty or so press demonstrator Prius+ on this launch recorded an average of 51.4mpg after the first afternoon's drive on a circuitous route from Vienna to Bratislava.
Not too shabby, except that the start of day two my Prius+ (previously driven by others) displayed a 9.6l/100km average, which translates to just 29.4mpg. An hour or two later that figure had dropped to 6.2l/100km, or climbed to 45mpg, where it stayed – consumption which could easily have been equalled or bettered by a number of common-or-garden diesel MPVs, although they wouldn't qualify for zero road tax etc, and would probably be a tad costlier to run.
Straightline performance isn't a Prius strong point. The Prius+ is powered by the familiar 1.8 VVTi petrol engine mated to a 650v electric motor which combine to make 134bhp. Its CVT transmission is seamlessly smooth and efficient but, like a teenager's 125cc scooter, the engine revs noisily under acceleration.
For the record, the figures are 0-62mph in 11.3 secs and 103mph max (0.9 secs and 11mph down on the current Prius five-seater). Also, the fly-by-wire regenerative braking system doesn't feel as linear at the pedal as you may be used to.
The Prius+ employs the same suspension and steering systems as the standard Prius, although it's all been tweaked to suit the new model's weight and likely duties. Its handling, with just two people and overnight luggage aboard, is just fine for an MPV, although opinion was divided between myself and my experienced driving partner on ride quality.
I reckoned it was very smooth and comfy, even on UK-standard Slovakian roads, and that was before I learned of the Prius+'s new pitch and bounce control which, by automatically adjusting the electric motor's torque output in direct response to road surface conditions, reduces the body's fore-and-aft pitching motion. My partner wasn't so impressed, saying that he found the ride a little too unforgiving over sharper bumps.
We were, however, agreed on the Prius+'s interior trim which, with swathes of various shades of grey plastic, looks and feels below par for a near-£30,000 car - £26,195 in T4 spec, £29,495 in T Spirit trim.
That's serious money for a junior MPV, but that pill is sugared to an extent by a spoonfuls of standard equipment, which on the T Spirit includes Toyota's Touch and Go Plus infotainment system with eight-speaker JBL audio, touchscreen satnav, advanced Bluetooth, Google local search, voice recognition and a rear-view camera.
The more affluent with a strong environmental bent wanting a seven-seater hybrid will naturally be gravitating toward Toyota dealerships. Others who merely seek a frugal, practical family MPV will be looking elsewhere.