NZ's cheapest plug-in hybrid: we test the Toyota Prius Prime
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A steady diet of Clarkson-era Top Gear with a side of boganism helped ensure I would grow up with a chronic hatred for the Toyota Prius.
It’s ironic then that, as someone who practically snorts motorsport, I have to concede that this Prius Prime has greater links to car racing’s lofty heights than most other vehicles on the market.
The design is sculpted in a wind tunnel, it incorporates hybrid technology derived and developed from Toyota’s now Le Mans–winning global campaign, and it makes use of a carbon fibre rear hatch to lighten its weight.
Just don't get rear-ended. That stuff's expensive.
Toyota’s plug-in Prius Prime variant is now available to New Zealand, new for the first time, as the cheapest plug-in you can buy.
Over two decades, Toyota has produced four generations of Prius; each more advanced and more ... er ... visually daring than the last.
This $48,490 Prime is based on the fourth-generation Prius Kiwis first laid eyes on in 2015. The pair share the same TNGA platform and many of the same design cues, but there are differences. The Prime’s more agape mouth, turbine 15in wheels, and a $10,000 price premium over the Prius SX.
It still comes with a continuously variable transmission mated to the same 1.8-litre four-cylinder as the standard Prius — fuelled by liquefied dinosaurs and capable of developing 72kW and 142Nm all by itself. A secondary electric motor supplements that 1.8-litre to help achieve a total combined peak power output of 90kW.
Those aren’t earth-shattering figures, but the Prius isn’t a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. As a pure commuter car, the power it serves is perfectly adequate for urban commuting with the occasional motorway excursion thrown in.
It is low-key, comfortable, and lusciously quiet when that four-popper is asleep.
Inside, the dashboard layout manages to walk an unlikely tightrope between minimalist and futuristic. Chunky white panels and a stubby, blue gear knob provide some needed contrast, while generous piano-black inserts give class to a cabin otherwise drowning in hard plastics (attracting dust and fingerprints galore in the process).
Heated front seats, wireless phone charging, and a surprisingly punchy JBL sound system are among the features, with the latter accessible through the 7in infotainment screen.
And though Toyota continues to defiantly exclude Apple CarPlay and Android Auto from their infotainment, the existing system is nonetheless a considerable improvement on the brand’s previous works.
The Safety Sense suite completes the tech-feature line-up, offering assurances like pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, and adaptive cruise control as standard.
Passive lane-departure assistance is also included, though it can be hyperactive and grating in its default setting — often triggered by lane outlines that simply aren’t there. Thankfully, there’s a mild setting that’s far more accurate.
These are all known quantities of course, given they’re all standard fare in the “normal” Prius we tested many moons ago. Where things start to differ is towards the Prime’s rear end.
There is no fifth seat — just an armrest and a couple of cup holders. Then you open the boot lid and there’s a thick layer of load lip added to the boot floor that reduces space from 502 litres to a more paltry 360 litres.
These sacrifices are representative of the Prime’s hidden weapon: an 8.8kWh lithium-ion battery pack tucked behind the rear seats.
This battery pack enables the Prime to be driven purely on electric power, with Toyota claiming a 63km range on battery juice alone.
That might sound disappointing — even a little pathetic — to those who live out in the Starbucks-free sticks. But in a built-up area like Auckland City it makes plenty of sense.
In my testing, 63km was ambitious to put it lightly. However, the Prime could gladly eat up my 33km work commute from Glen Eden to the city on a single full charge without issue.
That’s impressive, with the only thing more impressive being an outright overall combined fuel-consumption figure of 3.2L/100km that we managed to achieve in standard commuting.
Even when pushing the little Prime out of its comfort zone with pre-loaded traffic light launches and 0-100km/h on-ramp bursts, consumption wouldn’t edge above 4.7L/100km.
Mock the looks all you want, those figures are a feat of engineering magic.
Indeed, we didn’t need to go far to witness just how many fans the Prius has in 2018. In the 30 minutes we spent taking the pictures for this car on Queen St, we would’ve easily seen 50 or 60 others all milling about — made into true modern-day workhorses thanks to the likes of Uber.
Their number of fans have grown exponentially. And, perhaps begrudgingly, I now count myself as one of them.
2018 Toyota Prius Prime
Pros: Comfortable drive, impressive combined range, cheapest plug-in in New Zealand
Cons: Interior materials, lack of 5th seat, design certainly not for everyone