Back in 2010 we spent a few months with a Toyota Prius. That was the third-generation model, and on the whole we came away feeling that the car was a little bit misunderstood.
And, based on our first month of ownership of the fourth-generation, 2016 Toyota Prius, the same can probably be said of the awkwardly-styled small sedan.
We’ve already given the Prius’s styling a bit of a pasting in our video review of the top-spec i-Tech model, but this base model Prius – simply known as Prius – is perhaps even less pretty than its blinged-up compatriot.
But the fact is, this version is more affordable, priced from just $34,990 plus on-road costs, and it doesn’t actually miss out on that much technology compared with the dearer ($42,990) i-Tech.
In fact, when you check out what you get for the cash, the base-model Prius actually stacks up pretty well. The standard goodies include LED headlights with automatic high-beam, adaptive cruise control, a colour head-up display, Qi wireless phone charging, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen media system with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming that is hooked up to a 10-speaker stereo system by JBL. Read the full pricing and specification story.
There’s plenty of safety kit standard too, including a rear-view camera with dynamic guidelines (but no parking sensors), pre-collision warning, lane departure warning, and seven airbags.
The dullest bit? Those 15-inch wheels with “aerodynamic wheel covers” look a little naff. And no matter which Prius you buy, there's still a silly foot-operated park brake.
But at less than $35,000 list price, you’re still paying a bit of a premium for the hybrid technology, considering you miss out on niceties such as leather and sat-nav - which you get in the i-Tech, along with 17-inch alloy wheels, power driver’s seat adjustment, front seat heating, digital radio and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert - and the latest connectivity bits and bobs like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
You can get a pretty impressive small sedan (for example, the Hyundai Elantra or Honda Civic) with many, if not all, of those items included for less money, and while they aren’t as good on fuel as the Prius, which sips a claimed 3.4 litres per 100 kilometres, it would still take a while for you to save the cash you would have otherwise spent on fuel.
Speaking of that hybrid tech, the 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol-electric system has generally been found to be agreeable since we picked the car up.
Look, when I made it known that we would be getting a new Prius in the office for a few months, hands weren’t exactly raised with vigour to request a drive. But of the people who have driven the Prius since it joined us in early May, the reactions have been positive.
Many of the people who have saddled up in the Prius have been challenging themselves to try to lower the car’s fuel use. Obviously that’s the point of the Prius, right? It has long been the poster car of eco-greenies.
And impressively we’ve seen decent consumption despite varied drivers and driving styles, generally hovering around the 4.4L/100km mark, which is close to what we saw during our economy test in (and out of) Sydney.
There have been comments made about its cutesy little gear knob, but complaints made about the fact the car doesn’t stop beeping when you’re in reverse.
Most people have found the comfort levels on offer to be quite good, too, though the ride is still a little stiff over sharp bumps, even on the smaller 15-inch wheels. At least the road noise is a little less prevalent, though, but wind noise at highway speeds is still noticeable.
But the level of space is very good for a car of this size. In fact, you can fit five adults on board for shorter trips (or if you have kids, there are two ISOFIX anchor points), though the boot in the base model is a little tighter than that of the i-Tech, because this version gets a space-saver spare wheel and slightly more intrusive floor moulding. That spare is a bonus for long-distance drivers, while the volume difference is 45 litres - 457 litres for our base car and 502L for the i-Tech.
Based on our first few weeks with the car, it has come across as a decent value, decently-equipped, decent to drive hybrid sedan that perhaps doesn’t scream technology leader as much as it once did. But whether it stacks up as a ecological exemplar over the coming months remains to be seen.
We’ve got the Prius in Sydney for two months of this loan, so in our next update we will offer some more thoughts from the harbour city crew. And for updates three and four, the car will be in Melbourne. We’ll offer up some highway driving thoughts following the road trip too.
Stay tuned for the next instalment.
2016 Toyota Prius
Date acquired: May 2016
Odometer reading: 2211km
Travel since previous update: N/A
Consumption since previous update: N/A
Click the Photos tab for more images by Sam Venn.