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Toyota Prius Excel First Drive

By raccars Published

Toyota Prius Excel

Price: £27,450 (range starts from £23,295) · Gearbox: CVT automatic · 0-62mph: 10.6 seconds · Top speed: 111mph · Fuel economy: 85.6mpg · CO2: 76g/km · On sale: Now · Insurance group: 14

Three 2016 Toyota Prius facts

1: There are now four grades of Prius, rather than three of the earlier model: Active, Business, Business Plus and Excel.

2: You can opt for the smaller 15-inch wheels on any model, which lowers to the CO2 to beat the London Congestion Charge.

3: Prices are up by around £1,200 over the outgoing Prius, but the increase in equipment accounts for that.

What is it?

The fourth generation Prius is, yes, the latest iteration of the iconic Toyota that introduced hybrid motoring to the masses. If you thought that hybrid cars were overcomplicated and thus more likely to break down, well, the first may still be true, but the Prius has proved to be one of the most reliable cars on the road. The sophisticated design means that there is actually less wear and tear than on traditional petrol cars on crucial items like the brakes.

The other big deal about the Prius, like all other Toyota and Lexus Hybrids, is that while it makes use of a petrol engine, it produces economy figures akin to those of a diesel car. That means if you aren’t happy with a diesel (and increasingly there are question marks about diesel emissions), then a Prius could be for you.

Past Toyota Prius have been the motoring equivalent of a vegan meal ¬– good for you but rarely much fun. For 2016 Toyota wants to appeal to those looking for a fun-to-drive car that stands out. And the new Prius is a stylish hatchback that wears its economy credentials well.

It seems there are many who still don’t fully “get” what a hybrid car is, so here’s the briefest explanation.

Regular hybrids, like virtually all Toyota and Lexus models (and this Prius), have petrol engines plus a high capacity battery. At certain times the battery will combine its power with the petrol engine, which helps reduce fuel consumption.

The battery recharges largely by using the energy developed when the brakes are applied. Regular hybrids won’t go any meaningful distance on electric power alone – maybe just one mile.

A newer development is the plug-in hybrid. It works on the same principles, except there is a much large battery, so you might be able to travel 15-25 miles on battery power alone.

You charge up plug-in hybrids either at home or at a roadside charging point; although these batteries can be recharged on the move by the petrol engine, that makes poor economic sense. The cost of plug-in hybrids is much greater that normal hybrids, down to the much larger battery.

Toyota had a plug-in hybrid version of the previous Prius, but the new model of that is not out yet.

Styling and interior

While obviously still a Toyota Prius, the 2016 model has a sleeker body, which results in a lower roofline and seating position and, arguably, a Prius that isn’t quite as easy to get into and out of. With ever increasing buyer enthusiasm for high-seated crossovers and SUVs, the fact Toyota has gone in the opposite direction is curious.

However, the lower bonnet and deeper windscreen does mean the forward visibility is notably better than in the past, and there’s plenty of space for four, even five adults. The front seats have a layer of softness followed up with strong support, while those in the rear are a bit flat but satisfactory.

Luggage space is up by over 10% as long as you accept a tyre inflator instead of the spare wheel (which is a free option with 15-inch wheels). That means a best case of 502 litres, which compares very favourably with the VW Golf’s 380 litres, and even better than the Ford Mondeo Hybrid, which loses capacity to the batteries.

However, if you opt for the temporary spare wheel then the volume drops to 457 litres. Inside, the storage areas have been re-shaped and improved.

The interior is really rather fine, purposely stand-out different – because the Prius still does seem left-field – but generally more solid and substantial than before. There are still places, like the top of the dashboard, that seem thin, but this is countered by the space-age displays running across the top of the facia and the large media station in the centre. These are as good as you’ll find in any car costing £30,000.

All but the cheapest Prius are equipped with wireless phone charging. Simply place a suitable equipped phone onto the pad on the centre console, and recharging happens automatically.

Performance

Nobody buys a Toyota Prius with performance high on the list of priorities, and on paper things don’t look that promising. The 1.8-litre petrol engine has less than 100hp which, with the weight of today’s cars, loaded with safety equipment, ranks low down the scale.

Yet the battery brings this up to 121hp, and with both power sources complimenting each other, the performance is usually entirely satisfactory. The Prius, as always, has an automatic transmission.

Driving a Prius is now, as always, about staying in its comfort zone. Many Prius drivers are economy fanatics, and so drive gently and courteously. In the new car that gets the same results as ever – serenely quiet, relaxed motoring – but now on an even higher plane than ever.

Handling

More enthusiastic drivers will like the enhanced steering that’s now very precise, and the improved suspension that adds ride comfort and more agility on winding roads. The driving position is better too (lower and slightly more sports car like). The Prius can get noisy when you try to get the most from the engine, but that’s rarely necessary.

Business Plus and Excel version have Toyota’s Intelligent Park Assist, which guides the car into a parking slot at the touch of a button. Also fitted to these two models is satellite navigation, while all models come with a host of safety systems, including Forward Collision Warning that will slow the car to a standstill automatically if the radar detects an imminent collision.

Price and value

While prices have risen by roughly £1,200 over the previous Prius, there’s enough additional equipment to account for this. Standard across the range are dual zone climate control, LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, DAB radio and keyless entry with push-button start.

The cheapest Prius, the Active, is £23,295, moving up to Business Edition at £24,195, Business Plus at £25,995 and Excel, with leather interior, at £27,450.

As there are no variations of engine, it all comes down to choosing the equipment level that suits you best.

Fuel economy

The dashboard of the Prius has a feature that scores you on your economy driving prowess. It’s hard to get into the upper reaches, but it is an incentive to try your hardest to maximise the range on a litre of fuel.

The statutory government figures note a combined figure of 94.1mpg. It sounds fanciful and probably is, but there’s no doubt that figures of over 70mpg are readily possible, which sounds good enough in the real world.

If you buy one of the two top models, however, the combined economy figure drops to 85.6mpg, on account of their chunkier 17-inch wheels. If that doesn’t suit, there’s the opportunity to specify the 15-inch wheels from the cheaper Prius, and save yourself a few hundred pounds on the purchase price.

There’s another good reason to do this, for the CO2 falls from 76g/km to 70g/km with the 15-inch wheels, bringing the Prius below the point where the daily £11.50 London Congestion Charge applies.

Verdict

Toyota has proved with the Prius that advanced automotive technology can move into your everyday life without worries about reliability – or cost. The hybrid principle works so well that Toyota has extended it across a whole range of models (and all Lexus models), but the Prius remains the model that’s specially built around the whole concept.

The 2016 Prius is a genuine step forward in terms comfort and driving satisfaction, while further eeking out the miles you can travel on a tank of fuel. It’s worthy of serious consideration.

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