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Toyota Prius 2009 review: first drive

EXPERT RATING
8

But it is about to land in Australia at the same time as it’s running headlong into an economic storm and a sales slump in the US.

With global sales of the hybrid pioneer tumbling in economic hard times and falling petrol prices, the Gen III Prius is about to land in Australia.

In North America alone, sales of the current car for the first three months of this year totalled just 24,277, about the same number sold in a single month last year.

With the official launch of the car set for July, Carsguide this week had an early opportunity to get at close quarters with the radically changed yet still instantly recognisable Prius.

In a short drive of the new vehicle, it was obvious designers and stylists had been hard at work — and less obvious just what the engineers had been up to.

Inside, styling changes are obvious to anyone who has previously driven a Prius. The driver now sits in a defined "cockpit" space with a floating centre console supporting the gear lever and buttons to select Power, Eco or EV.

The other big changes to the interior are greater headroom for rear seat passengers — the result of shifting the high-point of the roofline further to the rear to accentuate the car's wedge styling — and better knee and leg room from a redesign of the front seats allowing for greater scalloping in the seat back.

Drivetrain

The Prius still has to make do with the carry-over nickel-metal hydride batteries from Prius II which means the full electric vehicle range is still restricted to about 1.5km at under 40km/h before the petrol engine fires up to take over propulsion and start the recharging process.

The new 1.8-litre engine lifts power by 16kW to a peak of 73kW with 142Nm of torque. With an additional 27kW available from the electric motor the Prius III can get from 0-100km/h in a respectable 9.9 seconds and when carefully managed the company claim of 3.9 litres per 100km fuel economy may well be achievable.

Pricing and fit-out

Toyota is not giving away any clues as to pricing, only saying the car will be competitive — presumably with Honda's Insight which, while delayed into next year, is expected to reach the market at about $30,000.

Exact trim levels are also being kept close to the chest although it seems certain that there will be at least two levels offered with the higher grade car winning optional extras such as LED headlights, heads-up driving display and satellite navigation.

A world-first air conditioning function offers the ability to turn on a three-minute burst of battery powered air-con remotely from the key fob without needing to start the engine. Also aimed at the Aussie summer is the Prius III's 36-cell solar moonroof — which provides 59 watts of fan power to recirculate hot air out of the car after it has been sitting in the sun.

Driving

A redesign of the rear suspension geometry has the dual outcome of increased boot space (an extra 30 litres) and greater rear-end stability on a chassis the engineers claim is generally far stiffer than the outgoing model.

It is a claim that had to go untested on this week's short drive but there is no doubt the new model has a better turning circle and steering that feels far more direct and connected than was previously the case.

Pricing Guides

$12,555
Based on 17 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$9,900
Highest Price
$18,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Hybrid 1.8L, Hyb/PULP, CVT AUTO $9,900 – 13,990 2009 Toyota Prius 2009 Hybrid Pricing and Specs
i-Tech Hybrid 1.8L, Hyb/PULP, CVT AUTO $11,990 – 18,990 2009 Toyota Prius 2009 i-Tech Hybrid Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8