It used to be that if you wanted a hybrid Toyota then it had to be a Prius. Over the last few years, however, the Japanese manufacturer has introduced its famous hybrid powertrain to the smaller Auris and Yaris.
The Prius name itself has since expanded to include the Prius Plug-In for instance. This can recharge the battery for the electric motor via its petrol engine, regenerative braking or from an external electrical power source.
Then there’s the Toyota Prius+, the first production hybrid seven-seater car. 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.
Despite the size growth, it looks fairly similar on the outside compared to a ‘regular’ Prus. The most obvious visual change is the much less raked rear roofline and rear quarterlight window styling. The increase in size and the added weight of two extra seats will inevitably impact on efficiency.
Still though, the Toyota Prius+ looks to offer much more efficient running than your average conventional run family cars, without compromising on comfort or practicality.
While the standard Prius aimed to lure in customers who might have considered a Focus or Astra, the Prius+ is more of a rival to large MPVs. Its challengers therefore include the likes of the Renault Grand Scenic and the Ford S-MAX.
Straightline performance isn't a Prius strong point. The Prius+ is powered by the familiar 1.8-litre VVTi petrol engine mated to a 650v electric motor. Combined the powertrain manages to produce 134bhp.
For the record, the figures are 0-62mph in 11.3 seconds and a top speed of 103mph. That’s 0.9 seconds and 11mph down respectively when compared to the current Prius five-seater.
Its CVT automatic transmission is seamlessly smooth and efficient but, like a teenager's 125cc scooter, the engine revs noisily under acceleration.
Also, the fly-by-wire regenerative braking system doesn't feel as linear at the pedal as you may be used to.
Ride and Handling
We found the Prius+ to be very smooth and comfy, even when driving on some of the poorer quality roads you can potentially come across in Britain.
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. We found the Prius+ to be very smooth and comfy, even when driving on some of the poorer quality roads you can potentially come across in Britain. The Prius+ benefits from a new pitch and bounce control. This automatically adjusts the electric motor's torque output in direct response to road surface conditions, therefore reducing the body's fore-and-aft pitching motion.
Interior and Equipment
The Toyota Prius+ was one of five finalists for the 2012 Green Car of the Year honour.
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. Also, 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? The answer is by simply relocating it from under the floor of the boot to the central armrest tunnel between the front seats. One thing that is disappointing about the interior is the various shades of grey plastic used for the trim, which is rather dull. Helping to soften this blow though is the plentiful standard equipment. There are two trim levels for the Prius+, called Icon and Excel, and standard kit includes air conditioning, alloy wheels, cruise control and parking sensors.
The Prius+ is 75kg heavier than a standard Prius, but it does make use of a lighter battery then other Toyota hybrid models.
Depending on the choice of alloy wheels, the Prius+ records a combined fuel economy of 68.9mpg on 16-inch alloys, or 64.2mpg on 17-inch alloys. That’s about 10 to 20mpg higher compared to most conventional run seven-seat MPVs. The Prius+ is 75kg heavier than a standard Prius, but it does make use of a lighter battery then other Toyota hybrid models. Thanks to this, the Prius+ with the 16-inch alloys manages to keep it CO2 emission below 100g/km, producing 96g/km to be exact. That means it remains exempt from paid Vehicle Excise Duty. The range-topping model with the 17-inch alloy wheels, however, emits just a little above this threshold, recording 101g/km. Either specification is still much more efficient and cleaner compared to any rivalling non-hybrid MPV. Prices for the Toyota Prius+ starts at £26,145 for the Icon trim model, increasing to £29,445 for the Excel trim. Those sorts of prices are steep, especially when you compare them to the starting prices for conventional-powered large MPVs on the market now.
The Toyota Prius+ is a cleverly-made family car with several admirable traits. Not only does it have the honour of being the first hybrid seven-seater, it boasts class-leading credentials for fuel efficiency and emissions. You also get a decent amount of interior space and equipment within, which is always welcome for family car buyers. The one primary concern to consider though is price. While the running costs are attractive, there’s no getting away from the fact that the initial purchase price is steep. If you do have the budget to spend and are very eager to find a more environmentally-friendly choice of large transportation, then the Prius+ makes the most sense. Others who merely seek a frugal, practical family MPV will likely consider cheaper alternatives.