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Toyota Prius i-Tech review

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    The newest incarnation of the Prius seems more eager, with plenty of punch from the petrol electric drivetrain. Photo Gallery

Stuart Martin road tests and reviews the Toyota Prius i-Tech and finds it a question of how much you would pay to be green.

The debate over the future of motor vehicle drivetrains swings between hybrids, hydrogen and alternative fuel technologies. Toyota has put all its short-term eggs in the hybrid basket; although its hydrogen fuel-cell program is well advanced but for now, the Japanese giant has the petrol-electric hybrid Prius as its main green machine, with the Camry to follow shortly.

Its Lexus brand has a number of hybrids in the range; both brands have the aim of a hybrid model within each model range. The keys for a top-spec i-Tech have been flung our way - the top-spec version of the hybrid weighs an extra 50kg, accounted for by extra gear.

The i-Tech gets the leather interior, a sunroof, the radar cruise control, an auto-dimming rearvision mirror and the touch-screen that controls the satellite navigation, displays the image from the rearview camera and dictates terms to the JBL sound system.

The lack of a normal spare - which may well concern those who cover great distances - also contributes to the weight loss, substituted for a re-inflation compressor system with a leak-sealing fluid.

Shutting the doors gives the impression of a lightweight construction - a ping rather than a thud - and the plastics, while being made of "green" plant-based materials, feel a little cheap.

But the aforementioned features, as well as climate control, mean there's no shortage of gear on offer for the occupants. It's comfortable without being plush, with room for four adults without too much discomfort, parents and a couple of kids won't have too many issues.

Something that isn't overly useful at this time of year - but will no doubt be a god-send come summer - is the solar panel ventilation system. The panel sits in the rear section of the roof and runs a secondary ventilation system to reduce temperature build-up when parked - but I still wouldn't leave a dog in there. The main climate control system also plays a part in remote car-cooling team, as it can be remote-activated to fire up the A/C before you get in the car.

Driving

The first-time hybrid driver may well wait quite a while after pushing the start button before taking off - the centre display has all manner of powertrain graphics but it's the small "READY" light you'll need to watch for.

The newest incarnation of the Prius seems more eager, with plenty of punch from the petrol electric drivetrain. The new Prius also seems more intent and content using the electric-only side around town, resorting less to the petrol engine than its forebears.

There's no tacho, only the speed (also on the heads-up display on the windscreen ) and the transmission lever, which also has the B function to provide more engine braking for better energy regeneration.

Drivers looking for maximum grunt will welcome the Power button, which more readily provides full outputs. Normal mode offers a good all-round drive pattern, with smoother transitions between the petrol and electric side of the drivetrain.

Toyota claims an ADR combined (and urban) figure of 3.9 litres per 100km - dropping to 3.7 on the open road. During our time in the Prius iTech the trip computer told us our best leg was just over four litres per 100km. Our overall average - which was predominantly metropolitan work, where the hybrid system gets the most benefit - was 5.4 litres of 95RON PULP per 100km at an average speed of 32km/h.

Ride quality was a little rugged from the Bridgestone low rolling resistance rubber, which run at around 40psi, with the suspension keeping half an eye on body control but mainly leaning towards ride comfort.

Anyone looking to Toyota for a five-door hybrid sports-coupe will have to wait a little longer (and look to Lexus). Neither brand has a handle on radar cruise control yet, with the Prius using the Lexus system that won't hold a set speed downhill without another vehicle to trigger the radar. The hybrid drivetrain works a little harder at maintaining a set velocity but it's still not up to Europeans.

The driver will also have to get used to the split rear window, which can be a little disconcerting in traffic. It's good for parking - when you're not being lazy and letting it park itself - but it does prompt the odd double-take looking rearward.

The $53,500 i-Tech, which also features cool LED low-beam and rear tail lights, boasts about $10,000 worth of extras for the $6600 price hike, according to Toyota. It's a large chunk of cash for what it a small car - but it will test the water on just what price consumers are prepared to to pay for frugal, greener motoring.


TOYOTA PRIUS i-Tech
Price: from $53,500
Engine: Petrol - 1.8-litre DOHC 16-valve Atkinson cycle four-cylinder. Electric - series/parallel 100kW full hybrid, AC synchronous 650-volt permanent magnet motor, 201-volt nickel metal hydride battery.
Transmission: Electronically controlled continuously variable transmission, front-wheel drive.
Power: 73kW @ 5200rpm.
Torque: 142Nm @ 4000rpm.
Performance: 0-100km/h 10.4 seconds.
Fuel consumption: 3.9 litres/100km, tank 45 litres.
Emissions: 89g/km.
Rivals:
Honda Civic Hybrid, from $35,990.
Mini Cooper D, from $36,100.
Audi A3 Sportback TDIe, from $38,900.
Peugeot 207 XT HDI, from $28,990.

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