By David Twomey
With a price of $39,900 for the base model, that’s $90 less than the original introduction price for the Generation One Prius back in 2001, the trade-off is a higher basic specification, more power, and more fuel efficiency.
Add to that the better driving dynamics of the Corolla-based chassis and suspension and the Generation Three Prius is a definite step forward.
In fact the new car costs $2500 more than the one it replaces but Toyota says it brings with it $4000 in added specification.
There’s just two grades of Prius now, with the top spec car being the i-Tech that adds a bundle of features, such as satellite navigation, radar cruise control, a solar-powered cabin cooler, pre-safe crash protection, automatic parking and LED headlamps, but there’s a price to pay, $53,500 actually.
Standard features in the new Prius, such as seven airbags, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Smart Entry and Start, a multi-function display, Touch Tracer and Head-Up Display, are all new or were previously only offered in the i-Tech.
In essence the latest Prius looks like the previous one, at first glance and for a good reason – it’s the best aerodynamic solution, but the shape has changed subtly, resulting in a benchmark co-efficient of drag of 0.25 that has been equalled only by the new Mercedes-Benz E-class Coupe.
Look over the new Prius beside a previous model and there’s a refined cabin shape with a more aggressive nose.
It’s still a five seater, at a pinch, but at least there’s now more legroom in the rear, plus some extra cabin width. The boot is also a little bigger; up by 31 litres to 446 litres, able we’re told to accommodate three golf bags.
Underneath the new Prius is essentially the basis of the current Toyota Corolla, a move partly aimed at cutting costs, but also designed to improve the driving dynamics of the Prius, which previously could be described as pretty much non-existent.
At the same time the engine in the Prius has grown to 1.8-litres, with power growing from 56 kilowatts to 73kW, and torque increasing from 110Nm to 142Nm, while the electric motor has seen a 20 per cent increase in power to take the total to 100kW.
Conversely efficiency has increased and the Prius now returns a staggering 3.9 litres per 100 kilometres for petrol consumption and produces just 89 grams of CO2 for each kilometre travelled.
This makes it the first car in Australia to go below 100g/km, a title it is likely to hold for some time.
Overseas the Prius has been a sales sensation with 210,000 orders in Japan and while the 3500 that Toyota aims to sell in Australia this year, growing by 1000 next year, may be tiny in comparison, it is a significant increase for the local market.
Toyota admits that a large number of the cars currently sold go to government and business fleet buyers, and it privately also admits that the big problem with growing private purchases is the price. If the car in Australia were $10,000 cheaper then we would bet they’d be flying off the showroom floor.
The Prius has so far been the flagship of the hybrid push in Australia for Toyota, but that will go a lot more mainstream next year when the Camry Hybrid is launched.
In fact that car will be the next in a string of hybrid launches for Toyota, with the company planning to eight hybrid models in the next four years.
Some of those will be updates of the current Lexus range, but it leaves room for three new models, one of which will almost certainly be the Prius-like Lexus HS250h, launched at the Detroit motor show earlier this year.
Our experience of driving the new Prius was restricted to relatively too few kilometres around suburban Sydney for us to form a strong opinion of how the latest iteration performs.
The real evaluation of that will come in a couple of weeks when CarAdvice pits the Prius against some interesting rivals.
What we can say is that the latest Prius feels more compliant than before, it handles much more like any other car and its level of grip has been greatly improved.
All that is down to the Corolla chassis and the suspension bits adopted along with it, the ride is smoother and the steering a lot sharper.
Performance is nothing ballistic but strong, thanks to the enormous instant torque from the electric motor, and the car holds its own in the cut and thrust of city driving.
Inside there’s a lot of new detail to explore and we’ll need more time than was on hand at the launch to full come to grips with the numerous innovations. The i-Tech, or the standard car with a $5000 option pack, will even park itself!
The Prius certainly makes a strong pitch against the ‘flavour of the month’ European diesels, but it still doesn’t match them for driving enjoyment.
The really interesting confrontation will come when Honda finally launches its Insight hybrid locally, a car that is somewhat smaller and somewhat less technically sophisticated, but could potentially be priced much more sharply.