Even people who take little or no interest in cars seem to know one when they see it.
It’s not Australia’s first hybrid, but it’s by far and away the most popular, having weathered the storm and defied the odds — to still be here four generations, 20,000 sales and almost 20 years later.
The car made its belated debut here in October 2001, about six months after the launch of the Honda Insight.
Toyota had hoped to be first, but had trouble as I recall getting the car past Australia design regulations.
I attended the launch of the two-seat Insight and remember well what a shocker that car was.
Prius wasn’t too far behind in terms of dynamics, but at least it could seat more than two people and that gave it a fighting chance.
We’ve driven plenty of Prius since then, had them for longterm evaluation and participated in the launch of the current model.
But with the success of Camry Hybrid and now the availability of just about any Corolla with a hybrid, not to mention the fact RAV4 will get a hybrid soon — we can’t help but wonder whether the Prius has passed it used by date?
Has it served its purpose as a showcase for the technology and is there still room for a standalone hybrid?
What’s it cost?
The current Prius comes in Base and I-Tech versions, priced from $36,440. The better equipped i-Tech is $43,900.
Prices for the Camry hybrid start from $30,090, while the Corolla gets off the mark for $25,870.
Prius and Corolla share the same 1.8-litre based hybrid system, while Camry gets a larger 2.5-litre powertrain.
Prius is equipped with satellite navigation, colour head-up display, 15-inch alloy wheels with aerodynamic covers, 10-speaker JBL audio and wireless phone charger.
The i-Tech adds 17-inch alloys and leather-accented seats with eight-way power adjustment for the driver’s seat and front-seat heaters.
Active cruise, lane departure alert and auto high beam are all standard, while i-Tech gains blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.
Both also get a limited form of auto emergency braking.
What’s it go like?
The big difference between the Prius and the others is that it has been specifically developed as a hybrid, with a lot of support technology and aerodynamic enhancements.
The Corolla with the 1.8-litre hybrid powertain is good for a combined output of 90kW, and fuel consumption of 4.2L/100km, with CO2 emissions of 97g/km.
Prius with the same setup does 3.4L/100km and 80g/km.
Now you might think that sounds like a bit of a stretch. Cars never deliver their claimed fuel figures, not in the real world — right?
Most of the time. But in the three weeks we had the car over Christmas we clocked up 880km from a single tank of fuel at a rate of just 4.2L/100km.
That was without trying and that folks is frankly amazing.
There are three driving modes: normal, sport and eco.
To encourage greater use of eco mode, it’s designed to feel more like normal mode (sorry still didn’t use it).
Power mode on the other hand incorporates a learning function and adjusts acceleration and engine braking to match driving style.
Generally, this model is quieter, more responsive and feels more anchored to the road with a lower centre of gravity.
But the thing that really sets this Prius apart from its predecessors is that it’s actually okay to drive (did I just say that?)
I remember the launch in 2016 and the look my co-driver and I shared after punting the car through its first bend.
“Not bad. Not bad at all,” we agreed.
And, apart from its lower stance making it more difficult to get in and out of, the car stands up as comfortable, practical and liveable form of transport.
The one rider to that is the CVT style transmission which has a way of spoiling the drive experience and the tyres which can be noisy on coarse bitumen — but hey?
Our test vehicle was the Base model, with cloth trim and believe it or not — plastic hubcaps. I kid you not.
But here’s the thing, the wheels underneath are in fact alloy — what the hell?