Hybrid vehicles. Australian buyers have been slow to embrace
electric/petrol vehicle technology but the second generation Toyota Prius has
the potential to change all that. There are six reasons to get very excited
about this car. The new Prius consumes less than 5 litres of fuel per
100km, releases half the carbon dioxide emissions of a comparable petrol
car, offers useable space, generous power, improved styling and a price cut
over the original Prius.
The Prius' most obvious advantage over a conventional vehicle
is fuel consumption. Toyota claims the Prius achieves an astounding 4.4 litres
per 100km fuel economy under the new ADR 81/01 combined cycle. This is almost
matched by the impressive Peugeot 307 HDi (see New Car Test - Peugeot 307 HDi), but the Prius runs away with
the ball in demanding city/urban conditions. In city/urban conditions you can
drive nearly 1000 kilometres before you need to refill the 45-litre tank...
In addition, the Prius is credited with extremely low tailpipe
emissions. Toyota claims the new Prius' HC and NOx emissions are just 2 percent
of ADR requirements and CO is 7 percent of ADR requirements.
And don't think for a moment that the eco-friendly Prius offers
zero on-road performance.
The Prius is equipped with two power sources that are
controlled by the second generation Toyota Hybrid System (THSII) - a petrol
engine and an electric motor.
The petrol engine is a VVT-i, twin-cam, 16-valve four-cylinder
with a displacement of 1.5 litres. Interestingly, the engine employs the
Atkinson cycle principle, which - by keeping the exhaust valves closed until the
end of the expansion stroke - is said to offer greater efficiency over a
conventional Otto cycle engine. Electronic throttle control, a MAP load sensor,
direct-fire ignition and high 13.0:1 compression ratio are other features of the
Prius' 1NZ-FXE engine.
The petrol engine is rated at 57kW at 5000 rpm and offers 115Nm
of torque at 4000 rpm.
Working alongside the petrol engine is the electric motor,
which is much improved over the original Prius. Toyota claims that the new 50kW
electric motor has the highest output per unit weight and volume of any electric motor in the world - impressive stuff. A relatively compact
nickel-metal hydride 201.6-volt battery also offers the highest output density
of any battery in the world.
The electric motor produces up to 32kW at speeds of above 85
km/h to achieve an 82kW total output. Total combined torque is an astounding
478Nm - but only at speeds up to 22 km/h...
The Prius channels drive through a constantly variable
automatic transmission (CVT). This transmission performs seamlessly but -
by bringing engine revs up to the optimal range when under moderate-to-heavy
load - it does accentuate the relatively noisy petrol engine. The car is
extremely quiet at all other times.
With up to 82kW on tap, Toyota claims the new Prius can
accelerate from standstill to 100 km/h in an impressive 10.9-seconds. Our tests
(conducted in warm conditions) averaged around 11.5-seconds. But more relevant
is the abundant torque available at all urban speeds - the Prius never leaves
the driver wishing for more grunt.
The new Prius hybrid also drives very much like a conventional
Prius II offers a smoother regenerative braking system than the
previous model. The regenerative braking system steps in whenever the throttle
is released or the foot brake is applied. Regenerative braking is used to slow
the vehicle and by using a generator driven off the front wheels, maintains the
charge of the hybrid battery pack. Our only criticism of the hybrid system is a
slight jerk when the petrol engine engages.
The front-wheel-drive Prius II is configured to understeer when
pushed through corners and the 195/60 15 Michelin Energy tyres don't offer
tremendous grip; thankfully the stability control system (as fitted to our
i-Tech optioned test car) keeps things on-track. Braking performance always
feels up to standard. Four-wheel disc brakes are fitted along with standard
brake assist, EBD and ABS.
The Prius' electric-assist power steering is an interesting
mix. There's decent steering weight and precision but there is very little
driver feedback. This isn't a major concern in most urban conditions but it is
noticeable on the open road where the Prius is easily unsettled.
The new Prius is large enough to be considered a small family
car. In contrast to the previous model, Prius II uses a 5-door hatchback body
design that is high and provides an airy interior feel. Front space is generous
and there's enough rear space to accommodate another two passengers with
comfort. A fifth passenger can also be accommodated at a squeeze. The seats are
comfortable despite a firm ride.
The styling of the interior is very futuristic. The dashboard
is unusually arranged with a central LED display for road speed and other vitals
- it might not be located directly in front of the driver but it works well
nevertheless. Some of the interior surfaces are also a bit weird - the door
trims, for example, are finished in a harsh black plastic that is easy to mark.
Oh, and someone at Toyota obviously thought it's be a good idea to clutter the
steering wheel with 16 push buttons...
The centerpiece of the cabin is a LCD touch screen for audio
control, climate control, maintenance info and a hybrid system monitor. The
screen works well overall but it can be difficult to read in direct sunlight.
Other standard features list includes power windows and mirrors, cruise control,
auto lights-off and remote central locking/immobiliser.
The optional i-Tech upgrade (as fitted to our test car) expands
the interior features list by adding DVD-based satellite navigation, "Bluetooth"
hands-free mobile phone technology, Smart Entry and a nine speaker JBL 6-stack
CD sound system. The sound system offers good sound quality at normal listening
levels but is let down by a lack of bass.
Unfortunately, the Prius will scare off many buyers in their
first few minutes behind the wheel. The starting and stopping process is
complicated (it's much more involved than simply turning a key!) and the gear
selector is, well, unconventional. The selector is spring-loaded so that the
lever always returns to the same position and the gear pattern is also unusual.
Like the original Prius, there are only two forward drive gear positions - Drive
and Brake. Drive is used in all instances except where you select Brake to
decelerate the car and increase the regenerative charge that's put into the
hybrid system battery.
Prius II offers generous rear cargo space along with a separate
storage compartment, tool kit and space-saver spare wheel hidden beneath the
false floor. The hybrid system battery lives beneath the forward section of the
cargo area floor and consumes very little space.
Toyota has done a good job keeping the Prius' weight down to a
manageable 1300-odd kilograms by fitting an aluminium bonnet, rear hatch,
calipers and various suspension components. The fuel tank is also multi-layered
plastic and there's an integrated radiator, air-conditioning condenser and
electric inverter radiator assembly to help shed more kilos.
Visually, Toyota has given the new Prius much more flair than
the superceded model.
The new 5-door hatchback body is attractive and sleek and
carries standard fog lights, a 'bee sting' aerial, rear spoiler and full colour
coding. The standard 6-spoke alloy wheels are also styled with a little pizzazz.
Crash safety? Well you get a reinforced cabin with crumple
zones, pre-tensioning and force limiting front seatbelts and standard traction
control. The i-Tech option pack enhances safety with vehicle stability control,
front side airbags, front curtain airbags and rear side curtain airbags.
One area where the original Prius fell over was pricing. The
new generation Prius can be bought from just $36,990 (which makes it the cheapest
hybrid sold in Australia), while the i-Tech option pack rockets the price to
$45,090. The i-Tech pack (as fitted to our test vehicle) adds extra airbags,
stability control, satellite navigation, "Bluetooth" hands-free mobile phone
technology, a nine-speaker JBL 6-stack CD sound system and Smart Entry.
So would we shell out $36,990 or $45,090 for a new generation
Well, we wouldn't bother if we planned a lot of open road
driving - the hybrid system doesn't offer the greatest fuel economy and emission
benefits in these conditions. On the other hand, if we intended using the car
mainly for city/urban driving we'd be very tempted by the new Prius. This is a
car that will satisfy anyone with an appreciation of cutting-edge technology and
a genuine interest in protecting the environment.
Just be aware that - until Australia wakes up to hybrid
vehicles - the depreciation rate is likely to be horrific.
Why You Would
fuel consumption - especially in urban/city areas
quiet when running off battery power
more attractive than original Prius
- The cheapest hybrid in Australia
Why You Wouldn't
jerk when petrol engine engages
in the context of comparable petrol vehicles
a high depreciation rate