- Published: Thursday, 19 November 2015 00:06
Fuji Speedway, Japan -
In 2015, what does a Toyota Prius stand for? Pretty much the same things it always has for the past three generations and 20-plus years it’s been around: You have a green flag and want to wave it proudly, but don’t mind being perceived as slightly boring.
As a package, the Prius has always been an appliance designed to wring every last metre out of every last drop of fuel.
While the fourth-generation Prius you see here doesn’t seem to have gained much in the power and torque stakes, it’s actually much more biased towards the driver than ever before.
Chief Engineer of the Prius, Kouji Toyoshima, says the four main aims of the new car were for it to have an eye-catching design, to be fun to drive, to have excellent fuel economy and to be well-equipped.
Like many new Toyota and Lexus products, what was previously soft-edge, plain-vanilla has become a plethora of wild angles and arrow-like contusions you’d never think would appear on products from the world’s biggest automaker.
The Prius looks like it means business now (especially in black), and even takes a cue from the Lexus IS with its belt-line that rises and bisects the rear-wheel.
More pages from the Lexus book are found in the paint, ‘Emotional Red’ which has a silver undercoat to give it more sheen, an approach similar to the gorgeous, molten red paintwork you can option on the Lexus RC coupe.
Toyoshima-san is the first engineer to utilise Toyota’s new TNGA architecture, which means an entire new way of making vehicles for the Japanese firm. The key principles in a nutshell? Making cars that are ‘ever better’ and more fun to drive, in the case of the Prius, by lowering the mass of components in the car.
The cabin feels much more premium this time, there’s still lots of plastic, but there’s a lot more to enjoy now, from the colour-coded accents on the steering wheel and console, to a host of (possibly still optional) premium features.
There’s particularly good visibility too, with the thin A-pillars and Toyota says the lowered bonnet (63mm lower) spells better forward visibility for the driver as well. In fact the all-round visibility is superb too.
We took a short drive on the third-gen Prius just before our go with the new car, and the differences are quite significant.
From the start, there’s a noticeable directness in the way the new Prius accelerates that the previous model never had, and that’s quite on purpose, says Toyoshima-san.
Fuji Speedway might not be the best place to test drive a road-going hybrid, but the Prius consistently surprises us with the how it’s getting on.
The lowering and centralisation of mass contributes greatly to the chassis and its sense of togetherness - it simply does what you command without slop. Acceleration is now brisk, seamless, cornering is immediate, even braking feels organic, a fact Toyota attributes to a new brake booster system.
Even in the tightest, slowest corner of Fuji, chucking the Prius in doesn’t result in squealing tyres and ESP scolding, there’s only a little body roll, a short squeal from the tyres. Through a cone slalom between turns 2 and 3, the Prius again showed plenty of agility and verve, and never came seriously unstuck despite us trying our best.
Smooth racetrack tarmac flatters any sort of car, but the third-gen machine showed up bumps in the surface that the fourth-gen car simply glides over, and even riding the rumble strips on purpose, at highway speed, shows the Prius should behave very well on uneven surfaces too, despite being 10kg heavier than before. That goes to show it’s not just how heavy a car is, but how it carries the weight that counts.
So the Prius has become radically much more driver centric. That in itself is no small thing and it's also thanks to, says Toyota, TNGA.
In fact it’s almost as if we’ve forgotten the main thing about a Prius: fuel efficiency. This one is supposed to better its predecessor in efficiency terms by 20 percent, in other words, from 4.0L/100km to 3.2L/100km, or by the quoted Japanese testing cycle, 2.5L/100km.
Performance figures haven’t been confirmed, but the real-life figures should be somewhere in-between. Assuming 3.2L/100km and a 45-litre tank, that’s 1,400km range per tank and in our experience, Toyota hybrids tend to be one of the few types of cars that can reach their quoted efficiency figures consistently.
But back home, what’s the significance of the newest Prius? Given there hasn’t been a huge nor visible increase in the environmental consciousness of Singaporeans, we wouldn’t be willing to be on it being a huge seller, and although the price gap isn’t huge now, the Prius still has a Cat B 1.8-litre engine.
For the full rundown on TNGA and how important it is to the world's biggest carmaker, grab a copy of CarBuyer #240 out on news stands soon. But for now, keep in mind that if Toyota is able to reap the sort of economies of scale VW did with MQB, then it means better driving cars, more diverse products and possibly even cheaper hybrids that could eventually penetrate the Southeast Asian mainstream. After all, a lot more of us would be driving a car that can do 1,400km on a single tank of fuel than a Corolla or a Kijang.
Plus, the world isn’t standing still and even in Singapore we can’t escape the consequences of not managing pollution, what with the longest haze season on record. It might still be simply too inconvenient for most people to modify their lifestyles to support sustainability, but with a Prius, that’s no longer an excuse. All you really have to do is get one and enjoy the drive - the fuel efficiency will take care of itself.
NEED TO KNOW
Engine 1,797cc, 16v, inline 4
Power 97bhp at 5,200rpm
Torque 142Nm at 3,600rpm
Electric Motor 71bhp
Battery Nickel metal-hydride, 1.31kWh
System Power TBC
System Torque TBC
Top Speed 180km/h
0-100km/h <9.5 seconds
Fuel efficiency <3.5L/100km
Availability Q1 2015
*All performance figures are estimates