Driving a Toyota Prius with a car load of people and luggage for around 1100km wasn’t exactly my idea of fun. I was gritting my teeth at the thought of overtaking and tackling hills, let alone fitting four adults and all of our luggage.
One of the first things we noticed when arriving in Brisbane was the heat – both inside and outside the car. While front seat driving was fine, rear seat passengers remained in a sweat due to the lack of rear air vents. The only available option was to crank the air conditioning at the front of the cabin and hope that it lofted toward the rear.
My concerns about passenger room and luggage room were unfounded. The boot in the Prius is massive, likewise the interior leg and head room. Although the Toyota Prius looks small and compact from the outside, the interior is surprisingly spacious with ample leg and head room for adults.
Getting acquainted with the vital controls is an easy task, especially with useful functions like temperature and display controlled via the steering wheel. The heads up display is also very useful for watching your speed – especially with all the well hidden cash cameras riddled throughout Queensland.
Braking in the Prius is interesting due to the alternative braking system it uses. The Prius attempts to recoup the energy lost through conventional disc brakes by reversing the direction of the electric motor, which in turn charges the onboard batteries. It’s called regenerative braking and up until recently it was used only in hybrids. Other manufacturers such as BMW have now employed the technology to help ease the amount energy lost to heat by disc brakes.
Under city and light braking loads, the electric motor entirely slows the vehicle seamlessly. During harder braking the vehicle reverts to the conventional disc brakes. The problem with this setup is the non-progressive brake pedal feel. It doesn’t feel like a conventional braking system and takes some time to become used to.
Powering the petrol portion of the Prius drivetrain is a 1.8-litre four-cylinder motor. While overtaking took a bit more room than usual, it was surprising just how much torque the combination of the Prius petrol and electric combination produced.
The Continually Variable Transmission (CVT) reaps the variable valve timing benefits of the four-cylinder petrol engine and provides for prompt acceleration during times of need. The other advantage of the CVT is seamless acceleration from a standing start.
ADR tests suggest a combined fuel consumption of 3.9L/100km. With around 75% of my time behind the wheel spent on the highway, the Prius fell short of this figure achieving a none the less impressive 4.3L/100km. Bear in mind the car was constantly loaded with four adults, making the engine work much harder for its money.
One feature that I was looking forward to testing was the solar panel cooling. Basically, while the Prius is sitting out in the sun, the photovoltaic solar panel mounted to the roof generates electricity independent of the main battery cells to run a fan that cools the cabin.
On approach to the vehicle, the driver can also hit the A/C button on the key that initiates full fan force air conditioning until the driver unlocks the vehicle.
In both instances, the features worked a treat. One day the car was left in the searing heat for some five hours. On arrival to the vehicle, I activated the A/C mode from around 50m away and by the time we entered the vehicle, it felt like it had been sitting in the shade.
It’s the type of feature that should be fitted to every vehicle. It’s unused space that could easily house solar panels for auxiliary features of the car.
Possibly one of the most annoying features of my week with the CarAdvice long termer was the satellite navigation. It worked very well in most occasions except when there was a chemical spill on the highway at the on-ramp we had planned to use.
I used the navigation to take a shortcut to the next on-ramp and on three separate occasions it lead me down streets that either weren’t completed or didn’t connect to other streets as the map said they would. This would of course come down to the maps provided with the vehicle.
The top spec Prius i-Tech also features an automatic parallel parking feature. I tested this technology some time ago in the Lexus LS600hL super limo and it failed dismally, mounting a curb on the only occasion it worked. In the Prius on the other hand, the system is still a bit fiddly in comparison to the system used in the Volkswagen range but works nevertheless.
At $53,500, I’ve got to say the Prius i-Tech is a far more appealing proposition to the outgoing model. In addition to the radar cruise control, the Prius is jam packed with features. My concerns about speed under load were off the mark. The Prius measured up just as I would expect from a large car, let alone a small-midsized car.
I look forward to the day consumer hybrid vehicles can accelerate faster on batteries in addition to lasting longer on battery travel. Until then, the Prius does a pretty impressive job in its own way.