Mercedes-Benz A-Class VS Toyota Prius
- Ride comfort
- So-so warranty
- Okay only rear headroom
- Tight rear door apertures
- Seamless hybrid drive
- Incredible fuel efficiency
- Comfortable and spacious
- Polarising exterior
- Dorky central instrument cluster
- Not so engaging to drive
Meet the world’s most aerodynamically efficient passenger car. Mercedes-Benz says the drag co-efficient for this new sedan version of its fourth-generation A-Class is the lowest ever measured for a passenger vehicle.
Which is quite a claim, but you only have to look at it to see how much work has gone into marrying good looks with slippery aero performance.
|Engine Type||1.3L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
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.
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|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Regular Unleaded|
Mercedes-Benz knows its way around a sedan, and this A-Class is a well-equipped, comfortable and efficient city-sized four-door.
But more than that, to my eyes anyway, it’s a perfect example of restrained form matching aero function with beautiful results.
Would your preference be an A-Class with a hatch or a boot? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
Toyota Prius 7.4/10
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.
A global carmaker can’t hold its head up in public without a formal design strategy, and Mercedes-Benz uses ‘Sensual Purity’ as a guiding principle in developing the look and feel of its current models. It may sound airy-fairy, but I for one reckon it’s accurate in describing the A-Class sedan.
The overall form is flowing and minimalist, the major exception being a hard character line running down the side of the car from the trailing edge of the angular LED headlights and along the top of the doors to link with the tail-lights.
A rear-biased glasshouse emphasises the length of the bonnet, at the same time delivering a broad, muscular stance with short overhangs front and rear.
Ultra-fine panel gaps, careful sealing around the headlights and curved strakes either side of the bonnet keep the look clean and simple, not to mention super-slippery.
The interior has been styled to within an inch of its life, the dash dominated by the slick twin 10.25-inch widescreen ‘MBUX’ display covering instruments, ventilation, media and vehicle settings.
Five signature, turbine-style air vents (three in the centre, and one at each edge) lift the dash’s visual interest, and the quality of fit and finish is top-shelf.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At a bit over 4.5m long, a fraction under 1.8m wide, and close to 1.5m tall the A-Class sedan is 130mm longer and 6.0mm higher than the hatch version.
The A-Class sedan driver is presented with the same sleek widescreen display as found in the hatch, and storage runs to two cupholders in the centre console, a lidded bin/armrest between the seats (including twin USB ports), decent door pockets with room for bottles and a medium-size glove box.
In a swap to the rear, sitting behind the driver’s seat set to my (183cm) position, I enjoyed adequate knee and headroom, although stretching up a to a straight-back position led to a scalp to headlining interface.
In the A 200 a centre fold-down armrest incorporates two cupholders, again there are generous pockets in the doors with room for bottles, and adjustable ventilation outlets are set into the back of the front centre console. Always a plus.
There are three belted positions across the rear, but the adults using them for anything other than short journeys will have to be good friends and flexible. Best for two grown-ups, and three kids will be fine.
One snag is the size of the rear door aperture. Okay for taller people on the way in, but a limb-unfolding gymnastic exercise on exit.
But of course the reason we’re all here is the boot, and the sedan’s extra length translates to an additional 60 litres of luggage space for a total cargo volume of 430 litres (VDA).
Extra space is one thing, but usability is another. The benefit of a hatch is a large opening that allows bulky stuff to find a home, and Merc has pushed the sedan’s boot aperture to just under a metre across and there’s half a metre between the base of the rear window and the lower edge of the boot lid.
That’s made a big difference and access is good, with the rear seats folding 40/20/40 to add extra flexibility and volume. There are also tie-down hooks at each corner of the floor (a luggage net is included) and a netted pocket behind the passenger side wheel tub (with 12-volt outlet).
At the time of writing Mercedes-Benz wasn’t quoting towing specifications, and don’t bother looking for a spare wheel, the tyres are run-flats.
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.
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.
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.
Price and features
The A-Class sedan is launching with two variants, the A 200 at $49,400, before on-road costs, and an entry-level A 180, arriving in August 2019 at $44,900.
We’ll cover active and passive safety tech in the safety section, but above and beyond that standard equipment for the A 180 runs to 17-inch alloy wheels, ‘Artico’ faux leather upholstery, the ‘MBUX’ widescreen cockpit display (two 10.25-inch digital screens), auto LED headlights and DRLs, keyless entry and start, auto-dimming rearview mirror, climate-control, sat nav, multi-function sports steering wheel, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, ‘Active Parking Assist’ (with ultrasonic proximity sensors front and rear), tinted glass, plus nine-speaker, 225W audio with digital radio, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The A200 steps up to 18-inch alloy rims, and adds a dual exhaust system, four-way electrical adjustment for the driver’s seat (with lumbar support), a folding rear armrest (with twin cupholders), adaptive high-beam assist, and a wireless device charging bay.
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.
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.
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.
Engine & trans
Both models are powered by the same 1.3-litre (M282) direct-injection four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine as the hatch, the A180 tuned to deliver 100kW (at 5500rpm) and 200Nm (at 1460rpm), with the A 200 bumping that up to 120kW (at 5500rpm) and 250Nm (at 1620rpm).
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.
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.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 5.7L/100km for both models, with a CO2 emissions figure of 130g/km.
Over roughly 250km of open highway driving on the launch program the A 200’s on-board computer coughed up a figure of 6.3L/100km. So, the real-world highway cycle figure is higher than the claimed combined number. Which is a miss, but not a massive one, and fuel-efficiency is still pretty impressive.
Minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, and you’ll need 43 litres of it (plus a 5.0-litre reserve) to fill the tank.
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.
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.
Three things stand out on first meeting with the A-Class sedan – ride comfort, steering feel, and road noise, or rather the lack of it.
The ‘biggest’ compliment you can pay a small car is that it rides like a bigger one, and behind the A 200’s wheel you’d swear the wheelbase was appreciably longer than the 2.7 metres it actually measures.
Over long undulations, even higher frequency bumps and ruts, the A-Class remains stable and composed thanks to a thoroughly sorted (strut front, torsion beam rear) suspension, with beautifully progressive damping a particular highlight.
Electromechanically-assisted steering points accurately and delivers good road feel without any undue vibration. And despite the A-Class launch drive loop covering typically coarse-chip bitumen roads through rural Victoria, overall noise levels remained impressively low.
Acceleration is brisk rather than properly sharp, but in the A 200 there’s more than enough oomph to keep things on the boil for easy highway cruising and overtaking.
With maximum torque available from just above 1600rpm, and a seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission keeping revs in the sweet spot, the A 200 breezes through the cut and thrust of city traffic, too.
Auto shifts are smooth and quick, with manual changes via the wheel-mounted paddles adding even more direct access to your ratio of choice. And the bonus is no sign of the slow-speed shuntiness sometimes exhibited by dual-clutch autos, especially in twisting, three-point parking manoeuvres.
Special call-out for the cruise control which responds to adjustments quickly (including 10km/h jumps up or down with a firm press of the thumb) and rapidly retards downhill speeds.
Several unbroken hours in the front seat couldn’t generate a twinge of discomfort, the brakes are strong, and over-shoulder visibility is marginally better than in the hatch (not that it’s a weakness in the latter).
Add the sleek and intuitive multimedia system, high-quality audio, plus excellent ergonomics and you have a neatly resolved compact sedan that’s easy to use in the city and suburbs, keeping solid road-tripping ability up its sleeve as well.
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.
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.
Think automotive safety and Mercedes-Benz will be one of the first names to pop into your mind, and the A 180 offers in impressive suite of active features including ABS, BA, EBD, stability and traction controls, a reversing camera (with dynamic guidelines), ‘Active Brake Assist’ (Merc-speak for AEB), ‘Adaptive Brake’, ‘Attention Assist’, ‘Blind Spot Assist’, ‘Cross-wind Assist’, ‘Lane Keep Assist’, a tyre pressure warning system, the ‘Pre-Safe’ accident anticipatory system, and ‘Traffic Sign Assist’. The A 200 adds ‘Adaptive Highbeam Assist’.
If all that fails to prevent an impact you’ll be protected by nine airbags (front, pelvis and window for driver and front passenger, side airbags for rear seat occupants and a driver’s knee bag), and the ‘Active Bonnet’ automatically tilts to minimise pedestrian injuries.
The A-Class was awarded a maximum five ANCAP stars in 2018, and for smaller occupants there are three child restraint/baby capsule top tether points across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.
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.
That lags behind the mainstream market where the majority of players are now at five years/unlimited km, with some at seven years.
On the upside, Mercedes-Benz Road Care assistance is included in the deal for three years.
Service is scheduled for 12 months/25,000km (whichever comes first) with pricing available on an ‘Up-front’ or ‘Pay-as-you-go’ basis.
Pre-payment delivers a $500 saving with the first three A-Class services set at a total of $2050, compared to $2550 PAYG. Fourth and fifth services are also available for pre-purchase.
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.
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.