Having spent over three months with a third-generation Toyota Prius, it was time to hand it back, however before doing so I thought, what better way to get a conclusion than to attend the Prius Club of QLD meeting (yes, Prius owners have a club).
The Toyota Prius is as much a car as it is a symbol of the ages, its environmental credentials may always be under extreme scrutiny but the fact of the matter is, it's by and large a brilliant car. It's so much more than just a hybrid car to save the planet, its a showcase of the latest in technological innovations Toyota has to offer.
Given the number of electric cars joining the market, the Prius may indeed be an interim car, but so is every other car currently on the market. The technology is changing so rapidly that manufacturers have to pick and stick to one system to make it viable. Toyota arguably kick started the environmentally friendly vehicle crusade and it has picked the electric+petrol combination for its entire lineup.
One way to look at the Toyota Prius is to view it as the S-Class of Toyota. It comes feature packed with pretty much every single bit of technology the Big T has to offer at a reasonable price. If you haven't done so already, read all the reviews on the Toyota Prius long term test.
After three months and almost 5,000km of driving, any previous dislike that I had for the Prius is long gone. To put it simply it's a package that comes together nicely. It does exactly as its told, it never misbehaves, it gets the job done and it does so whilst using a very reasonable amount of fuel. Plus, if there are Prius clubs popping around it certainly means there is some emotion attached to the car as well.
The Prius Club of QLD meets monthly in a local library, and no they don't sit around discussing who had the better fuel economy or who saved more trees this month (I have been asked that far too many times). In fact you may be surprised that the majority of owners didn't list the car's fuel efficiency benefits as the main reason for their purchase.
Rated highly on the list of why they bought a Prius included: Comfort, solid feel, technological innovations, reliability, green-image and of course Toyota loyalty and eventually fuel economy.
It's hard to argue with them on any of those points, the Prius is all those things and more. I was however curious as to why it was picked over other eco-friendly vehicles. When quizzed about swapping to diesel powered cars, many still had preconceived ideas about 'dirty, smelly, noisy diesels'. It goes to show how much work diesel cars still have to do to gain acceptance.
What about electric cars? Of course, who wouldn't want a full-electric Toyota Prius. Toyota is set to release a Plug-in hybrid version of the car later this year and that will no doubt pave the way for an eventual full-electric Prius in the future. As I said before, the current Prius is an interim car, so is the upcoming plug-in Prius and so forth until the technology hits a point which it no longer evolves as rapidly. This is still decades away.
If you're in the market for a Toyota Prius don't worry about waiting and waiting for newer generations, but perhaps a little consideration should be paid to the car's resale value. Given the type of car it is and how quickly technology evolves, the Prius does not necessarily hold its value all that well. This is similar to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class or BMW 7 Series, both of which suffer from the same issue. However if you want the latest in car technology, you have to pay the early-adopters fee.
High on the list of "what would like to see in the next-generation Prius" current owners wrote:
- plug-in capability (coming)
- rear air-vents
- More noise - Too quite at low speeds in car parks, no one can hear you coming (interesting problem)
- Beeping - When reversing the Prius beeps on the inside, the driver knows they are reversing! Why not beep on the outside?
- New wheels - The car's wheels can really do with an upgrade (17-inch alloys now available)
- A proper spare-wheel and not just tools to band-aid a puncture.
- Smart entry not to unlock all doors at once (possibly able to be set through the car's ECU)
- Improve handling (bigger wheels will help eleviate this issue)
- Native iPod/iPhone support
- Improve Sat-Nav with ability to read out street names (should be simple)
- Voice activation (should be simple)
- Front camera (simple)
Many have argued strongly against the Toyota Prius on the basis of "you won't get your money back on the fuel savings", the Ford Fiesta Econetic which has recently taken the title of the most fuel efficient vehicle in Australia consistently has a go at the Prius.
I admire Ford for their efforts and I do think the Fiesta Econetic is a marvelous car, nonetheless no potential Prius owner is considering the Fiesta. From what I've gathered, a Prius owner spends considerable amounts of time researching their vehicle and makes an informed decision based on desire for the latest in car technology and a soft-spot for the environment.
Three months ago I wouldn't have been sitting here writing an article in defence of the Toyota Prius, but times have changed. The Prius is quite possibly the most misunderstood vehicle on the market today, forget the fuel efficiency and green credentials for a minute and focus on the fact that it can drive itself, park itself and get you from A->B in comfort. Isn't that what matters the most?
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