Did you hear the one about the Prius?

The Toyota Prius has been the butt of motoring jokes and memes since it was launched more than 20 years ago. I never understood the hate, when I first came into contact with a Prius in the early 2000’s I was fascinated by the technology it contained. The Prius was a pioneer in the world of hybrid electric cars, something that should be acknowledged not joked about.

We are now in the fourth generation of the Prius and there are three model variants to choose from in the Prius family; the compact Prius c, the standard Prius lift back, and the Prius v a seven seat car – a mini people mover.

I spent a week with the Prius v to see how it coped with my young family and living in the outer suburbs of Sydney. You see the Prius is designed to achieve its best results in inner city urban environments driving at relatively low speeds. I was driving it like any other car I review, simply using the EV mode whenever I could to improve fuel economy. I did try out the Power drive mode; however I didn’t really notice any difference in power and so I didn’t use it out again.

There is also an Eco drive mode that does smooth out the torque corresponding to the depression of the accelerator pedal and also reduces the energy used to operate the air conditioning system. But I did not use this mode either while reviewing the Prius as I don’t use the Eco mode on any cars I review.

EV mode is only available for short trips at speeds of up to 50km/h, after this the engine takes over and the battery assists only when extra power is needed. The EV mode also cuts out when the accelerator is pressed anything other than with a feather weight. So there are no mad Tesla-style launches to be had in the Prius.

The EV mode will also cut out automatically when the battery charge is getting low, luckily though the battery recharges relatively quickly using the regenerative braking system on the Prius. EV mode also disengages when the car is hot and extra power is needed for the air conditioning.

Inside the Prius still has a futuristic feel with the displays normally in front of the driver located in the centre of the dash. The only thing the driver has directly in front of them is the head-up display, which shows speed only.

Infotainment is accessed by the 6 inch colour touchscreen display and audio options include AM/FM radio, DAB, Bluetooth, CD, AUX and USB. Below the climate controls there is a ledge that has a USB, AUX and 12V outlet for phone charging and audio connectivity.  

The touchscreen gives you access to the satellite navigation with SUNA traffic channel, Toyota Link and reversing camera. Plus information about the hybrid system and a graphic which gives you live pictures of how the system is working and whether or not the engine or motor or both are driving the car and when the battery is charging. It really is very interesting to watch and makes you want to drive more conservatively so that you are using the EV mode to the maximum.

There are no additional power outlets under the arm rest and only a shallow storage area that would fit sunglasses and annoyingly it opens from the driver’s side only making it difficult for the passenger to access if they need to.

To keep electricity usage down there are only manual adjustments for the seats, except for electric lumbar support for the driver, and manual adjustment of the steering column, which only goes up and down. There is also a manual foot-operated park brake, which I think I forgot to disengage nearly every time I set off in the Prius only to be beeped at to tell me to take the park brake off; a downside of being used to automatic electric park brakes that are so common these days.

The Prius v has seven seats and I was amazed how they fitted that many into such a small car, this is easily the smallest seven seat car I have ever driven. All seats are covered with black fabric and synthetic leather and they are quite comfortable to sit in.

In the second row there are three seats, all of which can be moved independently of each other and can be folded flat if needed. There are two ISOFIX points/three rear tether points in the second row. My son found that the seat belt was at a height that cut into his neck a bit and there was no height adjustment, but he did not complain about this too much.

The second row of seats does not have any USB or 12V outlets and there are no air vents in the centre console, only air vents under the front seats that pushed air towards the back. Also there were no additional drink holders, only those in base of the door. But there are built in retractable blinds and the lack of a transmission tunnel means that three adults could fit in the second row in relative comfort

The independent sliding of each seat made it easier to access the third row of seats. Additionally the two outside seats had manual folding controls that made them simple to manoeuvrer. Hence getting into the third row of seats was not an impossible task even for an adult to do. There are also plastic step plates where you step into the Prius, meaning that carpet is not damaged getting in and out of the car.

Although I could fit in the third row my head was hitting the roof and I could not raise the headrests up high enough into the correct position. So at best the third row could be used for ‘tweens’, that is children old enough not to need a child restraint (as the third row does not have any anchorage points), but that have not had their growth spurt yet.

The third row also does not have any air vents, but the small window at the back means you do not feel claustrophobic. They do have access to the 12V outlet that would be in the boot if the seats were folded down and two drink holders in the wheel arches.

With the third row of seats in place the boot is very small. If you were doing the school run with five children in the Prius you would not be able to fit five school bags in the boot. But with the third row of seats folded down there is enough room for the weekly shop and a small pram in the boot. Another energy saving measure in the Prius is the removal of the spare tyre.

Toyota Safety Sense, including Pre-Collision Safety system with pedestrian detection, Lane Departure Alert, Automatic High Beam and Active Cruise Control comes fitted standard on the Prius v. Interestingly though the cruise control does not keep the set speed while going down a hill without a car in front of you and the lane departure warning does not work at below 50km/h. Passive safety features include seven airbags – including full side curtain airbag giving the Prius v an ANCAP safety rating of five stars.

The Prius has a 1.8-litre Atkinson Cycle 4-cylinder petrol engine with maximum power of 73kW @ 5200rpm and 142Nm @ 4000rpm of torque driven through a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). The combined system output is 100kW and the Prius v weighs just over 1,500kgs, which explains the lack of acceleration available.

The official combined fuel economy is 4.4 L/100km and for the week I drove the Prius v I achieved 6.3 L/100km; making the Prius v the most fuel efficient car I have reviewed apart from the Teslas. Considering as I mentioned at the start that my daily driving routine is not what the Prius is ideally designed for I think this is still a good achievement. The Prius does need 98RON petrol though and this should be factored in when calculating running costs of the vehicle.

Every new Toyota model bought after 1 January 2019 is protected by a minimum five-year unlimited kilometre warranty. Plus if you complete your annual service schedule, Toyota will extend your engine and driveline warranty from five to seven years. For hybrids Toyota will increase the standard guarantee on your new Hybrid battery to up to 10 years as long as you undertake your annual inspection as part of routine maintenance according to the vehicle logbook.

The Prius v costs $35,400 plus on-road costs; quite good value considering the features that come standard, but the smell on the inside of the cabin from the plastic finishes does reflect the cheaper materials used in there.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the Prius v, the suspension absorbs the bumps, it drives well and even goes around corners OK. Admittedly it’s no race car, but it was better than I expected. So if you are after a compact seven seat car option that helps to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions, then the Prius v is a car you should consider. Visit your preferred Toyota dealer to drive one for yourself.

Photographs by Driven Women Magazine.  

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