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“More power, more efficient and even greener, the third generation Prius has definitely got our attention”

Call me ignorant or uninformed but I’ve never heard of a five-seat production car with a co-efficient of drag as low as 0.25.

Take it from me, this is a staggeringly low figure (Hummer H2 – 0.57, Ferrari F40 – 0.34, Chevrolet Volt – 0.30) and just one of the many reasons why Toyota’s latest generation Prius is said to consume a miserly 3.9 litres for every 100 kilometres travelled.

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Earlier this week, CarAdvice was given a first look and brief drive of the latest Prius, and its hard not to be impressed by the evolution of this hybrid, especially one with 20 per cent more power and 10 per cent less fuel consumption.

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Even better and worthy of three green stars, is its remarkably low CO2 emissions of just 89 grams per kilometre.

To put that into proper perspective, a Bentley Brooklands Coupe puts out a whopping 465 grams per kilometre, while the toy like smart fortwo (it can only seat two people with next to no luggage) just pips the new Prius by one gram only at 88 grams per kilometre.

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At first glance, the new car looks much the same as the Prius it replaces. But as I do the usual walk around with the product planning guy, you realise that the new model is a vastly improved version of the car it will replace in July this year.

For starters, there’s a 1.8-litre, four-cylinder, Atkinson cycle petrol engine under the bonnet replacing the 1.5-litre powerplant in the current Prius. That means 73kW and 142Nm of torque, which is more than a 20 per cent increase, while the electric motor now produces 60kW, up from 56kW.

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I punched the throttle once or twice and certainly felt the increased power and substantially quieter engine note. The current generation car is downright noisy under load.

The really interesting thing about this new Hybrid Synergy Drive is the complete and utter elimination of belts and pulleys under the bonnet. None, zilch, no belts to be seen in a thorough inspection of the engine bay.

That’s no crankshaft pulley (well there is for balance but no belt attached) and the water pump is electric, which means less moving parts and less maintenance, together as a further contributor to the new Prius’ ultra low fuel consumption.

And for all those scaremongers who have said the batteries in the Prius take up half the boot, you couldn’t be more wrong. It takes up less room than a full size Kookaburra cricket bat.

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You don’t need to worry about the battery life either, there’s a fleet of second generation Prius taxis operating in Cairns in far from ideal conditions, some of which have done over 600,000 kilometres and still going.

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In fact, out of the 12,000 or so Prius’ sold in Australia, there has been only 17 batteries sent back to Japan for analysis, and only three of those were distance related.

I’m told none of the owners have had to pay the current price of more than $3000 for a replacement battery.

Initially you’ll be hard pressed to pick the differences between the exterior of the current model and new Prius, they’re very subtle although, the overall shape is now wedge like and looks sportier.

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Under the newly designed headlight covers you’ll find high-tech LED lamps for low beams and well as the tail and stop lights. They use far less energy than Halogens or Xenons.

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The rear spoiler has also been extended as part of an overall aerodynamics package, which helps make this car so slippery when it comes to drag.

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But inside the cabin is where you’ll find plenty of new technology and the most change.

New Prius drivers will be better able to focus on the road ahead with a head up display, which can also be raised or lowered at the touch of a button.

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The really tricky stuff is in the form of the Touch Tracer system on the steering wheel. These are in the form of two touch pads, which allow the driver to access any and all information via the large display zone mounted on top of the dashboard.

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Just move your fingers over the pad and the various information modes will appear on the screen ahead, very cool.

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There’s a new centre console, which looks particularly futuristic and a new blue coloured drive mode shifter, which is far quicker to access than in the current model.

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More headroom in the rear was obviously a concern for some buyers, so Toyota has addressed this by moving the highest point of the roofline backwards.

No matter where you sit in the new Prius, there is plenty of space. The car is a little wider and longer while retaining the same wheelbase as the current generation car.

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No longer might you have to climb into a boiling hot car on one of those stinking summer’s days either. The car we drove had an ingenious solar-powered ventilation system that removes hot air from the car when it is parked.

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And that’s not all, on your way back to the car, you can engage the air-conditioning system via battery power alone, to run for three minutes so that the car will actually be cool when you enter the cabin.

Provided the car has enough battery power, you can drive in EV mode or on electric power alone, but punch the throttle and the petrol engine will immediately kick in.

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You can also select Power mode, Eco mode or just leave it in the default Hybrid Synergy Drive, as I tended to do.

That said, I have it on good authority that normal commuter driving in a current generation Prius can return up to 900 kilometres from the 45-litre tank, which I find remarkable.

Along with all the usual safety features such as airbags, ABS and Vehicle Stability Control, the new Prius will offer a Pre-Crash safety system that uses wave radar to scan the road ahead for obstacles.

If the system detects a high probability of a collision, the driver will be alerted and braking assistance will supplement the drivers own braking.

If there is no avoiding a collision, it will automatically apply the brakes even if the driver fails to do so.

Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, which also uses radar to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front, will also be available.

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And if you opt for the Navigation system, a rear-view camera will assist you in those tight parking spots or you can go for Toyota’s latest Intelligent Parking Assist, which if you can be bothered, will virtually park the car by itself (some assistance from the driver is required).

While I have no doubt the new Prius will do everything it promises, the expected on road staring price of more than $40,000 will put it well out of reach of the average family, who may also want to help save the planet by driving one of these super green machines.

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At least, that was the problem I put to the Toyota guys and their answer was that their goal was to have a Hybrid powered car across every model range in the not too distant future.

That process will start with the launch of the locally manufactured Hybrid Camry in 2010.




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