- Published: Saturday, 09 April 2016 01:45
The new Toyota Prius promises a lot. Does it deliver in local conditions?
SINGAPORE — You saw it at the Singapore Motor Show. You’ve skimmed our technical preview about it. You’ve read our drive report from the Fuji Speedway in Japan. (And if you haven’t, go do it now!) But what’s it really like to drive the new Toyota Prius here in Singapore?
We finally got to find out for ourselves, after four days with the car here. During that time we took on crowded suburban roads, choked rush-hour traffic, free-flowing expressways… just about all the situations the typical motorist here faces.
The car itself is a refinement of the concept that Toyota put into place with the 1997 original: get some electric motors to team up with a petrol engine, and power them with a battery that is topped up by regenerative braking (i.e., one that never needs to be charged by a wall socket).
If you do that, you’ll give the engine an easy life and save plenty of fuel in the process. That’s the theory, anyway. As for real life, here’s what we found after some serious bonding time with Toyota’s petrol-electric wonder.
WE LOOKED FORWARD TO DRIVING IT. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
We’ve always liked Priuses (actually, the first one was a bit of a dud to drive, with absolutely zero steering feel), but this fourth-gen model feels extra special.
The cabin looks like nothing else from Toyota, so straightaway you know you’re driving a different sort of car.
The centrally-located displays and the shiny white centre console are all part of an inviting, high-quality aesthetic that settles you in warmly. Meanwhile, the seats have been redesigned and genuinely offer all-day comfort, at least up front.
NO ONE NOTICES IT
The Prius may be beloved by tree-hugging Hollywood A-listers, but here, no one bats an eyelid. Even our test car’s striking “Emotional Red” paintwork failed to turn heads.
That’s in spite of the car’s unusual looks, too. Toyota says the Prius has a “dolphin” silhouette — can’t say we see it, really — and the body’s gentle swoops and curves suggest that it’s been carefully sculpted in the wind tunnel, but if nothing else, how do you not stop and stare at the unusual rear lamps?
Singaporeans must be a jaded bunch.
YOU'LL GEEK OUT ON THE INTERIOR
Very little about the new Prius feels conventional. Actually, that’s always been the case. But the new car has bright, clear displays that look right out of Star Trek. Seriously.
The lower screen is an LED touchscreen mainly for the entertainment system, while above them are the displays for driving info. You control that with buttons on the steering wheel, which you can use to work the sound system and air-con.
It’s actually fairly confusing at first, because there’s just so much info to grapple with: what’s your current consumption? How’s the battery level? Is the car running in EV mode? Is that average consumption for my current trip or since I reset it last?
Once you get the hang of it, though, it’s a joy to watch all that data flash up at your fingertips.
DRIVING IT IS LIKE PLAYING A GAME
Let’s face it, driving in Singapore can be boring. You can’t speed (and shouldn’t, anyway), and there are hardly any corners to tackle. But the Prius has managed to game-ify a lot of it.
There are all sorts of ways to keep track of your fuel-saving progress. You could look at your fuel consumption for a given trip, of course, but there’s more. There’s an “EV ratio” indicator, of course. That tells you how much of the time the Prius functions in zero-emissions, battery-only mode.
On the flipside, it lets you know how much the petrol engine gets to sleep. Amazingly, we could consistently get 60 to 70 percent, meaning the petrol engine lies dormant for the majority of the time.
Other “gaming” scores worth tracking: how much money the Prius’ fuel-sipping abilities are saving you (versus your old car), what your fuel consumption is like on a day-to-day basis, and what your eco-driving score is like (out of 100).
If you wear a Fitbit and feel that surge of pride whenever your step count hits 10,000, then you know how much of a buzz it can be to keep score.
IT'S ACTUALLY DECENT FUN AROUND CORNERS
No one buys a Prius to hoon through bends, but this model is actually up for a bit of naughty fun if you are. There’s very little slop in the steering, and it feels stable in a low-centre-of-gravity kind of way.
The rear suspension, in particular, feels less crashy over bumps than in the previous model.
The Prius is built on the TNGA platform, which is going to underpin pretty much all of Toyota’s future cars. Bodes well for Toyota’s future, then.
READ MORE > How Toyota wants its TNGA platform to save the world. No, really
IT'S DAMN NEAR SILENT
The last Prius was a quiet car. Take that and stuff cotton wool in your ears, and you have some idea of what the new one is like.
Electric drive is quiet by nature, of course, but very often we found ourselves having to look at the display to tell if the engine was running. It’s just that smooth and quiet. And it doesn’t really fire up like other engines do. Instead it sort of sneaks into action, like a mechanical ninja.
YOU'LL ACTUALLY GET THE CLAIMED FUEL CONSUMPTION IF YOU TRY
The Prius’ average fuel consumption is supposed to be 3.7L/100km. Carmakers’ mileage claims can seem a little like the whispered promises of a painted woman, but Toyota doesn’t seem to be the fibbing kind.
With a bit of careful effort, we notched up 3.6L/100km on our first two days with the car. Using the peppy “Power” driving mode for a while on Day Three resulted in a worse score (3.9L/100km) and a day of photography really messed things up with 4.1L/100km. But when we returned the Prius, the display read 3.7L/100km.
The bottom line is, if you try decently hard, you’ll be able to achieve what Toyota says the Prius can do. And even if you stuff around, things won’t be disastrous. 4.1L/100km works out to 24.4km/L, which is still better than some motorcycles.
IT'S NOT A LARGE CAR
That dolphin silhouette means the roofline eats into rear headroom. And the boot is nicely shaped and has a wide opening, but it’s pretty shallow. That’s probably because the battery lives behind the rear seats.
YOU'LL WANT ONE
More than a couple of us were heard to utter “If I had the money, I’d buy one” after driving the Prius.
There aren’t that many cars that actually elicit that response, though of course the Prius is not without flaws — you expect more equipment like GPS navigation and electric front seats for the money, for instance.
But it drives nicely and is as quiet as a Rolls-Royce, while providing a worthy challenge each time you climb behind the wheel: given the traffic conditions you have to navigate, how well can you get the best of the clever engineering underneath the car’s skin?
Stepping up to that task created a unique kind of fun that other cars aren’t able to replicate.
READ MORE > Meet Korea's Prius. It's right here in Singapore
The Toyota delights with its cleverness, too. How many cars do you know can figure out that there’s only one person in the cabin, and adjust the air-con accordingly to keep from wasting energy?
Small touches like that and the sophisticated drivetrain mean that above all, the new Prius feels like the future, with a depth that goes beyond its snazzy displays.
Plenty of people seem to agree, because worldwide demand has made it tough to get your hands on a Prius now. Even though the car has been launched here, Singapore is sold out for around half a year. To get a piece of tomorrow, in other words, you’re going to have to wait a few months.
NEED TO KNOW Toyota Prius 1.8L
Engine 1,797cc, 16v, inline 4
Power 97hp at 5,200rpm
Torque 142Nm at 3,600rpm
Electric Motor 71hp
Battery Nickel metal-hydride, 1.31kWh
System Power 120hp at 5,200rpm
Top Speed 180km/h
0-100km/h 10.8 (estimated)
Fuel efficiency 3.7L/100km
Price On Application
Availability 3Q, 2016