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Toyota Prius Hybrid 2021 review: i-Tech

It would seem the Prius has done its job. So why, and how, is it still king of the hybrids?

What to say about the Toyota Prius in 2021? A car that was once a technology trailblazer seems now to have become properly retro, even while it’s still being built and sold.

The awkward-looking wedge, an eco-punk icon, not only brought Toyota’s hybrid synergy drive to the masses, it also debuted the brand’s excellent TNGA architecture and set the scene for the company's absurd hybrid success, which now sees the RAV4 version topping the sales charts.

So, after all these years (25 to be precise), is the Prius’s time finally over? Or does this quaint hybrid hero still have more to offer? I took a top-spec I-Tech for a week to find out.

Read more about the Toyota Prius

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

This Toyota Prius in top-spec I-Tech form costs a whopping $45,825 before on-road costs, which is a tall order, especially given the fact that the technical advantage this car once had to help justify its price-tag has been lost to the rest of Toyota’s range.

An equivalent Corolla hybrid, even in top ZR trim, can be had from just $34,695, and even the much larger Camry in its highest hybrid SL trim is more affordable, at a suddenly cheap-looking $42,790. All three Toyotas are sourced from Japan.

Not a good start in the value battle, then, especially since those other Toyotas are not just hybrids, but great cars in their respective segments.

This Toyota Prius in top-spec I-Tech form costs a whopping $45,825 before on-road costs. This Toyota Prius in top-spec I-Tech form costs a whopping $45,825 before on-road costs.

The Prius I-Tech’s most direct rival is the similarly shaped and sized Hyundai Ioniq Premium, which can be yours from $40,390 with competitive equipment. Hyundai is not only hunting Toyota with this car, but flexing its deep pockets by selling the Ioniq in Australia as not just a hybrid, but a PHEV and a full EV, too.

Thankfully, the I-Tech comes with some decent gear, sporting 17-inch alloy wheels, a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, digital radio, a 4.2-inch digital information display, a holographic head-up display, full LED lighting with auto-levelling, leather-appointed seat trim, auto dimming rear vision mirror, wireless phone charging, 10-speaker audio, and improved interior trims over the base car.

The I-Tech also scores a larger boot capacity and an improved safety suite compared to the base Prius. More on that in later sections of this review.

Thankfully, the I-Tech comes with some decent gear. Thankfully, the I-Tech comes with some decent gear.

Is the Prius “good value” then? It's still a no, as all of this equipment can be had in bigger, more mainstream Toyota models, and far more affordable rivals. It’s a shame Toyota hasn’t brought the Prius’s cost down in the five years since this generation launched, because in today’s market it makes less sense than ever.

That said, there is a certain niche audience for this car. One that will always love its little innovations, like the fact that it has one of the lowest drag coefficients on the market, its stellar fuel-consumption number, and its claimed 40 per cent thermal efficiency.

Design - Is there anything interesting about its design?

The Prius is the very visage of economic motoring. Derided by big-engine lovers, and adored by the eco-crowd, the fact that the Prius’s wedge-shaped frame is more about function than form tells you everything you need to know about this car.

It blends with Toyota’s latest design language, the face and bodywork containing some subtle nods to other models that would launch after it, like the Corolla, Camry, and C-HR.

What always surprises me about even this top-spec Prius is its dorky ride height. For a car with such a low drag coefficient, it sits so far off the ground! The 17-inch wheels look almost out of alignment with the body in those wheelarches.

The Prius is the very visage of economic motoring. The Prius is the very visage of economic motoring.

Round the back, the Prius’s integrated spoiler and glasshouse bodywork are as divisive as ever, with more extreme pointed light fittings leaning into the effect created by its boxy, rear three-quarter view and mirroring the shape of the LED headlights at the front.

Of course, this car is less about being looked at as it is about its drag coefficient of 0.24 Cd, which is one of the lowest on any production car.

Inside, things again prove divisive, with a minimalist dash, a swoopy gloss highlight piece that frames the central vents and multimedia screen, and an odd, centrally mounted dash cluster, which is a usability faux pas.

The leather-appointed trim across the wheel and soft plastics in the door and dash-topper are appreciated. The leather-appointed trim across the wheel and soft plastics in the door and dash-topper are appreciated.

In the case of the I-Tech at least there’s a holographic display which can put up useful information to help prevent your eyes from drifting too far from the road. Still, I can’t help but feel like this whole interior ethos is futuristic for the sake of being futuristic, with a little less thought given to how practical it is, compared to the brand’s other models.

The leather-appointed trim across the wheel and soft plastics in the door and dash-topper are appreciated, and there’s attention to detail in the little ‘Prius’ logos on the vents. However, I found the dull multimedia screen to be susceptible to glare during the day, and the big integrated panel in which it sits is made from a tinny gloss plastic, which will easily to get covered in fingerprints and scratches.

Practicality - How practical is the space inside?

If nothing else, all of the Prius’s edgy design gives it plentiful interior space. Toyota granted this generation of Prius a low seating position and tall roof, which combine with the distant dash elements to make for a spacious cockpit for the front two occupants.

The seat design in the top-spec I-Tech is also cushy, reminiscent of the seats in high-spec Camrys, and I had absolutely no trouble finding a comfortable driving position. If there’s one thing to be said for the annoying, centrally mounted instruments, it’s that you don’t need to consider the position of the wheel interfering with their visibility.

The Prius’s total glasshouse grants superb visibility out the front and sides, with large wing-mirrors, too. The only downside is that integrated spoiler at the back, which makes for a distracting view out the rear mirror that I’m sure any owner will quickly become accustomed to.

If nothing else, all of the Prius’s edgy design gives it plentiful interior space. If nothing else, all of the Prius’s edgy design gives it plentiful interior space.

Soft trims across the doors and centre console, even in the back seat, make the Prius cabin a comfortable place to be, too.

Ergonomics have not been forgotten, with the multimedia screen and climate unit having useful and easy-to-reach physical dials and toggles for all the key functions. Even changing gear is a breeze in the Prius, with its odd little rosebud-shaped shifter simply a flick of the wrist from where your arm sits.

I do wish Toyota had made better use of the large area under the climate unit, however. The front part of the centre console is exclusively for the wireless-charging bay alone, and the rest of the space is constructed from a smoothly contoured gloss-finish plastic panel. It has looks to match the Prius aesthetic, but it’s no good for storing anything other than a single phone. It would have been better to make a large bay here with a rubberised finish.

Thanks to the lack of a physical handbrake in the centre or any other buttons or functions, there are two large bottle holders with variable edges.

Room in the rear seat is excellent, and the comfy seat trim continues. Room in the rear seat is excellent, and the comfy seat trim continues.

A huge centre-console box and large door bins round out the Prius’s front-seat storage options.

Room in the rear seat is excellent, my 182cm tall frame had stellar amounts of space for my legs and head, as the roofline continues through to that raised rear spoiler. The comfy seat trim continues, although the padding in the base is notably not as good as it is in the front.

There are some useful pockets on the backs of the front seats and a drop-down armrest with cupholders for rear passengers, too.

Finally, the awkward rear of the Prius makes for a fantastic boot capacity, one advantage this car still holds over its hybrid Toyota stablemates. Capacity for the I-Tech is a mid-size-SUV rivalling 502-litres (VDA), which easily consumed our CarsGuide test luggage set and is even bigger than the base Prius, at the cost of the space-saver spare wheel. The I-Tech only has a repair kit to go with its larger alloys.

  • The awkward rear of the Prius makes for a fantastic boot capacity. The awkward rear of the Prius makes for a fantastic boot capacity.
  • Capacity for the I-Tech is a mid-size-SUV rivalling 502-litres (VDA). Capacity for the I-Tech is a mid-size-SUV rivalling 502-litres (VDA).

Drivetrain - What are the key stats for the drivetrain?

It wouldn’t be a Prius without Toyota’s signature hybrid synergy drive technology. In this most original case it consists of a 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, which uses the more thermally efficient but less powerful Atkinson combustion cycle, producing 72kW/142Nm, paired to a set of electric motors on the front axle, which can produce up to 53kW/163Nm.

It wouldn’t be a Prius without Toyota’s signature hybrid synergy drive technology. It wouldn’t be a Prius without Toyota’s signature hybrid synergy drive technology.

Combined system output is rated by Toyota at 90kW, driving the front wheels only via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). This system is the same one now also employed in the C-HR and Corolla hybrid grades.

The Prius’s electric motors source their power from an older design nickel-metal hydride battery (instead of the more modern lithium-ion setup) located under the boot floor.

Energy consumption - How much does it consume? What’s the range like, and what is it like to recharge/refuel?

The Prius’ sandpapered hybrid drive, low drag number, weight reductions, and low-rolling-resistance tyres add up for a stellar official/combined fuel-consumption figure of just 3.4L/100km. While its signature hybrid tech might be available on other Toyota’s, it’s here where the Prius still shines, undercutting the others by almost a whole litre every 100km.

But can it live up to that promise in the real world? Over my week of what I would consider to be reasonable ‘combined’ driving conditions; with plenty of traffic, freeways, and suburban driving, the Prius returned a stellar figure of just 4.0L/100km. This is not just one of the lowest figures I have ever achieved on a test car, it is even lower than the Corolla Hybrid that I tested over a three-month period. I couldn’t get that car below 4.9L/100km, despite by best attempts.

It’s clear that the Prius is still the king of hybrid, then. At least for the time being. It’s clear that the Prius is still the king of hybrid, then. At least for the time being.

For a true rival comparison, my week-long test of the Ioniq hybrid in 2019 had the Korean managing a fuel number of 4.6L/100km.

You need not worry about kWh energy consumption for the Prius, as its hybrid system’s software manages the state of battery charge on the fly. It will simply run the engine to charge the battery if levels drop too low, although it always feels good to make the most of the motor’s regenerative braking to keep the battery topped up.

It’s clear that the Prius is still the king of hybrid, then. At least for the time being. All Prius models have 43-litre fuel capacities and are able to consume base-grade 91RON unleaded.

Safety - What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

The Prius wears a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating to the 2016 standards, although even in today’s market it has a great active-safety suite.

Standard modern active features on all Prius models include freeway-speed auto emergency braking with pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection, lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, traffic-sign recognition, and auto-high beams. Our top-spec I-Tech adds blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, for an overall excellent suite.

All Prius varaints are also equipped with seven airbags consisting of the standard front, side, and head, as well as a driver’s knee airbag, and the standard array of electronic stability and brake controls are also present.

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

Toyota’s range-wide warranty currently stands at five years or unlimited kilometres, which is really the accepted industry standard and matches its key Ioniq rival.

Annoyingly, however, the Prius needs to adhere to six-monthly or 10,000km service intervals. Said intervals are capped to $165 per visit for the first six visits under Toyota’s “service advantage” program, after which time you fall back to Toyota genuine servicing with significant price hikes to $221.97, and $425.47 for the next two services covering four years or 80,000km.

Toyota’s range-wide warranty currently stands at five years or unlimited kilometres. Toyota’s range-wide warranty currently stands at five years or unlimited kilometres.

A year of roadside assist is included, after which time you will need to subscribe to Toyota’s program, from $89 a year.

While Toyota’s offering is on par with many, it’s hardly the cheapest or most comprehensive we’ve seen.

Driving - What's it like to drive?

The Prius was responsible for popularising Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive, and fittingly, it still feels like the best execution of the technology on the market. That instantly available torque from the electric motor is sleek, quiet, and easy. It feels as though the Prius can make more extended use of purely electric drive than not only its rivals, but all other Toyota and Lexus hybrid products.

Despite its awkward exterior looks, the ride and handling of the Prius are excellent, thanks to its robust TNGA-C underpinnings (in fact, the Prius was the car to debut this platform for Toyota). It tilts into corners nicely, despite a frumpy ride height, and deals with bumps in its stride. This is a comfortable car, and the Lexus influence here is undeniable. The steering characteristics are also smooth and responsive. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Prius is fun to drive, but it is certainly comfortable and compliant.

What the Prius lacks is the lower, firmer, and more aggressive ride and handling characteristics of its Hyundai Ioniq rival, perhaps a telling insight into the trajectory of each brand.

Despite its awkward exterior looks, the ride and handling of the Prius are excellent. Despite its awkward exterior looks, the ride and handling of the Prius are excellent.

These characteristics add up to an around-town driving experience that really is a breeze. It’s quiet in the cabin and at times genuinely hard to tell whether the car is using its electric motors or the engine. When it comes to bursts of acceleration, the Prius might surprise you. Using both the motor and engine in tandem, I found that the Prius can sprint from the line with an alarming urgency, more so than its Corolla sibling. With the same tech behind the accelerator pedal, it’s hard to imagine why.

Once the electric motor has reached its strictly defined limit, though, the engine breaks in with a vengeance, and this car does have an anaemic follow-through when the electric components fall to the wayside. As in other applications of this drivetrain, the 1.8-litre Atkinson-cycle petrol engine can be thrashy and noisy when a lot is asked of it.

Of course, driving in such a sporty manner is hardly the point of the Prius, and where it really excels is in that day-to-day traffic grind, where the hybrid system works largely in the background to maximise the time spent with the engine off. The best part? While you can really fall into the hybrid system’s addictive fuel-saving displays, which really encourage hypermiling, this is a set-and-forget system. You can drive the Prius like any other car, and it will be trim on fuel consumption anyway. It’s not like I was trying awfully hard to attain my weekly figure of 4.0L/100km, so I’m sure it can do better over the long term.

The Prius can rest its weary head. The Age of the Hybrid has begun. Even though this iconic eco car might have lost its ultimate purpose to more mainstream models in the last few years, it’s still the best execution of Toyota’s hybrid tech on the market and if you can look past its divisive-as-ever looks, it’s comfortable and practical, too.

The brand’s Australian division promises the Prius will stick around in one form or another, so we’re keen to see what its next iteration will look like. Plug-in? Fully electric? Time will tell.

$45,825

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Score

3.7/5
Price Guide

$45,825

Based on new car retail price

Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.