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Toyota Prius 2018 review

Did you know the Prius has been around for over 20 years now?

When the first-gen version was released in 1997 it was a trailblazer, living up to its ‘Prius’ name (Prius in Latin means ‘ahead of’ or ‘to go before’). It was famously the world’s first mass-market hybrid.

Fast-forward two decades and here we are, with the fourth-generation car. The Prius now sells more than twice as many cars per year as the first-generation Prius sold altogether in its four-year run, and it’s still no stranger to innovation, being the first car to launch on Toyota’s new TNGA architecture.

Despite that, I think the Prius’ days are numbered. 

It faces fresh new competition from the era of fully-electric vehicles, and its awkward arrival timing in 2016 means there is now a new generation of Toyotas with the technology and philosophy of the Prius built-in

Ironically, I think there may not be a place for the Prius in the world it helped create. Read on, and I’ll explain.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

You know when middle-aged folks become acutely aware of the endless march of time and lash out to reclaim former youth. Colloquially known as a mid-life crisis, I think the Prius is well and truly there on the design front.

The ’97 first-gen car had ugly, awkward styling. But it made its point. The awkward shape back then was the reality of the future. Cars needed to be smart and practical, forgoing the luxuries of beautiful styling or long, sculpted bonnets.

For the eco-conscious the original Prius’ design was kind-of punk-iconic. They were indifferent, or worse still, proud of its unusual shape as it reinforced to everyone who gazed upon it that they’d made the tough choice to drive a Prius, for the good of the planet.

The Prius tries a little too hard to advertise its eco-credentials with over-the-top styling. The Prius tries a little too hard to advertise its eco-credentials with over-the-top styling.

I would argue, however, that our fourth-gen car you see here doesn’t need to be as edgy. But it is. And it’s trying really hard to be. Look at all the science fiction hard lines and angles. The design goes out of its way to look controversial. It’s like a mid-40s relative suddenly wearing skinny jeans and using emojis.

I’d say our base-spec Prius doesn’t look bad, per se. Especially in its appealing ‘Lunar Blue’ paint, but the wacky assault of angles which dominates the front lower fascia, side three-quarter and lifted-up rear will be enough to scare off some buyers.

Inside, the design theme continues, with oddly-placed screens, a cardinal design sin of placing the instrument binnacle centrally in the dash, and a weirdly low (but nicely-sized) 7.0-inch touchscreen.

A mish-mash of textures and materials dominate the dashboard. A mish-mash of textures and materials dominate the dashboard.

To detract from the appeal further, there’s a mish-mash of matte and gloss materials in different colours and patterns. I was particularly offended by the random glittery off-white plastics used around the steering wheel and shift-lever. Strange.

On a more positive note, I will say the Prius’ large windows grant excellent forward and side vision for the driver, and - gloss plastics aside - the cabin ambiance has generally improved greatly over the previous-generation car.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

Our base model Prius costs $36,440 before on-road costs, and even in Toyota’s stable it’s precariously priced. You see, you can now get the really very good Toyota Camry Ascent Hybrid for just $29,990, and I honestly don’t know why you wouldn’t.

For just $4460 more than the Prius (at $40,900), you’re also looking at a significantly more luxurious (and still hybrid) Lexus CT200h.

The Prius also needs to look over its shoulder considering the new Hyundai Ioniq hybrid will soon hit dealerships and is touted to cost similar amounts of money with a more mainstream design.

The chunky 15-inch wheels are a bit dorky (super on-brand). The chunky 15-inch wheels are a bit dorky (super on-brand).

The base Prius comes loaded with a 7.0-inch touchscreen with built-in sat-nav, Bluetooth connectivity and a premium JBL audio system. It’s a more comprehensive multimedia offering than what’s present on some other Toyotas, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are still a while off for Australia.

It has to be said that Toyota’s native multimedia UX is feeling old. It’s slow to respond to inputs, poorly laid out and not exactly easy to navigate. Competing Hyundai, Mazda and Kia systems are vastly superior.

Toyota's multimedia UX leaves a lot to be desired. Toyota's multimedia UX leaves a lot to be desired.

Also standard are, keyless entry on the driver’s door, a head-up display (which is a godsend given you don’t get centrally-mounted instruments), climate control with an 'Eco' mode, a ‘Qi’ (Chee) wireless phone charging bay (nice addition), LED auto-levelling headlights, LED DRLs, and rain-sensing wipers.

There are no parking sensors, but you do get a rather good reversing camera. Fans of antiquated media forms will be happy to know there’s still a CD player.

If you combine those features with the ones included in the safety section of this review, the value isn’t too bad. However, the in-some-ways-better-equipped Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid beckons…

How practical is the space inside?

The Prius is reasonably practical, though perhaps not as much as its hatchback body would suggest.

Yes, it’s bigger and more spacious than the new Corolla, offering greater legroom, headroom and boot space but due to the car’s teardrop silhouette, it’s easily aced by the Camry.

Despite the fully raising hatch rear, the boot floor is quite high to accommodate batteries and the space saver spare, giving the Prius a 457 litre (VDA) cargo capacity.

The Prius looks more practical than it is, with the hatchback boot compromised by a high boot floor. The Prius looks more practical than it is, with the hatchback boot compromised by a high boot floor.

It’s eclipsed by the Camry Hybrid’s 524 litre boot space, and while that’s partially due to the sedan’s longer body, it’s also due to a smarter placement of the batteries under the rear passenger seats.

Room in the cabin is plentiful, and feels bigger than it is due to the low-slung dashboard and generous window space. This Prius also has a lower seating position than the previous generation, with softer, more comfortable seats. 

The cabin up front feels large, and the seats are comfortable. The cabin up front feels large, and the seats are comfortable.

There are two large cupholders in the centre up front as well as well-sized bottle holders in the doors. The centre console opens up to reveal a decent sized storage space, plus there is one USB port, one 12-volt outlet and an auxiliary in socket located in front of it. 

The Qi wireless charging bay is nice, but arguably eats a lot of space. More storage down the centre would be welcome.

Rear passengers are treated pretty well, too, with nice headroom but legroom that’s only slightly more generous than a hatchback. There are no vents up the back (disappointing), but the inclusion of four decent-sized cupholders is a plus.

Space in the rear is bigger than a hatchback, but not by a lot. Space in the rear is bigger than a hatchback, but not by a lot.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

The Prius is powered by a combination of a 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, and two electric motors (housed in a transaxle and powered by a nickel metal hydride battery).

The 1.8-litre engine employs some smart tech. It re-circulates exhaust gas to heat up the engine and has a new exhaust and intake system. Toyota claimed, at the time of this Prius’ launch in 2016, it was the most thermally efficient mass-produced engine in the world. Total outputs are on the low side though at 72kW/142Nm.

Of the two electric motors, only one actually provides drive to the wheels via the transaxle. That motor can produce a max output of 53kW/163Nm.

The engine and electric motor have a combined output of 90kW. A fun fuel-saving game can be made out of the active eco monitor. The engine and electric motor have a combined output of 90kW. A fun fuel-saving game can be made out of the active eco monitor.

Both power sources combine for what Toyota claims is a total output of 90kW. That’s not a big number, and the electric motor only supports fully electric driving up to 30km/h. 

If there’s anything a brand like Tesla proves, it’s that there’s much more to be expected from today’s EV tech, while you can hardly compare them by any measure (price, tech or otherwise), it shows how far we’ve come since the Prius’ hybrid tech was new.

A CVT transmission combines the outputs of the electric motor and petrol engine to drive the front wheels.

The nickel-metal hydride battery is an 'old kind', with the Prius overseas getting newer, theoretically safer and higher-energy, Lithium-ion batteries instead.

How much fuel does it consume?

Old technology or not, the Prius’ drivetrain is tried, tested and refined. The result is a real-world fuel figure which is difficult to argue with. Over my test week I scored 4.1L/100km. 

That’s seriously impressive, even in today’s hybridised world, and not too far off Toyota’s claimed combined cycle figure of 3.4L/100km. 

It beats the claimed fuel figures of Hyundai’s Ioniq (3.9L/100km), but even here I’d prefer a Hybrid Camry (4.2L/100km) at such a slight fuel penalty.

Oh, and if you genuinely care about the environment, the Prius has a  CO2 output of 80g/km, most cars can’t even get below 100g/km.

What's it like to drive?

The Prius is hardly a car sold on the promise of sublime roadholding, but all things considered it’s actually not bad at all.

This is down to a few factors. Firstly – The Prius was the first Toyota to ride on the new ‘TNGA’ platform which now underpins half of Toyota’s range and, today's Prius has independent rear suspension, unlike the last-generation car.

It adds up to a package that’s surprisingly competent in the corners and has nicely weighted steering. Thankfully, it’s not as bland to drive as some Toyotas past.

The added ride height and softer suspension tune compared to the new Corolla and Camry (both of which I’ve driven recently) cause it to wallow and struggle to recover over larger or frequent bumps, however, so it’s still far from perfect.

It does offer up excellent levels of refinement though. Noise from the road is low, and the engine is so quiet it’s hard to tell when it’s actually on. The hybrid drive tech is seamless, moving between engine and battery power smoothly and efficiently.

It’s a slick application of the hybrid tech and shows how well refined Toyota’s version of the tech is. Gone are the days of the engine suddenly rattling to life and screaming up the rev range when it’s needed.

While I didn’t like the centrally-mounted instrument binnacle, I found myself hardly using it thanks to the head-up display providing me with all the info I needed.

On the topic of info, the economy monitor which shows you where power is being sourced from makes a game out of the drivetrain. I found myself trying to rely on the electric motor as much as possible, feathering the accelerator in city traffic so the engine wouldn’t turn on. ‘Winning’ was when the car chastised you for letting the battery level get too low.

I didn't expect to have fun in a roundabout way by trying to save fuel... I didn't expect to have fun in a roundabout way by trying to save fuel...

As I said earlier, the electric motor in the Prius can hardly compete with the unlocked electric potential of Tesla-style motors. Don't expect brutal acceleration off-the-line. The Prius instead must mainly rely on its (rather limited) engine power under heavy acceleration.

It’s a sluggish but comfortable daily commuter, then. Exactly what it says on the tin.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

The base Prius has some advanced safety tech, but doesn’t quite get the full suite, missing out on some notable items.

Standard advanced safety is 'Lane Departure Warning' (LDW), 'Active Cruise Control' and a pre-collision safety system that is equivalent to 'Auto Emergency Braking' (AEB)

You’ll need to step up to the Prius i-Tech ($43,900) to get 'Blind Spot Monitoring' (BSM) and 'Rear Cross Traffic Alert' (RCTA).

Despite this, and thanks to its regular suite of airbags, stability controls, and chassis reinforcements the Prius maintains a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating as of November 2015.

Additions to the safety arsenal include a reversing camera and ISOFIX mounts on the outboard rear seats. There’s a space-saver spare which you’ll lose if you upgrade to the i-Tech, which comes with a repair/inflater kit.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

A sore spot on any Toyota ownership proposition is the three year/100,000km warranty. Almost every brand in Australia has moved on, but admittedly Toyota buyers don’t seem so bothered by this. The incentive to update it isn’t really there for the behemoth company.

Holden, Ford and even Mazda have joined Hyundai and Honda with five-year warranties. Worth considering with the Hyundai Ioniq not far away.

On the service front, the Prius requires attention every six months or 10,000km which is irritatingly frequent. It will come in at a cost of $280 a year, which is relatively cheap.

The ultimate irony of the Prius is that there’s no place for it in a hybridised world it is largely responsible for creating. 

With the same fuel-efficient drivetrain technology readily available from Toyota’s freshly updated range of cars, and the fact there are now more innovative competitors in the market, the list of reasons to consider a Prius is considerably shorter than it once was.

It still strikes a practicality middle-ground between the Camry and the Corolla though, and for some eco-conscious buyers the Prius name still rightfully carries weight.

Do you think the Prius still has a place in a hybridised world? Tell us in the comments below.

$19,500 - $27,170

Based on third party pricing data



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