Still, Toyota were making a design statement, among others, when they launched this fourth generation of their model which had actually changed the automotive world significantly. After 18 years of frumpy looks, originally designed to appeal to the sandalled save the earth people, it was time to leapfrog into the future in style terms.
And there’s no doubt they have done just that with the new Prius. Just as the previous ones couldn’t be mistaken for anything else, neither can this, just in a much more high-tech way that actually better fits the technology for which the nameplate was a ground-breaker.
We should look at that technological heritage and its effects. Toyota launched its first Prius in 1997, the first mass-produced car with a combination of petrol engine and electric motor. The real trick was the engine management system they had developed, which provided seamless transitions and mixes between the two power sources that allowed, under the right conditions, some really interesting fuel consumption figures. Toyota’s faith in the technology was placed in its Lexus brand, with the promise that all future cars under its premium name would be hybrids.
That the company’s engineers and managers had seen the future correctly is demonstrated today by the fact that virtually every carmaker in the world has adopted the hybrid system in one form or another. In particular, the systems are available in mainstream models from many makers, and in Toyota’s case in most of its offerings now. And they sell well.
The new Prius drives in on a heritage of some 3.7m units of its predecessors which have rolled out of showrooms around the world, admittedly the vast bulk of these in the US and Japan. Still, it also became very visible in Europe, and enough in Ireland as to not elicit passing comment any more.
There’s a more powerful engine in this latest Prius, and a lighter but more powerful battery. So although there’s a very discernible improvement in driving feel, the car is also rated to be significantly more efficient. Toyota’s plan has been to improve by 10pc the economy/emissions with each generation, and while there has always been some contention about how hybrid efficiency is measured, they have apparently achieved that goal each time.
The ride and handling in the latest car are very much improved, thanks to a completely new platform with a lower centre of gravity, and a more sophisticated rear suspension. It is likely this which has garnered most of the appreciation from reviewers which the latest Prius enjoys.
After my time with it, I’m still not gone on the looks, but I’m not as bothered about them as originally either. So, looks like I’ve been won over.
Pricing from €31,450, and they don’t try to build the prices with a long options list. Road tax €180/€190.