Ten Point Test

Auto Trader Ten Point Test rating: 81%

The Toyota Prius is the world’s most successful hybrid car, with more than 660,000 sold since it was introduced in 1997.

It’s not difficult to see why. It’s safe, clean and practical all wrapped up in a stylish package. And if you regularly drive in London’s congestion charge zone, it can save you around £2,000 every year.

1. Looks 8/10

This, the second generation Prius is almost coupe in design, with a slippery shape improving aerodynamics as well as aesthetics. This is particularly evident at the front, where small grilles in the bonnet and bumper are the only part of the car not to have flowing lines. The rear has a bootlid which sits high, with good reason. It’s here where the battery sits. This extra height is compensated for by a split-level rear screen, with a spoiler sitting between them.

2. Looks inside 8/10

The Prius’ interior is like something from a 1950s sci-fi comic, with plenty of elements you’d usually find in a car missing, changed or modified. Most notably is the lack of a centre console, conventional gearstick or dials in front of the steering wheel. The gearstick has been moved next to the steering wheel and is a stubby affair, offering controls bespoke to a hybrid. That means there’s no need for a centre console, although Toyota has installed a unit which houses a couple of sizable storage bins.

The main dash is dominated by a colour touch screen which provides controls and information on the climate control, trip computer and state of the hybrid system. The primary information panel (for speed and fuel levels) is a colour LCD unit which sits at the top of the dash, and proved very easy to read.

3. Practicality 7/10

Despite a lack of boot space, the Prius is surprisingly spacious. There’s plenty of space for all the occupants, and the dashboard layout gives a feeling of additional space. Having said that, it’s a narrow car, meaning there’s only space in the rear for two.

4. Ride and Handling 7/10

The Prius is unlikely a car to be bought for its handling prowess, but performs more than adequately. There’s only a hint of body roll around bends, and the steering offers plenty of feedback, so the driver can tell what the front wheels are up to. Despite a set of skinny tyres with tread designed to save fuel rather than provide total grip, it clings to the road remarkably well, only becoming unsettled under very hard cornering. Ride quality is good too, with it soaking up lumps and bumps with aplomb.

5. Performance 7/10

Powered by a 1.5-litre petrol engine as well as a bank of batteries mounted under the seats, the heavy Prius is unlikely to set any speed records. It manages to reach 62mph in 10.9 seconds, before hitting a top speed of 106mph. But again, performance figures are unlikely to bother a Prius buyer – their motivations are likely to be more environmentally-focussed. Around town and at low speeds the Prius will move silently on its electric motors. Accelerate gently and the engine will kick in to drive the wheels and charge the battery. But under hard acceleration, the engine and batteries will work solely in unison to drive the wheels. It works well, although the idea of silent driving means the Prius driver has to be extra vigilant for cyclists and pedestrians. The Prius can feel out of its depth on the motorway, where the small engine can sound thrashy. That’s compounded by a CVT gearbox which effectively has one gear – hearing it is an odd sensation.

6. Running Costs 8/10

Starting at almost £18,000, the Prius is a lot of money; more so if you move up the range and start ticking the options boxes. But there are still plenty of reasons to recommend it. Savings of around £2,000 a year can be made if it’s a regular visitor to London’s congestion charge zone, and its Band B road tax rating costs just £15 at the time of writing. Toyota claims an average fuel consumption figure of 65.7mpg, although our test car returned around 45-55mpg depending on how and where it was driven (unusually it appeared more economical around town than on a straight motorway-speed run). That’s on par with similar sized diesels.

7. Reliability 9/10

The Prius feels like one of Toyota’s best efforts yet in terms of build quality – and that makes it staggeringly well built. The interior feels totally robust and very high quality. Any doubts over the cost and complexity of the hybrid systems should be allayed with an eight year hybrid warranty, although there are question marks over the cost to replace the batteries when they do finally wear out.

8. Safety 10/10

The Prius scored a maximum five stars in the EuroNCAP crash test programme, with the highest rating in its class. That has a lot to do with a full complement of airbags – driver, passenger, front side and curtain – ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist which ensures the ABS capabilities are maximised under heavy braking. Vehicle stability control keeps the car’s balance in check too.

9. Equipment 8/10

There’s no of equipment fitted to our range-topping T-Spirit test car, with a Bluetooth telephone connection, sat-nav, climate control and an excellent nine speaker JBL radio and CD player with autochanger. The park assistance system is worthy of note, with a camera showing the view directly behind the car and a set of guidelines illustrating the space required to make a reversing manoeuvre. All models in the range come with electric windows and mirrors, the colour screen in the dash and a set of alloy wheels.

10. X-Factor 9/10

The Toyota Prius is proof that environmentally-friendly driving doesn’t mean sacrificing style or ability. The Prius combines all the sensibilities of a regular hatchback with cost effective motoring.

Key facts

Model tested: Toyota Prius T Spirit
On the road price: £20,665
Price range: £17,780 – £20,280
Date tested: April 2007
Road tester: Stuart Milne