Cheap, practical & well equipped: The new Toyota Prius makes sense
Wary of cheating diesels? Not yet sold on the idea of electric? Then the long-serving and much-maligned Toyota Prius is the answer
Jeez, I haven't seen a Prius on the streets in a long time. What's new about this 2019 model?
A once pioneering hybrid car that people love to hate (especially so-called car people), the Prius isn't exactly the strongest of sellers here in SA - especially not since the fourth-generation model was launched to our shores back in 2016. Reason being that its radically angular lines and quirky vertical taillights were Japanese avant-garde in the strongest sense of the term.
Personally I thought it quite fetching: an almost retro-futuristic take on some of the more aesthetically daring cars to see the light of day in 1950s America. Apparently I was in the minority here, which is why Toyota recently gave its fourth-generation Prius quite a comprehensive visual overhaul.
The front has lost all that creased "origami" intent and those aforementioned taillights have been flipped horizontal. Yep, what was once the most adventurous Toyota Prius has now been diluted back down to the play-it-safe malaise of generations past.
In a world hellbent on electric cars, is the Prius even relevant anymore?
In this technological backwater of ours I think the Prius is perhaps more relevant than it has ever been. Electric cars are a lovely idea and as short-range transport (from home to work and back again for example) they really do make a strong case for themselves.
There are some problems, however. If you're not "fuelling" them with your own clean energy (solar panels) then they are indirectly burning whatever low-grade coal - or diesel - our power stations happen to be primed with.
FAST FACTS: TOYOTA PRIUS
• ENGINE: 1,798cc four cylinder petrol + hybrid synergy drive
• POWER: 72kW at 5,200rpm + 53kW
• TORQUE: 142Nm at 3,600rpm + 163Nm
• TRANSMISSION: CVT 0-100km/h: 10.6 seconds (claimed)
• TOP SPEED: 180km/h (claimed)
• FUEL: 3.5l/100km (achieved)
• CO²: 87g/km (claimed)
• PRICE: From R498,000
Then there's our charging infrastructure - or lack thereof. SA is not America and therefore it's tricky to find a public charging station on your commute. And if you do there's a high chance that it won't work or, if it's in a dealership, has been obstructed by parked non-electric cars.
Finally there's range - there's simply no way you're road-tripping your EV down to Cape Town.
In the Prius you can. Hell, you can drive it wherever you want to because it still has a 1.8-litre petrol engine, the tank of which can be filled up at any petrol station on the planet.
It also has Hybrid Synergy Drive: Toyota's tried and tested pairing of an electric motor to a battery pack that helps deliver stellar fuel consumption figures within the treacly confines of the urban gridlock.
With little effort I averaged 3.5l\100km across a week of mixed driving conditions. Do the maths and you'll discover that this gives you about 1,150km of range on a tank. And in a country where the price of fuel escalates monthly, that's worth its weight in gold.
Can you drive it without the petrol engine running?
Yes. Select EV Mode and you can, depending on the battery's state of charge, pilot the Prius over short distances (the most I saw was about 2km) using just the electric motor. This doesn't sound very far, I know, but when you're stuck in a stop-start traffic jam on the M1 even a single kilometre feels like an eternity.
And this is where the Prius again shines as an urban commuter. Its electric propulsion not only helps reduce fuel consumption but also keeps your sanity in check. While everybody around you is idling, wasting fuel and riding their clutches you're just scything along silently in your very own isolation chamber.
Do I have to charge it overnight like my friend's Nissan Leaf?
Why does everybody think this? No, you don't. The battery doing duty inside the Prius is kept charged by the petrol engine (like a generator) and also through the regenerative braking system that basically, using the electric motor, converts kinetic energy lost when decelerating back into stored energy inside the battery.
Is it nice on the inside?
It really is. There's only one Prius model available in SA and it comes packed with pretty much all the toys you can think of. Heated leather seats. Touch-screen infotainment system. Dual-zone climate control. Reversing camera. Cruise control. A beefy six-speaker sound system. Heck, there's even one of those fancy wireless charging pads to keep your smartphone charged.
There's only one Prius model available in SA and it comes packed with pretty much all the toys you can think of
Features aside, the Prius is a properly practical car with lots of space (especially if you fold down the seats) for packing in people, baggage, objects and things.
Ergonomics are tidy and the driving position is, even for a tall chap such as myself, close to perfect.
So it's cheap to run, practical and generously equipped - what's the catch?
The catch is that you will be teased mercilessly by anyone remotely interested in cars. Yeah, like The Offspring sang on 1997's Ixnay on the Hombre, it's cool to hate and the Prius is unfortunately just one of those cars that gets hated for no good reason. I know it's not exciting to drive (duh, it's not supposed to be).
I know it was once the darling of every self-righteous eco-warrior living in LA and I know it has in the past been owned by some rather questionable celebrities (thanks, Tom Hanks) but as a form of everyday transport in a world marred by increasing expense, traffic and overcrowding, this Toyota makes sense.
Cleaner than a diesel and still far more realistic than a full-on electric vehicle, I wouldn't hesitate to park one inside my garage if had I the financial means.
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