What is the Toyota Prius?
The Toyota Prius is the world’s most popular hybrid car, and the vehicle that popularised petrol/electric tech in mainstream personal transport. But before you start looking for a Prius, automatically assuming that it’s the greenest family transport around, make sure that it really will deliver.
Ever since the original Prius of 1998, the model has become synonymous with previously unheard of levels of parsimony for this size of family car. It’s all down to the way a hybrid system works; it captures energy otherwise lost through braking, tops up the on-board batteries, and these give the 1.8-litre petrol engine a boost — via motors — when you need that bit of extra urge.
So if you’re in stop/start traffic a lot, constantly braking or accelerating, the Toyota’s on-board tech will help you squeeze more miles out of each gallon. Which sounds great, but petrol engines are inherently less efficient than diesels, while that hybrid tech adds to the car’s weight and cost. As a result, for the same money you can buy a more mainstream diesel family car that’s nicer to drive and could prove just as frugal in the real world.
The standard Prius comes with one powertrain option only; there’s also a plug-in edition that allows you to cover up to 15½ miles on electricity alone, but you pay a massive premium for the technology.
For some though, the Prius is perfect. It’s spacious, frugal and clean enough to be exempt from London’s congestion charge — plus it’s free to tax. Around town, the Prius is easy to drive with its standard automatic gearbox; and while there’s not much feel to the steering, the light controls and ergonomically sound cabin make the driving experience painless, if unrewarding.
For a long time, the Prius had just the one close rival; the Honda Insight (now discontinued new). Cheaper and less clean than the Toyota, with early editions not congestion charge or tax-exempt, the Honda is even less of an enthusiast’s car than the Toyota, and has a cabin with an even higher proportion of cheap-looking plastics. If you’re buying at the newer end of the scale, however, the Prius now has a posh Lexus-branded equivalent, the CT 200h; there are now also the Peugeot 3008, 508 and 508 RXH e-HDi Hybrid4 diesel-electric hybrid versions, too.
For less cash though, you could buy a diesel Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia or Toyota Avensis; they’re better to drive, cheaper to buy and potentially just as fuel-efficient depending on your driving habits – if you do a lot of motorway trips, for example.
Meanwhile, the Prius+ provides seats for up to seven, thanks to two pop-up chairs in the boot. Trim levels are T3, T4 or T Spirit, with all editions getting electric windows all round, a 7in touchscreen display, multifunction steering wheel and a head-up display. A facelift in January 2012 cut CO2 emissions further, and extra standard kit, but if you can’t run to one of these, don’t feel short-changed.
Whichever version you buy, the interior plastics aren’t in keeping with such a costly car and the driving experience is as miserable as a Morrissey gig. But you can eliminate an array of costs by driving a Prius and the benefit-in-kind bills will be much reduced too. So if finances dictate your next purchase, the Prius might be the answer.
What to look out for when buying a used Toyota Prius Mk3
The key thing to be aware of is the real-world fuel economy; cars used mainly on the motorway can return just 45mpg or so. Other than that, most Prius owners love their cars, but before buying a used one make sure all the electronics are functioning properly. Although they’re reliable, they can be damaged by the car being jump-started — you should never use booster cables on a hybrid.
The Prius Mk3 has been recalled first of all for the possibility of a linkage in the steering mechanism coming adrift (2011), then again for further steering problems (2012), electrical short-circuiting in the hybrid system (2012), braking issues (2013) and power losses (2014).
The One to Buy
Toyota Prius T-Spirit
- £25,295 (new)
- 1798cc, 4-cylinder
- 98bhp @ 5200rpm
- 105 lb ft @ 4000rpm
- continuously variable transmission
- 0-62mph in 10.4sec
- Top Speed:
- 70.6mpg combined
- Road Tax Band:
- L 4480mm, W 1745mm, H 1490mm
Toyota Prius rivals
Honda Insight (click here for used car prices on driving.co.uk)
Lexus CT 200h (click here for used car prices on driving.co.uk)
Peugeot 508 RXH e-HDi Hybrid4 (click here for used car prices on driving.co.uk)