Toyota Prius VS Abarth 595
- Good engine/chassis combo
- Surprising grip levels
- Terrible driving position
- Ride not great around town
- No reversing camera
Tree-huggers get a bad rap, especially when they're accused of driving Priuses, a particularly targeted form of abuse inspired by the Malibu movie set. Hollywood types who stepped out of gas-guzzling private jets to tool around humbly in Toyota's trailblazing hybrid used to include dapper chaps like Clooney, Damon and di Caprio.
They must have been pleased when Tesla arrived with bigger, faster, fully electric cars. Sometimes you really need to get to your private jet in a hurry.
And I say they were pleased because driving a Prius forced these folks to consider what life would have been like had they not played that dead body on CSI, before rising through the ranks to owning chunks of a coffee-pod company and marrying lawyers who make speeches at the UN.
The Prius was a run-of-the-mill car that appealed to them only via its new hybrid technology, whicht helped assuage their guilt at burning several tonnes of avgas instead of mixing it with the general public on commercial airlines.
In 2019, Toyota has four hybrids (including a RAV4) with which to attract your attention, and one of those is the 20-year-old Prius. Still odd-looking, still a hybrid, still pretty much the same proposition as that first, nose-diving sedan all those years ago. Its own bretheren are out to consign it to irrelevance. Or is it still worth another look?
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Regular Unleaded|
Since 1949, Abarth has been giving the venerable Italian brand, Fiat, a patina of performance, based largely on giant-killing feats in small modified cars like the Fiat 600 of the 1960s.
More recently, the brand has been revived to boost the fortunes of the smallest Fiat on sale in Australia. Known formally as the Abarth 595, the tiny hatch packs a bit of a surprise under its distinctive snout.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Toyota Prius 7.1/10
In 2019, the Prius is a head scratcher. Toyota has the hybrid Corolla on the same TNGA platform but it's a better overall proposition, cheaper and vastly better looking. If you can find one, you can have a hybrid Camry for a similar money.
Committed EV buyers can now buy a fully electric Hyundai Ioniq for a few bucks more. It almost feels like the Prius is hanging on for the fans so it rather has the feeling of an Eagles concert... without the hits.
It's difficult to see why you wouldn't save a significant amount of money and go for a Corolla Hybrid. The ZR I drove last year was $13,000 cheaper than the Prius, and a far more satisfying drive.
With cheaper Korean options hoving into view - and Toyota's own Corolla - is the Prius' day done?
It’s tough to be kind to the Abarth 595. Based on a platform that’s more than a decade old, the car has been left behind by its rivals in many ways, including basic ergonomics and its value equation.
The larger engine does work well in this smaller package, and its road-holding ability belies its size. However, only die-hard fans of the Abarth brand will be able to cope with the uncomfortable seating position and a complete lack of even the most perfunctory features that cars costing $10,000 less are able to offer.
Could you look past the Abarth 595's foibles? Let us know in the comments below.
My goodness this is an awkward-looking car. The Prius set the template almost two decades ago and it seemed like any hybrid, no matter where it was from, looked like Toyota's pioneer for a while.
Part of the awkwardness is a result of wind-tunnel styling to maximise the benefit of the hybrid power unit - that high, boxed-off tail makes the Prius slippery, but weird looking. The adventurous shapes of the lights front and rear really don't work (for me, anyway). The tiddly wheels amplify the slabbiness of the sides.
I say tiddly because, as you know, they're just 17-inchers. The base model Prius has a laughable set of 15s bolted on.
You know, just by looking, that this is a Prius and, by extension, a hybrid.
The interior is a bit more contemporary, but littered with cheap Toyota staples like that dodgy LCD clock that used to be in my Mum's Echo. Speaking of the Echo, Toyota has recycled and expanded on the idea of a centrally placed dashboard, all of which is digital but without the inventiveness of a German, or even a Korean car. It works really well, to be fair, but there's not much in it to amuse or delight.
The central touchscreen is nice and close and shows additional information about the hybrid-drive system. The profusion of piano black is a bit passe, though, and picks up dust and fingerprints.
Despite being based on a design that’s a decade old, the Abarths still stand out. Based on the classic Fiat 500 shape of the 1950 and '60s, it’s more cute than cut-throat, with a narrow track and tall roof giving it a toy-like presence.
The Abarth attempts to beef things up with deep front and rear bumper splitters, go-fast stripes, new headlights and alternate-colour wing mirrors.
The 595 rides on 16-inch rims, while the Competizione runs 17s.
Inside, it’s definitely different to most mainstream cars, with colour-coded plastic panels on the dash and a very upright seating position, along with a dual-tone steering wheel.
It’s a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. There’s no middle ground here.
Passenger space in the Prius is excellent for its footprint. Slightly roomier than the Corolla, front and rear passengers have generous head and legroom, although the narrowing hips pinch the shoulders a bit with five aboard. The roofline also abbreviates headroom for anyone over about six feet. The seats are comfortable, though.
Front and rear rows are each treated to two cupholders and bottle holders, for a total of four of each. The front centre console also has a Qi wireless charging pad, as well as a deep bin under the armrest.
Boot space starts at a modest 343 litres to the parcel shelf but if you drop the rear seats, you've got a very generous 1633 litres. The lower-spec Prius has a much smaller boot (297 litres) but does have a spare tyre.
Toyota hasn't certified the Prius with a towing figure.
This is another area where the Abarth falls down. First and foremost, the seating position for the driver in both cars is utterly compromised.
The seat itself is mounted far, far, too high, and has little adjustment in any direction, and there is no reach adjustment in the steering wheel column to allow a taller (or even an average height) driver to get comfortable.
The more expensive Competizione we tested was fitted with a set of optional sports bucket seats from racing company Sabelt, but even they are mounted literally 10cm too high. They are also ultra firm, and even though they look supportive, lack decent side bolster support.
The tiny multimedia screen is okay to use, but the buttons are miniscule, while there’s a complete lack of storage places in the front.
There are two cupholders under the centre console, with two more in between the front seats for rear seat passengers. There are no bottle holders in the doors and no storage for rear seaters.
Speaking of the rear seats, they are the very definition of cramped, with little headroom for moderately sized adults and precious little knee or toe room. There are two sets of ISOFIX baby seat mounting points, though, should you fancy wrestling your wriggling toddlers through the narrow aperture.
The seats flip forward to reveal more cargo space (185 litres with the seats up, and 550 litres when the seats are down), but the seat backs don’t fold flat into the floor. Under the boot floor is a can of sealant and a pump, but no space saver spare.
In truth, it was a long day testing this car… at 187cm, I simply could not get comfortable in it at all.
Price and features
The 2019 Prius update is available in two specs - entry level for $36,590 and this i-Tech for a stout $44,050. For that outlay you score 17-inch alloys, a 10-speaker JBL-branded stereo, keyless entry and start, Qi wireless charging pad, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, reversing camera, electric everything (except the tailgate), fake leather trim, climate control, head-up display, sat nav and a tyre-repair kit.
Toyota's worse-than-the-final-season-of-Game-of-Thrones multimedia system soliders on. It's hard to use, terrible to look at and, even with the Kluger-style shortcut buttons, leaves me screaming, alternately, for a hug and for Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
There's just no excuse for a system this bad in the modern world. Toyota Australia's stubborness is admirable, in a way. The sound is really good, though, and it comes with DAB, which is fine if you can work out how to find the station you want in the confusing user interface.
The range has been stripped back to just two cars, and costs has come down slightly, with the 595 now starting at $26,990, plus on-road costs.
A new 5.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system (with digital radio), a leather wrapped steering wheel, TFT dash display, rear parking sensors, alloy pedals, 16-inch alloy rims, and (front-only) adaptive dampers are standard on the base 595.
A convertible, or more accurately, a rag-top (cabriolet) version of the 595 is also available for $29,990.
The 595 Competizione is now a whopping $8010 cheaper at $31,990 with a manual gearbox, leather seats (Sabelt-branded sports buckets are optional), 17-inch alloys, a louder Monza exhaust, as well as front and rear adaptive Koni shocks, and Eibach springs.
Unfortunately, what stands out more on the Abarths is what they don’t come with. Auto lights and wipers, cruise control of any sort, driver aids including AEB and adaptive cruise… even a rear view camera is missing.
What’s more puzzling is that the Abarth’s architecture, though a decade old, has provision to accept at least a rear view camera.
Abarth’s explanation that the car’s home market doesn’t see these inclusions as important doesn’t really hold water, either.
Engine & trans
The 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine produces 72kW and 142Nm. Due to the vagaries of hybrid-power calculations, the combined power output is 90kW, but there is no combined torque figure. It's unlikely - given the 1400kg kerb weight - that it's only 142Nm.
The Abarth 595 pair use the same 1.4-litre 'MultiJet' four-cylinder turbo engine in differing states of tune. The base car makes 107kW/206Nm, while the Competizione makes 132kW/250Nm, thanks to a freer-flowing exhaust, a larger Garrett-branded turbocharger and an ECU re-tune.
The base car can do 0-100km/h in 7.8 seconds, while the Competizione is 1.2 seconds quicker; the optional 'Dualogic' automatic is 0.2sec slower to the mark in both cars.
A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, and neither car is fitted with a limited slip diff.
Official figures are always worth a chuckle, but the combined-cycle figure for a hybrid is always an interesting pointer. In the Prius, the ADR figure is 3.4L/100km. My week with the Prius in almost exclusively city driving - its natural habitat - yielded an impressive 4.3L/100km.
Over 150km of testing, the Competizione consumed a dash-indicated 8.7 litres per 100km, against a claimed combined fuel economy figure of 6.0L/100km. Our brief test of the 595 revealed a similar number, against the same claimed figure.
The Abarth will only accept 95 octane fuel or better, and its small 35-litre tank is good for a theoretical 583km between fills.
Despite rolling on Toyota's TNGA platform, it's not a particularly interesting car to drive. As with the old Prius, there's a fair bit of body roll and not a small amount of dive under heavier braking.
Neither of these are likely to trouble you, as the underpowered nature of the Prius enforces a relaxed pace, much like the hybrid Corolla I drove last year.
The uninspiring combination of modest power outputs and a CVT transmission is a Toyota staple and never fails to set my teeth on edge.
Having said that, the Prius is very quiet and an easy place to spend the commute. Again, the target buyer isn't looking for an excitement machine - fast hybrids are vastly more expensive - this car smashes its KPIs.
Toyota's early progress has been engulfed by its competitors, however. The Prius has all the clicks and whirrs but it's still essentially the same car it always has been - press the accelerator a bit, you get a few metres of near-silent progress, then the engine kicks into life and off you go.
The whacky joystick gear selector features D position and B. Other hybrids and BEVs have what I thought was a similar feature, a separate mode to increase the aggression of the energy harvesting from braking. Not the Prius - B means braking, which you can use on a long downhill run to reduce the strain on the tiny brakes. Switching to B mode induces engine braking by lowering the gear ratio in the CVT.
And, on that point, the Prius pretty much drives like a normal car. Some hybrids use the drag of the generator to assist with braking and therefore charge the battery, but the Toyota is almost entirely conventional-feeling.
Ergonomics aside, the combination of torquey engine and lightweight car is always a good one, and the 1.4-litre turbocharged four is a good match with the front-drive Abarth.
There’s always enough mid-range urge to give the Abarth the hurry-up, and the longer-legged five-speed gearbox is a good match for the engine.
It also grips and turns surprisingly well, despite the Sport button adding too much artificial weight to the Abarth’s steering feel.
That same button also firms up the front dampers on the 595 and all four on the Competizione, which works well on smoother terrain, but stiffens it too much over more undulating surfaces.
Around town it can be hard to strike a good balance between ride and comfort. The difference between soft and firm is much more pronounced in the Competizione, but it will still get tiring if your commute is a bumpy one.
The turning circle, by the by, is ridiculously large for such a small car, making u-turns - already compromised by the lower front bumper - unnecessarily fraught.
The Monza exhaust on the Competizione gives it a bit more presence, but it could easily be louder (or at least more crackly) again; you’re not buying this car to be a wallflower, after all.
The Prius i-Tech ships with seven airbags (including driver's knee bag), ABS, stability and traction controls, reversing camera, blind-spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning and forward AEB.
For the kiddies, there are three top-tether anchor points and two ISOFIX points.
The current Prius scored five ANCAP stars in October 2016.
Despite a lack of electronic safety aids – and, somewhat amazingly in the current age, a rear-view camera – the Fiat 500 that forms the Abarth's basis still carries the maximum five-star rating from ANCAP it was awarded in 2008, by dint of its seven airbags and bodyshell strength.
It wouldn’t have the same luck if it were judged under new ANCAP regs coming into force in 2018, though.
Toyota has joined its rivals in the long-warranty camp, now offering five years/unlimited kilometres on its whole range. Roadside assist is an extra cost, though.
Your Prius' service costs are capped for the first three years/60,000km and you have to take it back to Toyota every six months/10,000km. Thankfully, the services only cost $140 a pop.
A three-year/150,000km warranty is offered as standard on the Abarth 595 range, with a suggested service interval of 12 months or 15,000km.
Abarth importer Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia offers three fixed-priced services for the 595 range at 15,000, 30,000 and 45,000km, with the first costing $275.06, the second $721.03 and the third $275.06.