Toyota Prius hybrid hatchback
Price: £21,845 - £33,245
- Low running costs
- Very practical interior
- Reliable hybrid engine
- Expensive list price
- Ride is quite firm
- Noisy when accelerating hard
"The Toyota Prius is undoubtedly the world's most famous hybrid – and for good reason. It's economical, practical and reasonably fun to drive too."
The Toyota Prius is the world's bestselling hybrid. Now more than a decade old, the name Prius carries a formidable eco reputation that its rivals still struggle to compete with.
The basic model still offers CO2 emissions among the lowest on UK roads – 89g/km, so road-tax exempt – and short journeys can even be done purely using the electric motor to increase savings and further reduce emissions. Its performance isn’t bad, either, even though the steering doesn’t give enough feedback and the automatic CVT gearbox is smooth but slow. \
The Prius is available in three main specifications – entry-level T3, mid-range T4 and top-of-the-range T Spirit, while 2012 saw the introduction of the Prius Plug-in, allowing you to charge the lithium ion batteries from a household mains socket. The current Prius Plug-in is the most efficient so far, taking fuel economy and CO2 emissions to the next level, returning 134.5mpg in combined economy and emitting a tiny 49g/km of CO2. If you need more space, the Prius+ is a seven-seater MPV version of the standard hatchback, is also available.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Rock-bottom running costs
You do have to pay a hefty whack to get the Prius in the first place, but running costs are rock bottom. With combined fuel economy of 72.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 89g/km, the Prius is one of the cheapest cars to run in the UK and can travel up 715 miles on a single tank of petrol and free from annual road tax.
For the most economy, however, go for the Prius Plug-in, with its 46g/km of CO2 emissions and impressive 134.5mpg fuel economy. Servicing isn’t cheap (there's a lot of technology and accessories inside) but costs are improving all the time as EVs and hybrids become more common.
Interior & comfort
Impressively quiet around town, but the suspension is firm
Not many cars are quieter than the Prius around town. In fact, driving in silent electric-only mode is frankly quite eerie, like you’re sneaking up on other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. However, put your foot down hard and the CVT automatic gearbox tends to hold the revs for too long, which begins to make quite a racket. The suspension is also rather firm as the batteries for the electric motor create quite a lot of extra weight, so the Prius is a bit bumpy when driven over rough, potholed roads. There's plenty of space inside for four adults, with passengers in the back getting a surprising amount of head and legroom. The top-of-the-range T Spirit model also gets an optional solar-powered ventilation system to keep the Prius cool when it's parked. That's thoughtful and eco-friendly.
Practicality & boot space
Big boot and useful storage compared to many modern hybrid cars
A lot of space is taken up inside the Prius by its electric motor and big batteries, but Toyota has designed it so it doesn’t impinge too much on the car's practicality. You get a reasonable 446 litres of space in the boot – which trumps the Volkswagen Golf – that can be expanded to 1,120 litres when the standard-fit 60:40 split-folding rear seats are folded down flat. You also get a handy storage compartment beneath the boot floor for hiding away valuables. In the front, you get a large storage box in the centre console, plus a double-level glove compartment. The shallow door bins are the only big criticism.
Reliability & safety
Ageing technology is still among the most reliable on the market
The 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey saw Toyota drop down four places to finish ninth out of 32 in the manufacturers rankings. In reality, very little has changed since its 2012 fifth-place finish - except perhaps customers’ performance expectations of hybrid cars now they’re more readily available. A reflection of this saw the Prius itself drop down 17 places in the list of the top 100 cars to rank 26th – mainly because of performance. The good news is that since the car was introduced there have been no reported reliability issues. Battery life has caused some concerns, though, but Toyota says that the current batteries are designed to last as long as the car itself. However, if you’re in that tiny unlucky percentage that has a problem, Toyota is an industry leader for customer care. Plus, the Prius is safe, securing the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests and coming fitted with seven airbags, electronic stability control (ESP), traction control and brake assist as standard.
Engines, drive & performance
Easy to drive in town and quite quick for an eco-friendly model
The Prius’ 1.8-litre Hybrid Synergy Drive pairs a 98bhp engine with a 36bhp electric motor to deliver a combined power output of 134bhp. What that actually means on the road is that it's faster out of the blocks than standard equivalent cars and can accelerate from 0-62mph in 10.2 seconds. You can drive the Prius using only the electric motor for a couple of miles, but any genuine pressure on the accelerator will start the combustion engine. On the downside, the handling is fairly poor, but the steering is light enough to make town driving very easy – if a bit unengaging. There's also very little body roll when driving through corners.
Price, value for money & options
Still not that cheap to buy, but there's lots of standard equipment
The Prius is expensive to buy thanks to all the technology and accessories it carries, with the entry-level T3 model coming fitted with automatic air-conditioning, alloy wheels and electric windows fitted as standard. Top-spec T Spirit cars also come with sat-nav, a reversing camera, a Toyota Touch audio system with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, and even an optional solar-panelled sunroof that cools the car while it's parked. However, if you go for this option, you must revert to the 15-inch alloy wheels that come as standard on the lower-spec cars for a reason that is never explained – though it seems like a small sacrifice for stepping into a cooled car on a hot sunny day. Resale values aren’t great on the used car market, so don't expect much money back when you come to make a second-hand deal.
What the others say
It's cleaner and more powerful than the previous Prius while in town it can operate purely in electric mode, using no fuel and with zero emissions.
The Prius makes a great family car as well as a great green car, thanks to the spacious cabin and big boot.
The controversy surrounding the true environmental benefits of hybrids is still raging, but as a piece of engineering the new Prius is superb.
The best hybrid car on the market with amazing fuel economy and low CO2 emissions, zero car tax, spacious cabin makes it a realistic family car, good performance.
Last updated: 15 Jan 2014