Toyota Prius hybrid hatchback
Price £21,995 - £33,395
- Low running costs
- Very practical interior
- Reliable hybrid engine
- High price
- Ride is quite firm
- Noisy when accelerating hard
At a glance
"The Toyota Prius is undoubtedly the world's most famous hybrid – and for good reasons. It's economical, practical and reasonably good fun to drive."
Hybrid cars – which combine a conventional engine with an electric motor – are becoming more popular as buyers look to reduce their fuel bills and be kinder to the environment. The world's first mass-produced hybrid (and the best-selling one) is the Toyota Prius. It's a five-seater hatchback capable of being powered by its electric motors alone for up to two miles. Their usual function, however, is to support the car's 1.8-litre petrol engine, helping to drive down CO2 emissions and improve fuel consumption. The model is so well-known as a hybrid that it puts other similar cars such as the Honda Insight, Lexus CT 200h and Toyota Auris Hybrid in the shade.
Meanwhile, if you really want to show off your green credentials, there's the Prius Plug-In Hybrid. It adds a lithium-ion battery to the mix that, when charged from a domestic socket for 1.5 hours, stores enough electricity to allow the car to travel for up to 15 miles on the electric motors alone. The model is distinguished by extra body detailing, but is otherwise identical to the Prius Hybrid. It's more expensive than the regular Hybrid, but because it qualifies for the government plug-in car grant of £5,000, it ends up costing only around £3,000 more than the top-spec Hybrid. However, if you want to buy a Prius Plug-In with this £5,000 saving, you'll need to be quick, since the rising popularity of electric cars means the scheme's funds could run out by the end of 2015.
Whatever happens, the Prius Plug-In will continue to be one of the UK's most efficient cars, capable of 134.5mpg and CO2 emissions of just 49g/km, making it exempt from road tax as well as the London Congestion Charge. The Prius Hybrid can't match those figures, but it's still competitive against the most frugal diesels, with a best of 72.4 mpg for the basic T3 version and low, tax-free emissions.
Neither version of the Prius is the most entertaining car to drive. Light steering with little feel and a firm ride see to that. However, the body doesn't lean unduly in corners, it's very quiet around town and it can sprint away from junctions as fast as a conventional car. The interior is quite plasticky, but it's also very roomy and surprisingly practical.
The Prius Hybrid comes in three flavours: T3, T4 and T Spirit. All come with a CVT automatic gearbox (there's no manual option). T3 wants for very little: air-conditioning and even a rear-view camera and head-up display are standard. That should be enough for most buyers, while keeping the car's price on a par with the latest, fuel-efficient petrol and diesel rivals.
There's only one Prius Plug-In Hybrid but it, too, is well equipped, with sat nav, cruise control and an upmarket JBL stereo all standard. In addition to these models, there's a seven-seat Prius Hybrid called the Prius+.
The Prius achieved the full five stars in its Euro NCAP crash tests and has a full complement of airbags, traction control and anti-lock brakes. The T Spirit adds a system that applies the brakes automatically if it senses an imminent collision.
The Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid offers rock-bottom running costs
The Toyota Prius is easy to drive in town and quite quick for an eco-friendly model
The Toyota Prius is impressively quiet around town, but the suspension is firm
Compared to many modern hybrid cars, the Toyota Prius has a big boot and lots of useful storage space
Ageing technology, but the Toyota Prius is still among the most reliable on the market