Toyota Prius VS Mercedes-Benz A-Class
- Ride comfort
- So-so warranty
- Okay only rear headroom
- Tight rear door apertures
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|
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|
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.