Three of the last four vehicle launches in South Africa have been for hybrid vehicles, a sign of just how this technology is hitting the mainstream. Toyota have launched their fourth generation Prius, showing just how far ahead of most others they got into the game.
It would seem that the plug-in hybrid model is gaining in popularity over the regenerative model, of which Prius is an example. So which is the better option?
My definitive answer is, “it depends”. The plug-in option is sensible when seen in the European and North American contexts largely because of the far more advanced recharge facilities and shorter commuting distances.
Remove these two factors and you meet a lot of the South African reality. A regenerative hybrid like the Prius then starts to make a lot of sense in terms of fuel savings. In my brief time with it I managed a genuine 5.4 litres per 100km.
I made sure I drove it as I would any other vehicle, without trying to save fuel. It is not difficult to improve on this figure by applying one’s mind rather than one’s foot, but that is true of any car to some extent at least.
The Prius makes this easy to do as there are all sorts of screens and readouts to tell you what savings are being made and it is easy to become somewhat obsessed, so savings will accrue.
But even at 5.4 litres per 100km it is really economical and this does not come at the expense of performance.
In keeping with the sharper styling the Prius performs, there is no need to creep around apologising for yourself and explaining that you are trying to save the planet. The new Prius is the first model to use a chassis based on Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA).
It will also underpin other future models and will be joined by further platforms suitable for different vehicle applications, from compact sports cars to SUVs. The TNGA platform plays a defining role in the Prius’s ride and handling, giving the car a lower centre of gravity compared to the current model, and securing a more engaging driving position and more precise and responsive handling, with less body roll.
This means better handling can be achieved directly from the quality of the chassis and body without having to use firmer suspension settings, or compromising ride and comfort.
It makes a big contribution to the improved driving dynamics which is further supported by a body that is 60% more rigid than before thanks to extensive use of high-strength steels and additional reinforcement to the centre pillars’ lower structure and the panel connection. Something that underlines how serious Toyota are about making the Prius a pleasure to drive is its new double wishbone rear suspension.
This is one of those engineering decisions that is seldom seen, but changes the ride and handling hugely the closer one gets to the limits. The new model retains the 2 700mm wheelbase of the current Prius, but is 60mm longer overall at 4 540mm.
It is also 15mm wider at 1 760mm. Obviously aerodynamics are vital to a car that seeks to make a minimal impact on the environment and the new Prius gets a unique aerodynamic treatment to the rear section of the roof, which supports the clean flow of air over and away from the vehicle.
The length and angle of the rear spoiler have been precisely calculated and the bodywork tapers towards the rear corners, helping smooth airflow and reduce drag. The low roof and rear pillars are distinctively integrated using blacked-out panels that are shaped to draw air around the side windows to the rear of the car.
It has an exceptional 0.24 coefficient of drag. There is plenty of standard safety kit, including rear-view camera with dynamic guidelines and seven airbags (curtain, front, side and a driver knee airbag).
Convenience features include customisable dual Multi-Information Display screens and seat heaters for driver and front passenger.
The new Prius also boasts a Toyota-first full-colour Heads Up Display (HUD) projected directly to the windscreen.
Thanks to a more compact hybrid system and HV battery and the new double wishbone rear suspension, there is no intrusion in the boot space. The cargo floor is set 110mm lower, expanding capacity to 502 litres when a spare wheel is carried.
The new hybrid battery offers higher energy density. At the same time as maintaining power output, its size has been reduced by 10%. Furthermore, it can now absorb 28% more energy in the same amount of time, which means that it is faster charging. As in the current model, Prius’s hybrid system features a 1.8-litre VVT-i Atkinson cycle petrol engine.
However, the unit has been completely re-engineered to deliver significantly better fuel economy. It produces 72kW and 142Nm.
The new Toyota Prius sells for R427 200 and includes a 5 year/90 000km Service Plan, 3 year/100 000km warranty and a Hybrid Battery Warranty of 8 years/ 195 000km.