The new Toyota Prius is the best version of the hybrid yet but it's still just as ugly
FIRST things first, let?s deal with the elephant in the room as far as this new Toyota Prius is concerned.
This is not a good-looking car. Past generations of the Japanese hybrid might have been rather conservative to look at, but that certainly isn?t a criticism that you?d aim at this fourth-generation incarnation.
During our entire time with the car, we didn?t find anyone who didn?t turn up their nose at it.
This is a difficult vehicle to love to look at. Which is a shame because that?s likely to overshadow what has been a runaway success for Toyota so far.
Twenty years and 3.5 million worldwide sales on, the Prius has become the flag-bearer for all hybrids and also a byword for the technology generally.
While electric power in all its forms is growing in popularity the Prius has been a constant presence throughout, both with this new model in this standard form and also an upcoming plug-in version.
This new Prius follows the family resemblance to Toyota?s futuristic Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell car. But since that also fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down, it?s no claim to fame.
We?re all for unusual styling here on the motoring desk, but this might be taking things a bit too far.
Looks aside, despite all the recent publicity given to fully electric vehicles and also plug-in models, there?s a lot going for this Toyota hatchback.
As before, the Prius boasts a combination of petrol and electric power with a 1.8-litre internal combustion engine alongside a 53kW electric motor which together provide 121bhp.
Linked to an automatic gearbox, this gets the Prius from 0 to 60mph in 10.4 seconds and on to a 112mph top speed ? hardly the most scorching pace, but then that?s not the raison d??tre of the car.
What is, though, is the Toyota?s 76g/km emissions and 85.6mpg average fuel economy. Other versions in the Prius range can achieve up to 94.1mpg and 70g/km.
Then again, old versions of the Prius could boast good on-paper statistics too but weren?t so good at repeating them in real-world driving. They were also about as enjoyable as a slap in the face with a kipper.
Toyota has promised improvement with this fourth-generation version, so has it delivered? The answer is yes and no.
Few eco-focused cars are truly enjoyable to drive and unfortunately much the same is true here. The Prius is not a car that you?re going to drive on the longer, twisty route home from work just to put a smile on your face.
There?s too much body roll and it?s so disconnected there?s little to no idea of what the wheels are doing in front of you.
Having said that, it is a vast improvement on its predecessors and there is some amusement of a different kind with the various driving meters on the dashboard to improve your economy still further.
Even driving reasonably hard, with the air conditioning switched on, we still managed 65.7mpg during our time with the car. We don?t think it would have taken much effort to easily get that into the mid 70s. The Toyota?s driving manners are undoubtedly improved too.
Far more refined and quieter than before, especially at faster motorway speeds, noise levels are particularly well suppressed.
However, we?d prefer a bit more regenerative braking from simply lifting your foot off the throttle pedal or better yet, the ability to adjust it according to your needs (as on some full EVs). The interior is another area where Toyota has made substantial strides forward.
We?re not overly keen on the white plastic that covers much of the cabin and some of the steering wheel but its sci-fi-style dominating central screen and the upper readout look like few other cars on the market.
Yes, like the outside, it won?t be to everyone?s taste and takes some time to get used to but we actually quite liked it.
Which is more than we could say for the 1980s-look perforated white leather seats.
The other surprise about the interior is that, despite that sloping roofline, there?s actually a reasonable amount of rear head and legroom, though the 502-litre boot remains shallow.
Again, it?s better than before but buyers comparing it to alternatives might still be deterred.
There?s no question that this model has been improved in every way.
If that?s enough to convince those who have previously ruled out the Prius to switch is another matter.
Whether you like the styling or not though, what?s not in doubt is that this is unquestionably the best Prius yet.
Price: from ?23,295
Engine: Petrol ? 1.8-litre plus 53kW electric motor
Power: 0 to 60mph in 10.4 seconds, 112mph top speed
Fuel economy: 85.6mpg
CO2 emissions: 76g/km
Rivals: BMW i3, Lexus CT200h, VW Golf GTE
New Toyota Prius - The best version yet is still just as ugly | Cars | Life & Style | Daily Express