Toyota Prius test drive

We expected incredible fuel economy and technology but the Prius is also very useable as everyday transport.

We expected incredible fuel economy and technology but the Prius is also very useable as everyday transport.

Some cars take forever to get under your skin. Not this one. The new Prius instantly drowns you with its tsunami force technical overload. How, for example, does the Power Control Unit manage to synchronise the 1.8 petrol engine, electric motor, batteries and the regenerative brakes all in perfect harmony? In this new Prius, it's all so seamless that you miss all the switching if you are not paying attention.

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First, the green car in the flesh. While the earlier Priuses looked more radical, this one looks less so. Blame the march of modern car design or the watering down of the Prius's 'must-stand-out' philosophy, whatever. But look at it from the front and you can tell it's going to be slippery through the air. It's the way the windscreen just drops away flat from the nose, the manner in which the sides of the car have been extended back and then sharply turned so as to only drop the airflow after the tail-lights. Predictably the coefficient of drag is 0.25, one of the best around.

On the inside, things get a bit more radical and you get a feeling that some of it is down to the high-tech effect Toyota wants to create. The lack of a conventional instrument panel, the pinched centre vents and the almost elbow rest-like high central console are all very different. The BMW-like 'push to select' gear lever is given a very technical effect and the steering wheel even gets feather-touch buttons. Toggling through the display menu on the screen with its three-dimension layering is very impressive too. And the energy monitor keeps you abreast of what the car is up to under the hood. The front seats are very comfortable, there's as much space as a Civic in the back, and even the plastics used give the car a high-tech feel. And despite the batteries being placed behind the rear seat, there is plenty of luggage space under the hatch.

Entry is keyless. So key fob still in your pocket, you hit the power button, just as you would on your TV or PC. The dash display boots up instantly, the systems come on line and you get a 'Ready' sign on the display. Select 'D' with the gear lever and you are ready to go. Operation initially is only electric, unless you get aggressive with the right pedal or reach 50kph. So a lot of the start-stop in city traffic is dispatched without the petrol motor starting at all. This means truly great levels of efficiency as electric motors have efficiency levels of 80 percent versus 30 or 40 for petrol engines.

The electric-motor-only take-off from rest also feels instant and the Prius continues to drive in almost eerie silence. There is a decent amount of torque and the equivalent of 80bhp (60kW), coming from the electric motor is more than sufficient for city traffic. But this depletes the battery quite fast. On the Prius you can select EV (Electric Vehicle) mode, Eco mode or Power mode manually, and the software will help you drive in that desired style. But it's best to let the car do the math and Eco mode is the sensible way to go.

Ask for more acceleration and you can just about feel the petrol motor start up. There's no traditionally starter and the 1.8-litre petrol motor is 'spun' smoothly to provide additional power. Now performance is much stronger as you have the 136bhp from the 1.8 motor, plus the electric assist. We carried out a quick acceleration test and the Prius, in performance mode, did the 0-100kph in 10.9 seconds, demonstrating that green need not specifically mean boring.

Brake pedal feel is far from perfect though. There's a mushy and disconcerting feel, especially when you switch from light regenerative braking to more urgent braking, exactly when you need the additional feel the most. Still the brake test we conducted showed how well the car performed an emergency stop. It took 29 metres from 80kph, which is quite impressive.

Ride quality on the Prius, which is shod with high-pressure tyres, is stiff. But the car otherwise feels surprisingly normal to drive. You can now extract some amount of driving pleasure from behind the wheel and it's comfortable and practical as well. It even gave astonishing 15.1kpl in the city and has a CO2 output lower than even cars like the A-star!

However, at 33.73 lakh, the Prius has to be an emotional buy, something to make a statement with. And there'll be more than a few lining up for that.

Fact File

Price Range (in lakhs)*
Ex-showroom price 33.73 lakh ( On-road price Mumbai )

Fuel Petrol
Installation Front, transverse
Power 136bhp at 5200rpm
Torque 14.48kgm at 4000rpm

Length 4460mm
Width 1745mm
Height 1510mm

Chassis & Body
Weight 1390-1395kg

First Published Date: 19 Jan 2013, 17:19 PM IST

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