Remember the interest created by the first Toyota Prius hybrid? It was late in 1997 that the car, initially unveiled as a concept at the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show, went on sale in Japan.
It caused quite a stir. Winning awards, and hailed as the future of motoring, the new fangled petrol-electric hybrids were touted as green machines.
They certainly produced impressive fuel consumption figures, but to drive? Well, let’s just say their performance was leisurely and the handling was a work in progress. And that’s praising it up.
Still you felt good about saving the planet, and anyway, wasn’t everyone in Hollywood driving one?
Here it is, nearly 20 years later, and hybrids abound. Just about every manufacturer seems to have one on the market, or soon will have.
Plug-ins, petrol-electric, diesel-electric, all electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cells might be just round the corner. Quite a range.
Against this backdrop comes the fourth generation Toyota Prius hybrid, a revamp of the car that started it all.
The 2016 model was brought to market with much fanfare, promoted as a sporty drive, lighter, better agility and good new looks..
So how does it measure up?
Actually, it’s quite good, and my time with the car has been enjoyable. It gets along surprisingly well, nimble, responsive and quiet.
Good brakes, crisp steering, improved handling, and considerably reduced tyre noise. I know, quite a departure from the first ones!
Sporty? Well, it’s not a race car, but there’s adequate performance for most drivers in most conditions.
Depending on the acceleration you’re after, the car will get you underway on battery power alone, then the 1.8 litre 4 cylinder petrol motor takes over quietly and with a minimum of fuss.
Toyota claims 3.4 litres per 100 kilometres, but the best I managed was about 4.6.
The new styling results in more space in the cabin, there’s good room in the back. Seating and the driving position are comfortable, and you will find lots of storage space in the boot.
The instrument display, such as it is, including the information/rear view camera screen, is in the centre of the dash.
This takes a bit of getting used to, as there are no gauges or or even warning lights behind the steering wheel.
However, a well positioned head-up display means the driver can stay focussed on the road ahead while still keeping an eye on the speed.
The modern interior seems determined to make the point that this is a technology leader… note the eye-catching white highlights, with an enamel lustre, around the centre screen and driving controls.
It certainly sets the car apart from most others.
And while we’re on design.. what do you make of the exterior styling? I know, style is a subjective thing, but I don’t mind the look of this Prius.
Other critics however, including one of my Behind the Wheel colleagues, can’t take to it at all.
In particular, he objects to the tail lights, the upswept hips and the flat back. Admittedly, the car does look somewhat futuristic and swoopy, but it certainly has left behind the understated – dumpy – appearance of the first models.
The 2016 Toyota Prius. Now you can have miserly fuel consumption in a hybrid that’s actually good to drive.
NUTS and BOLTS – 2016 Toyota Prius i-Tech
Engine: Combined 1.8 litre 4-cylinder petrol and electric drivetrain developing 72kW and 142Nm
Transmission: CVT Automatic
Safety: Not yet rated
Warranty: 3 years, 100,000km
Price: from $43,850