Toyota Prius still the green benchmark
More reasons than just saving the earth to look at when buying a hybrid
There are few cars that can be considered truly game-changing, but the Toyota Prius is one. It was almost 20 years ago that the Prius spawned the hybrid revolution and since then these pioneers have been continuously rewriting the rulebook. Now in its fourth generation, the Prius is lighter, stronger and more dynamic than the car it replaces but in 20 years the market has changed, so has Toyota done enough to stay ahead of the competition?
While still the familiar Prius, the new car gets a sportier styling and is now longer, lower and wider and based on the new TNGA, or Toyota New Global Architecture, platform for higher quality and rigidity. Overall it's a much smarter looking vehicle with hints of Toyota's hydrogen Mirai model.
At the rear, sharp character lines and a coordinated LED light cluster add to the car's striking hybrid presence, but that presence is at best distinctive and at worst polarising so it's not going to appeal to everyone - but then Prius buyers have always made a statement about being environmentally friendly.
Inside, the new cabin is more upmarket with a modern, almost space-age, feel. The instrument panel is now housed in the centre of the dash. However, some of the fittings feel a little cheap, particularly the shiny white centre console.
The smaller battery has been moved to under the rear seat, helping to lower the centre of gravity and free up luggage space, bringing the boot size to over 500 litres - but as a result, headroom in the back is a little tight though the rear seats can split 60/40 and fold down.
It is now even greener than before; the 1.8 petrol engine has been tweaked and Toyota reckons you will get 94.1mpg (3litres/100km) and emit just 70g/km of CO2 emissions, so road tax is €170.
The most noticeable change from the previous version is that it is now much better to drive thanks in part to the new platform and feels much more agile with more precise steering. The improvements to the centre of gravity are evident when cornering as it is noticeably more responsive, stable and changes to the suspension make it a comfortable and smoother drive.
Even the CVT gear box has improved, it doesn't make quite the same droning noise as it did but it's still not particularly appealing.
Prices for the new Prius start at €31,450 for the entry level, while the Prius Luxury Spec starts at €33,550. Standard equipment includes adaptive cruise control, 15ins alloys, front fogs, air con, rear-view camera, 7ins multimedia, touchscreen and Toyota Safety Sense. Trade up the Luxury spec to add 17ins alloys, dualzone air con, heated front seats, wireless phone charger, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.
Endorsed by celebrity A-listers, the Prius became the world's best-selling petrol-electric hybrid. But two decades later the market is a much more crowded one and the Toyota Prius is no longer the only hybrid in the village. There are now fuel-sipping alternatives from a range of car makers and even a frugal diesel is a competitor.
The Prius name has become synonymous with Toyota and hybrid technology and this Prius is the best version to date. Despite the increased competition, it is still the car to beat in the green car market and will continue to be the benchmark against which rivals are measured.