Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Toyota Prius T-Spirit

These are my thoughts and reactions having had access to a Toyota Prius for 48 hours.

For those who don’t know, the Prius has a hybrid petrol/electric engine. That doesn’t mean you have to plug it into the mains. Indeed, you can’t. The battery recharges when running on petrol or when braking. It’s all computer controlled but basically it uses battery at low speeds, only switching to petrol for faster speeds or harder acceleration.

It’s nickname is the Toyota Pious, because it allows you to wear your green credentials on your sleeve. The model I was testing was the top of the range T-Spirit (cue Nirvana jokes).

The initial reaction of most people seemed to be surprise that it looked like a “real” car. I think there’s a misconception amongst those who have never met one that it’s some sort of novelty vehicle – a sort of high tech 2CV.

It’s a decent size, the build quality seemed good and it was very comfortable. For someone used to a manual gearbox the continuously variable transmission took a while to get used to but I’m talking minutes, not days. The foot operated “hand brake” was also a bit of a surprise and difficult to locate the first few times.

I was expecting it to be a little sluggish. It isn’t. A sports car it’s not, but it takes off pretty well if you do feel the need to put your foot to the floor. For less aggressive driving it’s smooth and quiet.

The intelligent parking assist is only really of novelty value. It took me several goes to get the hang of it and even then it seemed more hard work than parking manually. It’s also just a little bit paranoid. On the few occasions I did get it right, it sometimes cancelled itself because (apparently) my speed was to high. That’s even though I only took my foot off the brake and didn’t apply any accelerator. If it’s so fussed about speed, and if it can take control of the steering wheel, why can’t it just limit my speed rather than going on strike if I go too fast?

The rear view TV display is nice but all those red, green and yellow lines are just confusing. I tried to read in the manual what they all mean but my eyes started to glaze over.

There’s plenty of room inside to accommodate four adults comfortably. I didn’t try five but it would probably be OK provided you’re not travelling too far.

Whether you rate the boot as large or small seems to depend on what you’re used to. Compared with my old Vectra it was tiny. You could be pushed to fit in luggage for four adults on a holiday break. This is mainly because the floor is at bumper level to accommodate the spare wheel and some of the electrics. A removable cover gives access to a bit more space under the boot floor but that makes the luggage area a strange shape, not having a flat base.

Particularly liked:
  • “Star-trek” style central console with touch screen. This is used for Sat Nav display, control of the audio system and climate control, or it can display an animated image to show power source and power routing.
  • Voice control of some functions. As well as the novelty value this could help keep your eye on the road because it allows several functions to be controlled from one easy-to locate button on the steering wheel. You can say things like "18 degrees" to set the climate control, "radio" to turn on the radio and "louder" to turn it up. The repertoire of commands is perhaps a little limited and it would be nice to be able to add your own. The voice saying "say your command now" would have quickly driven me up the wall but thankfully I found a menu option to turn it off.
  • Rear facing camera providing full colour display of what’s immediately behind you when reversing.
  • Large number digital speedometer (switchable between MPH and KPH).
  • Fuel economy. Driving back and forth to work for a couple of days (all urban driving) I averaged just a smidgen under 50 mpg (see also conclusions below).
  • Total silence when you come to a halt at traffic lights and the engine shuts down. It somehow makes your contribution to a cleaner atmosphere all the more real.
  • Rear spoiler cuts a horizontal line across the view through the rear view mirror.
  • ‘Er indoors said she banged her knees on the underside of the dashboard when adopting her preferred driving position.
  • Sat Nav won’t accept full 7 character post codes. After (e.g.) RG41 1 you then have to select street and house number, which is fine if you know it but a pain if you don’t.
  • Continuous beeping when in reverse. If a continuous warning tone is necessary then something less penetrating (like the “ping” of a lift) would be preferable. Toyota please note: the "ping" you get when the auto-park finishes would have been a much better choice.
  • The car’s paranoia. The display console frequently shows warnings to which you have to touch “I agree” or similar. After the first time round you don’t read them anyway and the distraction of having to dismiss the screen can end up being more dangerous than whatever it was it was trying to warn you about.
  • Flimsy cloth cover to boot area.
  • I could have missed something but I couldn’t find a way to leave the radio/cd playing to entertain a passenger without leaving a key in the vehicle.
  • Small boot area. I know I’ve already said that but really deserves repeating as it’s my main reservation about the vehicle.

In the end, I think the plusses outweighed the minuses. It’s a decent sized family car with a performance which will only disappoint if you are a “boy racer”. You cannot argue with the fuel economy even though I couldn’t achieve the manufacturer’s suggested figures.

If you are a (UK) company car driver it could save you a fortune in income tax because of the tax breaks for “green” vehicles. If you own one yourself I believe the annual road fund tax is an incredibly low £15.

If you frequently drive into town, it’s currently exempt from the London Congestion Charge although you do have to pay an annual fee (currently £10) to register. However I hear rumours that Boris may have a plan to stop this concession so don't count on it continuing forever.

Add to that the fuel economy (who knows what the future holds for the price of petrol and diesel) and the savings could be substantial. The sums will vary with personal circumstances but I’m anticipating a saving of around £80 per month (fuel and tax combined) compared with my old Vectra. On top of that there is the thought that you are doing your bit to conserve resources and protect the atmosphere.

Given the economics I think I might be prepared to be a bit more creative when packing for a weekend away with friends.


Robby said...

nice review i think i am on the fences about hybrids

Daily Driver said...

That is a nice review. Gotta tell you though, Yes its an energy saver, 'smooth as silk' drive, hitech gadget inside, and sold over a million around the globe, but, here in Indonesia, the price is unreasonably high. The government (still) consider that the Prius has 2 engine so, they smartly implement double tax. Can u imagine how stupid that is?

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