It took Toyota more than a quick kiss to transform the tired, boring hybrid Prius into a car prince. But the new generation drives more dynamically than ever and remains as economical as before as a plug-in version.
The Toyota Prius has been on the market for 25 years and the Japanese is undoubtedly the pioneer of the hybrid age worldwide. In the USA and Japan in particular, it became a savings legend over time, but its design and the engine-transmission combination brought it a lot of criticism. This should finally be over in the new, fifth generation, because the Prius should still be an important spearhead in the Toyota model range against the superiority of the emerging electric vehicles and not just an economical dream of all taxi drivers.
“I was asked to build a Prius that would erase the image of a taxi and make people cry when they see it on the road,” says chief engineer Satoki Oya with a discreet smile. Whether that will work remains to be seen, but compared to the previous version, the new model is a real beau.
The proportions of the 4.60 meter long Toyota Prius are not only more pleasing than ever thanks to the five centimeter flatter roofline. 4.5 centimeters shorter and a wheelbase stretched by five centimeters are simply good for the frugal Japanese. The rear passengers in particular are happy about the legroom gained in the second row.
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The space for the head, on the other hand, is manageable and from 1.80 meters it gets tight for the hairstyle due to the slightly raised rear seat. In terms of operation, Toyota has improved with the new Prius. The central 12.3-inch display is much tidier than before, while the air conditioning can be operated using a direct button. What is disturbing, however, is the Prius’ hard plastic charm, which doesn’t want to fit into today’s world, and the digital instruments on the seven-inch small screen, which with its outdated display don’t want to fit into today’s world.
When it comes to operation, there are weaknesses in the details: if you want to change the strength of function B’s braking energy regeneration – which can be adjusted in three stages – you have to stop the car to do so. Shift paddles on the steering wheel would be the right solution. The luggage compartment grew by 33 liters to 284 liters due to the relocation of the battery pack from the luggage compartment under the rear seat; but remains too small. If you need more space, fold down the rear seats.
The fifth generation of the hybrid system increases the displacement of the previous petrol engine from 1.8 to 2.0 liters, which enables an increase in output from 72 kW / 98 hp / 142 Nm to 11 kW / 152 hp / 190 Nm; at the same time, the electric motor is significantly more powerful (163 hp vs. 71 31 hp from the previous generation generator), which explains why the total output of the system has increased from a slim 90 kW / 122 to an impressive 164 kW / 223 hp.
Another change is the elimination of the clutch between the electric motor and generator, which was previously used to allow both engines to contribute to the vehicle’s movement.
This is omitted because the new drive is significantly more powerful than its predecessor. More important, however, is the integration of a new battery with a larger capacity, because instead of the 8.8 kWh, 13.6 kWh are now available, which makes a decisive contribution to pushing the electric range from 45 to 69 kilometers.
The new battery pack has 50 percent more capacity and 30 percent fewer cells with higher energy density, takes up the same space and weighs about the same as the previous smaller battery. The charging capacity, on the other hand, is getting tired, because it just grew from 3.3 to 3.5 kilowatts. A full charge used to take at least two hours, now it will be four. That’s long – very long when the Prius rolls onto European markets in the middle of the year.
The new proportions, the wider track and the increase in wheelbase are quickly noticeable on the road. Whereas there used to be narrow 15-inch wheels, the test car is on the road with large 19-inch wheels, which significantly improves the look and dynamics, but has disadvantages in terms of comfort. If you don’t want to feel the bumps, switch to 17 inches. The steering is smooth and precise – the rolling movements are significantly less than before. The previous Prius struggled from zero to 100 km/h in 11.1 seconds and the successor feels twice as fast at 6.8 seconds, even if the top speed of 177 km/h is a disappointment for the stately engine performance. But what is most impressive is the new drivability, because even the otherwise annoying intermediate accelerations are much smoother and quieter than before thanks to the new parallelism between engine noise and acceleration, despite the continuously variable transmission.
The bottom line is that the new Toyota Prius, with a base price of around 38,000 euros, is almost completely free of its past and has shed the charm of the tired senior model both visually and in terms of driving dynamics. At the same time, he retains his greatest customer advantage: real consumption. With a full battery pack, Toyota promises the usual 0.8 liters of Super per 100 kilometers – in the brisk test drive and numerous speed changes, it was ultimately 3.9 liters. Now the customer has to decide whether the new, more emotional Toyota Prius stands a chance against the mighty wave of electric cars.