Toyota Prius hatchback (2017 - ) review
The Toyota Prius Plug-in provides an environmentally-friendly alternative to those who require a greater range than that currently offered by electric cars, or a cleaner alternative to diesel powered family cars.
Interested in buying a Toyota Prius?
How good does it look?
The Plug-in Prius may share the same familiarly wedged profile and curvaceous double bubble rear window as its cable-free brother, but it’s actually 165mm longer, 20mm lower and gains significant styling changes, including a completely new front end, replete with aerodynamic fins and four prism LED headlights, alongside vertical daytime running lights and indicators. At the rear, an extra bumper bustle has been added to accommodate the bigger battery and retain crash integrity, while the boot spoiler is lowered and the rear lights have been moved outwards, which means the funky lightning-bolt rear clusters of the standard Prius have gone.
What's the interior like?
The Plug-in’s cabin design is every bit as futuristic as its exterior, with plenty of swooping panels, a plethora of steering wheel mounted buttons, and a dazzling array of acid blue displays. The centrally mounted instruments ensure nothing is blocked out by your hands or the steering wheel. As there’s nothing beyond the wheel, you’re treated to a totally uninterrupted view of the road ahead. Just below the central instrument stack sits a high-definition screen, featuring crisp displays and sharp 3D sat-nav images. The touch-screen has speedy responses, and is intuitive to operate, as well as being good to look at. We’re not sure whether you’ll love or hate the porcelain highlights around the cabin, though. Behind the dash lies a unique, gas-filled climate-control system, which will warm the cabin when there’s no heat available from the dormant petrol engine. If you’re only commuting short distances, that will be most of the time. It’s also clever enough to work out how many people are in the car, and where they’re sat.
How practical is it?
The batteries in a hybrid plug-in are bulky, and present a real challenge when trying to package them, hence the Plug-in’s stretched cabin. This also explains why there are big differences between the standard car and the Plug-in when it comes to space and versatility. The Plug-in loses its middle rear seat and its boot is a good deal shallower than the standard Prius, so you’ll struggle to accommodate much more than one suitcase and a couple of squishy bags, unless you flip the rear seats down to extend the load bay. By family car standards, the Plug-in’s cabin is a bit narrow, especially when compared to leviathans like a Ford Mondeo, but there’s still plenty of head- and leg-room in the front. The bespoke two-seat layout, wide central armrest, and almost flat floor provides rear passengers with a feeling akin to traveling in the back of a limousine.
What's it like to drive?
Along with all the tech changes, Toyota has stuffed the Plug-in with loads of additional soundproofing, in an attempt to make it a more refined vehicle. There’s no doubting the Plug-in is a good deal quieter than the standard car, and the fat walled tyres fitted to dinky 15-inch wheels and suspension revisions certainly add a degree of plushness to the ride comfort. This is all well and good if you’re at your wits end with rubbish road, but the penalty for this additional peace and suppleness is blatantly obvious the first time you come to a bend. With a notable body lean and an immense amount of squirming and protesting felt through the tyre’s fat side walls, you’ll be all too aware of the Plug-in’s additional mass as you attempt to point the nose of the car in your desired direction. The brakes are a bit of a laugh, too, with very little initial bite and a generally sluggish reaction, it’s all too easy to make a pigs-ear of it when trying to scrub off speed in a smooth, progressive manner.
How powerful is it?
As well as having its near-silent running range boosted to a claimed 30-miles, the Plug-in now uses two electric motors to ramp up EV performance, and can be driven at speeds up to 84mph purely on electricity. The lithium-ion battery can be fully charged from depletion in just two hours from a supercharger, or three hours from a domestic socket. From start-up and at lower speeds, the car will automatically run in EV mode, using electric power alone, but if you need some additional giddy-up, there’s also a power mode, which delivers quicker throttle response and synergises power from the electric motor and the petrol engine to improve acceleration. The Plug-in is not exactly a quick car – hardly surprising given its substantial weight – but because the electric motor delivers power to the front wheels almost instantly, it feels surprisingly nippy around town. The automatic gearbox can be quite frustrating, however. If you floor the accelerator, the gearbox feels like it has somehow lost connection with the engine: the petrol engine revs leap up, but there’s just a relatively leisurely increase in road speed. It is however only enthusiastic sprints away from lights and such where this trait is fully exposed. Once above 40mph, where you’re less inclined to demand as much from the engine, additional acceleration comes on relatively strong.
How much will it cost me?
If you drive the Plug-in as it was designed to be driven, making the most of the electric mode (using just battery power), and you accelerate gently when engaging the petrol engine, you’ll see some pretty impressive fuel returns. Even if you think the 283mpg Toyota reckons the Prius is theoretically capable of is wholly fanciful, if you only use the car for short journeys and plug it in every night, you could get close to those claims. Even so, the fact remains that hybrid powertrains perform best at low speeds and actually gobble unleaded at much the same rate as traditional petrol cars when cruising motorways. At least you can have a bit of a chuckle at the taxman’s expense. With official CO2 emissions of just 22g/km, you’ll be rewarded with company car tax bills levied at just 7% of the Plug-in’s list price. Those low emissions also mean Mr Kahn will let you in to London free of charge, at least for the foreseeable future.
How reliable is it?
While some prospective buyers may be dissuaded from buying a Plug-in by unfounded suspicions surrounding the longevity of hybrid batteries, and the negative effect on residual values, growing acceptance of the technology and concerns surrounding the future of diesel cars has led to a healthy increase in sales. The combination of a scrupulous focus on engineering integrity and lots of apocryphal evidence from Prius owners suggest the Plug-in should be very reliable and not that expensive to maintain. Further peace of mind comes from the standard warranty that lasts for five years/100,000miles, whichever comes first, and that overall, Toyota has one of the best reliability records in motoring.
How safe is it?
The latest Prius performed extremely well in Euro NCAP crash testing, achieving a five-star score: 92% for adult occupant protection; 82% for child occupant protection; 77% for pedestrian protection; and 85% in the safety systems assist category. The Prius comes with a host of airbags, including one to protect the driver’s knees, and Toyota’s Safety Sense pre-collision system features vehicle and pedestrian detection, and autonomous braking to help avoid low speed collisions. It also comes with Lane Departure Warning with Active Steering inputs to help keep you from drifting out of your lane. Automatic high-beam, Traffic Sign Recognition, Blind-Spot Monitoring, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert are also included. However, if you specify the additional weighty and rather expensive solar roof panel, which boosts the battery, you also sacrifice some cameras and their related safety functions, such as Blind-Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
How much equipment do I get?
Even the Business Edition Plus model, which is likely to make up the vast majority of Plug-in sales, comes with plenty of standard kit, including keyless entry and start-up, four electric windows, dual-zone climate-control, full LED lighting, Bluetooth connectivity and a reversing camera. There’s also an eight-inch touch-screen, colour head-up display, heated front seats, and a wireless charging mat for your smartphone. The Business Edition Plus can also be specified with a solar roof. Push the boat out for a top spec Excel car, and you’ll gain a ten-speaker system, voice recognition, online connectivity, and rain-sensing wipers. Excel also includes full leather upholstery and park assist, which should prevent those expensive alloys from coming into contact with kerb edges. However, because of the additional bulk all this kit adds, you cannot have an Excel car fitted with Toyota’s smart but heavy solar roof.
If you only use your Plug-in to commute short distances, then it makes a lot of sense, but you’ll have to ask yourself if it is worth the significant premium over the standard Prius. It’s not as practical in terms of accommodation, the boot is significantly smaller, and if you do a significant amount of miles on the motorway, it won’t be any easier on petrol than the standard hybrid. That said, with an official combined fuel economy of 283mpg, your company car tax bills will be levied at just 7% of the Plug-in’s list price. For all its virtues, we still feel the Plug-in loses out when it comes to driving pleasure. It may be more refined, but its steering and handling are even more dull than the standard car, while the petrol powertrain responds in a frustratingly laboured manner.