Cars: On your bike - new Prius shows how 2 goes into 1
But plastic inserts let down the cabin
I remember many, many years ago my Uncle Joe bringing us down a 'pedal bike with an engine'. It was a battered old thing that didn't last long because, already on its last legs, we extinguished what life there was in it by trialling it on the bog road.
Basically, you pedalled like hell and that helped the little 'engine/transmission' when you needed a boost going up hills. There was, I recall, a lot of noise and smoke and stopping and starting. More stopping than starting if I remember correctly.
Little did I realise I was driving a 'hybrid' (in the loosest sense of the word, of course). It was my first introduction to the idea that two power sources (legs and 'engine') could complement each other on the move.
Nowadays, the concept is taken for granted, of course. We don't give a second thought to hybrid systems such as the one in the new Toyota Prius.
But it is never any harm to take a moment and remember what a wonderful concept it is; electric and petrol power combine or work separately depending on need and demand. And it's all run by a little computer control unit - a sort of hybrid 'general' directing the troops.
Mind you, that still doesn't mean the Prius gets a blanket 10-out-of-10 on this test. More mundane matters mitigated against that as we'll see. But given its core claim to fame is its ability to minimise use of the petrol engine, especially in urban driving, it deserves great credit.
In my case, over a decent mix of city and country driving, I got 5-litres/100km which isn't far off 60MPG. They claim it can manage 3-litres/100km. Motorway driving used up a lot more fuel (I kept a close watch) as you'd expect because the electric element is used less than in lower-speed, shorter journeys.
One of the biggest criticisms of former models was the 'boom/noise' from the transmission (again an ingenious if yet-to-be-perfected Continuously Variable Transmission - CVT - which gives you an endless series of non-defined gears).
The latest edition is much better; only under heavy acceleration from 90km upwards on motorways did it make its presence felt to any extent. The cabin is big, roomy (60mm longer, 15mm wider) and really quite comfortable. The seats were excellent.
The main interface touchscreen (remote controls on steering wheel too) was impressive except for when I wanted to scroll down phone lists. It tended to call the number across from where my stubby digit started/ended the scroll. By the way, the location of the heated-seats buttons behind the central console is ridiculous.
Another criticism of forerunners was the sloppy nature of the drive. They've improved the suspension considerably (new rear double wishbone) but is it something most owners are going to worry about too much? They want their Prius to save money on fuel, be their family car and/or make a little statement about their environmental concerns (emissions down to 70g/km with the 1.8-litre petrol engine heavily revised). However, improved handling and ride are no burdens on any motor, even a Prius.
An added bonus is how much better it looks now - lots of people commented.
There's additional room in the boot too because the more compact nickel-metal-hydride battery pack sits under the rear seats.
One thing I will never understand, though, is the decision to invade the central stretch of the cabin-front (and a layer on the steering wheel) with the most awful looking slab of white plastic. I wouldn't let it on the old pedal-petrol bike.
I'm afraid there is no escaping it either as my enquiries confirm we're stuck with it. If you gave me one reason not to buy the car that would be it. I don't know why, but it reminded me of a big doll's bath one of my daughters used to have.
Funny isn't it how they can get so much right - this is an impressive deal now - and let it down with something that, to me, seems so obviously out of place?
All that aside, however, I believe the Prius is well worth a test drive. I think it does an excellent job of showing how two can go into one - a lesson I first learned on an old 'bike' many years ago.
Facts & figures
Toyota Prius, hybrid, hatch 1.8-litre petrol/electric motor (total 122bhp), 70g/km, road tax from €170, 3-litres/100km. Price (includes €1,500 VRT rebate) from €31,450 (Prius spec); Luxury from €33,550 ex-works.
Standard spec includes brand's Safety Sense package: road sign assist (warns if over speed limit), lane departure alert, pre-collision, adaptive cruise control, auto high beam; 15ins alloys, front fogs, air con, rear-view camera, 7ins multimedia, 4.2ins TFT.
Luxury adds: 17ins alloys, dual-zone air con, heated front seats, wireless phone charger, blind-spot monitor.
My side of the road
I can't explain why people feel the footpath isn't good enough for them. Have you ever seen anything like the number of people who have decided to dodge between path and road?
Some are out running, some are walking the dog.
But all of them are making drivers' lives a misery. Please stay on the path. They were made for a reason: to keep you safe.