What stands out?
The Toyota Prius cuts fuel bills almost in half, compared with many other small cars, by teaming a petrol engine with an electric motor. It has distinctive styling, with sharp angles and a sleek silhouette. A comprehensive safety package includes auto braking as standard. This new Prius feels much better to drive than its predecessor.
What might bug me?
If you’re tall, bumping your head when you sit in the back. Head room is a bit tight.
Driving at 80km/h on your skinny space-saver spare tyre, until you can repair your full-sized flat.
Getting to grips with the tyre repair kit, if you have shelled out for the more expensive Prius, the i-Tech. It does not come with a spare tyre at all: it’s the kit, or walk.
That you can’t tow even a small trailer: the Prius has not been designed to accept a tow bar.
That operating the parking brake is another job for your feet.
What body styles are there?
Five-door hatchback only.
All Prius models drive the front wheels.
The Prius is classed as a small car, lower priced.
What features does every Prius have?
A sound system with an AM/FM radio, a CD player, Bluetooth connectivity, and 10 speakers, controllable from a 7.0-inch central touchscreen.
Active cruise control, which will slow you automatically to match the speed of a car in front – and return to your set speed when the way is clear.
Controls on the steering wheel for the audio system, your phone, the active cruise and other safety systems.
A head-up display, which projects a digital speedo on to the windscreen (helping you to keep your eyes on the road).
Wireless phone charging using the Qi system: if your phone permits inductive charging, you simply place it on the charging mat.
Smart-key entry, which lets you unlock and start the car while the key remains safely in your pocket or bag.
Alloy wheels, which are usually lighter than steel wheels. Unusually, those on the Prius carry plastic or resin streamlining, fitted to cut fuel use marginally.
A reversing camera. Seatbelt reminders for all five seating positions.
LED headlights, which are more efficient and brighter than traditional globes, and last much longer. And these dip automatically, to avoid dazzling oncoming drivers.
Broadly effective Autonomous emergency braking, and Lane-departure warning.
Seven airbags, and electronic stability control – which can help you avoid or control a skid. (For the placement of airbags, and more on Prius safety systems, please open the Safety section below.)
The Prius is covered by a three-year, 100,000km warranty. Additionally, the expensive battery in the hybrid system is covered by an eight-year, 160,000km warranty.
Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?
There is only one engine available in a Prius, a 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol that works alongside two electric motors. In either model, it uses just 3.4L/100km on the official test (city and country combined).
That’s little more than half of what many small cars use (the petrol-engine Toyota Corolla hatch, for example, consumes 6.1L/100km on the test).
The Prius’s big trick is its ability to turn braking energy into electricity – which it then uses to drive the car, saving fuel. It does this by reversing the role of the electric motors when the car is decelerating (or holding speed on downhills), turning them into generators that charge the batteries.
Whereas most cars use significantly less fuel on trips into the country, the Prius uses marginally more on the country cycle of the government test than on the city cycle. That is because its benefits are best realised around town, where the car is slowing down frequently. On a freeway, its opportunities to recharge the batteries from braking are fewer. And because the Prius is heavier than most other small cars (primarily because of the battery pack under the back seats), the petrol engine works harder when accelerating up hills or overtaking.
Contrary to what many believe, the Prius runs purely on petrol. The batteries cannot be recharged externally (you cannot plug-in a Prius, for example). They are charged by the engine, or by capturing braking energy that would normally dissipate as heat in the braking system.
The Prius uses a CVT (continuously variable transmission), which operates much like a standard automatic, except that rather than using a fixed number of ratios it adjusts steplessly – and usually more efficiently – to the driver’s demands.
What key features do I get if I spend more?
The less costly of two Prius versions is called simply the Prius. It comes with cloth-covered seats, 15-inch wheels with plastic covers, and the features on any Prius.
Spend quite a bit more for a Prius i-Tech and you get part-leather trim (it’s a mix of leather and fake leather), heated front seats, and powered adjustment for the driver’s seat. There is digital radio reception, and satellite navigation. Two sensory safety systems are added: A Blind-spot warning, and a Rear cross-traffic warning.
The i-Tech also has bigger wheels (17 inches in diameter), with resin inserts for streamlining rather than plastic covers. The tyres are a bit wider and have shorter sidewalls. The package looks sportier, grips better on dry roads, and speeds up the steering response marginally.
Does any upgrade have a down side?
Paying more for the Prius i-Tech means you don’t get the space-saver spare tyre, and must make do with a tyre repair kit.
The i-Tech’s tyres are also lower in profile, which makes the ride slightly bumpier. And they cost more to replace.
White is the only standard colour. The other six hues cost about $450 more.
How comfortable is the Prius?
Inside, the Prius looks futuristic, with its instrument cluster a broad, colour, digital display that’s mounted centrally on the dashboard rather than immediately ahead of the steering wheel.
Below it is the large and legible touchscreen, with its touch buttons down either side. The buttons, however, are more distracting to use than traditional buttons: you can’t distinguish them by feel, and must take your eyes off the road to make sure you have the right one.
Whereas previous models have used hard plastics inside, the new Prius uses more pleasantly tactile finishes. The bright white plastic lower on the dash contrasts nicely with the dark greys used elsewhere.
The standard 10-speaker JBL audio system sounds good.
Despite the tricky electronics underneath, a Prius drives like most small cars. Its engine is very like the Corolla’s but it has about 10 per cent less power when you work it hard, say for overtaking, and the Prius weighs more – it’s as though you are carrying around two extra passengers. On the other hand, the help from the electric motor makes the Prius feel more powerful most of the time, and especially around town.
Steering is light but accurate and the car is comfortable over bumps. It is also relatively quiet, and more so when the petrol engine shuts down - which is frequently, especially during gentle driving. (The Prius can run on electricity alone up to about 60km/h).
The brake pedal is very sensitive but slows the car progressively.
The electronic gear selector on a Prius takes some familiarisation: it slots into each gate and then springs back to its central position. There is also a B function, which stands for braking: it engages more aggressive regenerative braking whenever you lift off the accelerator, almost like you’re pushing the brake pedal. In that mode it will recharge the batteries faster.
What about safety in a Toyota Prius?
The Prius has full airbag protection, a reversing camera, and outstanding levels of active safety for a car at its price level. Auto emergency braking, active cruise control and lane departure warning are standard. There are also bright daytime running lights, to make the car more visible to other road users during the day.
The seven airbags are in the usual places: two directly in front of the driver and passenger; one beside each front occupant at chest level to protect from side impacts; a curtain airbag along each side protecting heads front and rear from side impacts; and finally an airbag at knee level for the driver.
The auto emergency braking uses radar and camera sensors, and operates at city and highway speeds – up to the Prius’s top speed. It will warn you of an impending collision – typically with a slowing car ahead – and can brake the car if it concludes a collision is imminent.
Lane departure warning monitors lane markings and alerts you if you if you stray towards them without indicating – perhaps dangerously, due to distraction or weariness. If you ignore the warning, it will gently attempt to correct the steering.
The Prius i-Tech adds two rear-focused active systems. A Blind-spot warning alerts you to other cars near your rear corners, which might not appear in your mirrors, with a light in the relevant mirror. If you indicate to turn in that direction, the alert will flash. A Rear cross-traffic warning works when you are reversing – say from a shopping centre car park – letting you know if a car is about to cross behind you.
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) rated the Prius at its maximum five stars for safety, in October 2016.
I like driving - will I enjoy this car?
The Prius has a reputation for saving fuel – and not for being fun to drive.
But with this fourth generation model, Toyota has focused more seriously on enjoyment for the driver. It has invested plenty of money beneath the skin of the new Prius, in body and suspension components aimed at making it fun to drive.
The biggest improvement is in the reduction of unwanted leaning and other body movement over bumps – or when cornering enthusiastically. The Prius feels very settled on twisting, bumpy roads, with a driving maturity no Prius before it has come close to (in part thanks to a fresh, double-wishbone, rear suspension).
Those who like lapping up corners would be best going for the i-Tech, which brings more grip from its wider tyres.
Engine performance is only modest, though. While there is punchy acceleration out of slow corners and when zipping around in traffic, the Prius is less enthusiastic above about 80km/h. It will easily hold its speed on a freeway, but from highway speeds it does not sustain the oomph it exhibits when accelerating around town.
How is life in the rear seats?
There’s good leg room in the back of the Prius considering it’s a small car. But head room is compromised, to the point where people taller than 185cm may find their heads grazing the roof. For long journeys, the back seats are best left to kids.
There are also no dedicated air-conditioning vents for rear passengers.
Child seat anchor points are easily accessed from the boot, making it easy to fit a baby capsule.
How is it for carrying stuff?
The Prius has a big boot with a flat floor. Rear seats that split-fold 60-40 allow long items to protrude into the cabin.
The Prius i-Tech has a lower floor in the boot and even more room – 502 litres, up from 457 litres – because it ditches the spare wheel for a tyre repair kit.
The Prius is not rated to tow, and has not been designed to take a tow bar. While it’s not likely you would think of dragging a caravan with a car like this, it’s worth noting it is not equipped to tow a small box-trailer either.
Where does Toyota make the Prius?
The Toyota Prius is made in Japan.
What might I miss that similar cars have?
Perhaps parking sensors, as fitted to the rear of many small cars – among them some Toyota Corollas.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, as supplied with the Ford Focus, Hyundai i30, Holden Astra and Subaru Impreza, for example. This allows you to plug in your phone and operate it from the car’s central touchscreen (or by voice), rather than the phone screen.
Maybe a sunroof, as available on the previous Prius (which also had solar panels to power the fan and cool the car when it was parked). You can get one on many small cars.
If you like the idea of a fuel-saving petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain, but want to spend less than you would have to pay for a Prius, consider the Toyota Corolla Hybrid. This small hatchback works much like a Prius.
Are there plans to update the Prius soon?
This new fourth-generation Prius went on sale early in 2016. Expect an all-new model about 2022, although there will be minor updates before then.
I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?
This new fourth generation Prius went on sale early in 2016. Expect an all new model about 2022, although there will be minor updates before then.
A new plug-in version of the Prius – which can be charged from a home power outlet, and can be driven about 35 km on a full charge – has gone on sale overseas. Toyota has said it won’t bring the Prius PHV, also called the Prius Prime, to Australia. That decision might be reviewed if it proved popular elsewhere.