Prius strikes right note with heads-up display system
The little grey notebook I jot my test notes in has big heavy circles around 'heads-up display', 'quiet', 'seats'. Nothing highlighted on all the wonderful technological bits in this hybrid seven-seater. They are all in the notes, of course, but the items that made the lasting impressions have heavy ink fences around them.
Head-up display: This takes the core information you'd normally glean from the central display – mpg, temperature, speed etc – and projects it on to the windscreen in your line of vision.
You can flick through at the slightest touch on a switch-base on the steering wheel. I never had to look down to change channels, temperature, look at elements on the Drive monitor etc. It is the best I have come across – a safety aid that it made driving so much easier.
Quiet: You expect hush in a hybrid vehicle with an electric motor and a refined 1.8-litre petrol engine but it surpassed my expectations. Well insulated, the cabin is nicely judged, clear of clutter and the dash brings together what you want where you want it.
Seats: There are seven of them in three rows. The second (three individual) and third (two smaller ones) are higher than the ones in front of them. The driver's one had excellent lumbar support.
This is a fair bit bigger than the ordinary Prius, but the same hybrid principles apply – orchestration of petrol engine, electric motor, battery pack to keep you going. When you slow down and brake the energy is recaptured and boosts the battery.
A great concept and in practice the Hybrid Synergy Drive saves a lot of fuel in city driving because the engine isn't used much. However, the 1.8-litre was working most of the time I drove it down the country and my fuel consumption rose as a result.
The official combined fuel consumption figures are competitive from 4.1 litres/100km with claimed emissions of 96g/km on my test car. I say competitive because some diesels are dipping into that territory these days.
In a way I'm surprised we're not hearing more about this larger Prius – seven seats, different looking, fuel efficient/low emissions, 'hybrid fashionable'.
Cost is a factor because finding nearly €35,000 is out of most families' reach these days.
We didn't use the third-row seat duo for passengers; we needed them folded for extra space. Access from the rear side doors was decent.
There's more front-seat head and shoulder room; the middle row is better looked after, too. We found it easy to slide the front seats forwards or backwards (by 260mm) – they also fully recline.
The levers on the shoulders of the rear seats worked well. We could slide the outside seats further forward than the middle one to give a sense of more space. Or we could split, fold or slide them. I reckon this is a good package for the proverbial growing family. There was room and flexibility.
The interior is new and looks it, especially the smart dash and central console. The Toyota Touch information screen had audio, sat nav etc as well as air con controls – blissfully simple and, in my case, idiot proof.
There's a decent enough boot and a nifty 41-litre storage slot under the luggage deck. Indeed there were lots of useful stowage areas.
The engine usually cut off when we stopped at lights etc – good for fuel consumption – and moved off in electric mode only, but not always because I often accelerated hard. The system adapts to the circumstances.
The electric continuously variable transmission (e-CVT), while smooth, had a time lag between me pressing the accelerator and getting the result. It is a characteristic of CVT.
I think the 'gear' lever was the least intuitive area. I got used to it but was never comfortable with where I should be 'lifting' the lever. Easily more intuitive were the 'on-demand' drive modes which included Normal, all-electric (EV), Eco and Power.
The Prius+ was better than I expected, felt better balanced, was quite smart but the price is a deterrent. There was a wealth of technology at my disposal, yet the so-helpful heads-up display remains my abiding memory.
More notes from my little grey book next week.
* Toyota Prius+, seven-seat hybrid people carrier with Hybrid Synergy Drive. Combines 1.8 litre (1,798cc, 99bhp) petrol engine with 60kW electric motor (136bhp total), lithium-ion battery pack, Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), 96g/km and €180 road tax.
* Standard equipment includes climate control, cruise control, head-up display, panoramic sunroof, LED daytime running lights, 16-inch alloys, Toyota Touch multimedia system with rear-view camera and 6.1-inch colour touch-screen (AM/FM radio, CD/MP3 player, Bluetooth connectivity with music streaming, USB port, also displays fuel consumption, air con etc).
* Price: €34,995. Remember: delivery and related charges are extra.