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Toyota Prius+ MPV (2012 – ) expert review

By Daljinder Nagra, 22nd June 2012

The verdict

The first extension of the Prius hybrid model range, the Prius+ is currently unique in being the only seven-seater with sub 100g/km CO2 emissions. It carries over the strengths of the hatchback, namely a serene drive and impressive standard equipment, but lacks the ultimate practicality of the best MPVs.

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Expert rating:

3.1

Pros

  • The cleanest seven-seater on the market
  • Potentially very economical
  • The first Prius in the UK with hi-tech Lithium-ion batteries

Cons

  • Mediocre interior design and quality
  • Bland, uninvolving driving experience
  • Small load space with third row of seats in place

Full Review

1. Exterior

The signature triangle, aerodynamically dictated profile of the Toyota Prius hatchback translates well into the larger Prius+. It’s less obviously different from the rest of the MPV herd, but the shape is still designed to cleave the air as cleanly as possible, aiding those all important economy figures. Toyota has been so successful in this, that the Prius+ currently has the lowest drag of any seven-seater car. The wide, flat bumpers both front and rear serve not only to reduce turbulence over the wheels, but also lend the Prius+ a broad, planted stance on the road. A blue tint around the grille aims to highlight the car’s electric disposition, but can look somewhat tacky, particularly against the lighter of the seven colours the Prius+ is available in.

Our rating: 3

2. Interior

Toyota interiors traditionally major on functionality rather than design flair, and the Prius+ is no different. All of the controls are logically placed and intuitive to use, but the layout and switchgear are generic and the quality of materials is lacking compared to rivals. Grey plastic is the dominant feature, with a finish on the dashboard, which looks hard and scratchy, but is actually a soft, velour like material. It’s a similar story for the door trims and centre armrest, which are mix of hard plastic and cheap feeling fabrics. It’s certainly worlds away from the austere solidity of the Volkswagen Touran, or the funky styling of the Ford C-Max. The interior ambience is lifted somewhat by the standard fit panoramic glass roof and the touch-screen entertainment system, which adds a splash of colour and distracts from the otherwise dull facia.

Our rating: 2

3. Practicality

The reason for the Prius+’s existence, though not an area in which it can claim to hold all the aces. Stretching the wheelbase and switching to more compact Lithium-ion batteries means there is indeed room for a third row of seats, but they are cramped and only really suitable for children and short journeys. Even the middle row suffers from a lack of legroom, though headroom throughout the car is plentiful. With the rearmost seats in place, load space is severely compromised, with just 232 litres to play with. Best to fold them flat when not in use, which increases available space to 784 litres. Handily, both the second and third row of seats can be stowed flat to the floor, maximising usable space (then 1,750 litres) and fitting flush with the boot lip, which would otherwise get in the way when loading bulky items. Storage around the cabin is plentiful, with two glove boxes and large door bins designed to accept drinks bottles. The standard-fit rear parking camera helps get around the visibility issues raised by the car’s thick C-pillar, though otherwise the Prius+ is generally easy to manoeuvre in tight spaces, with a tight turning circle that belies the size of the car.

Our rating: 3

4. Ride and handling

Where most modern cars aim to solve the issue of biasing a car’s behaviour between ride comfort and cornering ability with multiple settings and adjustable suspension, the Prius+ sticks itself firmly and unashamedly in the ride comfort camp. It will glide down an A road or motorway with only severe imperfections in the road surface being transmitted into the cabin. Coupled to a hushed cabin (near silent when the car is running in electric only EV mode), it is a supremely relaxing way to travel, and likely to be a boon if your children are prone to car sickness. Toyota’s new Pitch and Bounce Control takes some credit for this, as it uses torque from the electric engine to quell body movement over undulations in the road. The trade off for this magic-carpet ride is that the Prius+ is a car best driven at a fairly relaxed pace. Enter a corner briskly and the electronic stability program will intervene early to keep everything in check. This lack of dynamism and the somewhat lacklustre performance from the engine, means drivers are cowed into a softly-softly driving style, which is unlikely to appeal if you’re in the least bit interested in driving.

Our rating: 3

5. Performance

The Prius+ is available with only one engine option: a 1.8-litre 98bhp petrol engine mated to an electric motor, which can put out up to 36bhp. Toyota claims a 0-62mph time of 11.3 seconds and a top speed of 103 mph. Not particularly spectacular performance figures, but from behind the wheel the Prius+ feels even slower. The standard fit CVT automatic gearbox (the only available option) doesn’t help in this regard, making the car sound and feel strained when you’re making progress. It can be a frustrating sensation, particularly if you’re used to the turbocharged oomph of modern diesel engines, which MPVs of this type are commonly equipped with.

Our rating: 2

6. Running costs

Economical motoring is the main reason for buying the Prius+. It is currently the only seven-seat car on the market that falls below the 100g/km watershed for road tax-free CO2 emissions, emitting just 96g/km. This impressive cleanliness is spoilt slightly if you opt for T Spirit model, though. The larger wheels have the effect of upping CO2 emissions to 101g/km and also reduce the combined fuel economy from 68.9 to 64.2mpg. Quite a penalty, and you’re unlikely to achieve those figures in the real world. Over a 50 mile test route in a T Spirit model, we managed 54.5mpg – more than acceptable for a petrol powered car of this size, but it’s nothing that can’t be achieved with a conventional diesel engine. Another thorn in the side of the Prius+’s economy mission is its high purchase cost. The entry level model comes in at £26,195 on the road, while the top of the range T Spirit costs £29,495. At this price point, the Prius+ is unlikely to make sense for families looking to save money, as there is a vast range of competitors, which are similarly frugal (if not quite as clean in the emissions stakes) but with much lower sticker prices.

Our rating: 3

7. Reliability:

While little is properly known about the ultimate longevity of the battery packs fitted to hybrid cars, Toyota has the most experience in the field, with the largest number of hybrid models on the market. It also enjoys a deserved reputation for reliability, so it’s unlikely that the Prius+ will let you down mechanically. For peace of mind the car is covered by Toyota’s five-year, 100,000 mile warranty, while the battery pack itself is covered for eight years.

Our rating: 4

8. Safety

The Prius+ has yet to be tested by Euro NCAP, but the regular Prius hatchback, on which it is based, was awarded a full five stars, with particularly high scores for adult occupant protection. Driver aids such as the reversing camera and intelligent cruise control help reduce the risk of collision, and there is a plethora of airbags, including side impact and curtain bags, so you should be well protected if the worst happens.

Our rating: 3

9. Equipment

The Prius+ boasts a generous standard equipment list, with entry level T4 models coming equipped with an automatic CVT gearbox, air-con, reversing camera, Bluetooth phone and music connectivity, head-up display, panoramic glass sunroof with electrically operated blinds, rain sensing wipers, 16-inch alloy wheels, keyless go and a multimedia touch screen. Opt for the higher spec T Spirit trim and you’ll be treated to 17-inch alloy wheels, full leather upholstery, an uprated JBL sound system, voice recognition and Toyota’s Touch and Go Plus touch-screen sat nav. Optional extras include metallic and pearlescent paint and a protection and style pack which add protective body mouldings and chrome effect exterior trim detailing respectively.

Our rating: 5

10. Why buy?

It’s the Prius for people who need more Prius, according to Toyota. They’re right too. If you’ve ever been tempted by a hybrid but have a large family in tow, then the Prius+ could well be the ideal proposition. If you’re just looking for an economical seven-seater, there are plenty of alternatives available, which offer similar practicality and economy, and more entertainment behind the wheel.

Our rating: 3

Expert review 3.1stars

  • Exterior3
  • Interior2
  • Practicality3
  • Ride and handling3
  • Performance2
  • Running costs3
  • Reliability4
  • Safety3
  • Equipment5
  • Why buy?3

Our recommendations

Best on a budget:

Prius+ T4

Entry level model is generously equipped

Best-seller:

Prius+  T4

70 per cent of buyers are expected to plump for the entry version, thanks to impressive kit levels and low CO2 emissions.

Blow the budget:

Prius+ T Spirit

Bells and whistles model sacrifices ultra-low CO2 emissions for additional luxury and bigger wheels.

Economical motoring is the main reason for buying the Prius+. It is currently the only seven-seat car on the market that falls below 100g/km