Toyota Prius: car review

Years ago a reporter arrived at Leonardo DiCaprio’s home in Los Angeles to interview him. Parked in the drive was a pimped-up BMW X5 and a small Toyota. The reporter presumed the big off-roader must be Leo’s, but when she asked the star about it he burst out laughing and said: “No, the Toyota’s mine. That BMW is my cleaner’s!”

The little Toyota was, of course, a Prius. For the Hollywood A-list it quickly became the car that showed you cared. Cameron Diaz, Sandra Bullock, Orlando Bloom, Miley Cyrus, Julia Roberts and Bradley Cooper have all been spotted driving one. And last week so was I…

The Prius is the world’s bestselling hybrid. It has sold more than 3.5m since it launched almost 20 years ago. This latest model is the fourth generation and it’s quite a departure from those that went before. Curves are out and sharp lines are in. It used to look a little apologetic but now it’s an eco extrovert. The headlamps are five-cornered works of art that link bonnet, grille and front fenders. Stick it in a corporate carpark and it looks like a drama student who has walked into an accountancy lecture.

interior of car
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Inside story: the clean and simple interior is at once modern and reassuring
The Prius really does what it says on the tin. It saves fuel. Its economy is remarkable. According to Toyota’s official figures, it produces a whiffling 70g/km of CO2 and can stretch a gallon of petrol to over 94 miles. These days we take these figures as a rough guide, but I drove 400 miles with a packed car and averaged an excellent 61mpg. The car gives you an eco score for your driving after each journey. My best was 72%, which in university terms is a First. The car still uses its old 1.8-litre petrol engine, but it has been heavily revised.

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The interior is pleasantly futuristic. The model I tested was an icy blue with ultramarine highlights – very spa chic. Gadget freaks will love the digital displays. There are two large screens: one is a traditional infotainment centre, the other a broad strip of continuous data feedback. Speaking up for motorists who need to wear reading glasses, this secondary screen was a blessing. It’s at arm’s length so was perfectly in focus for me, as opposed to being the blur that the satnav usually is.

On the road, this 2016 Prius is a huge improvement. It is lower and more dynamic, and handling has been tightened to make the car feel more agile. It’s now less milk float and more… well, car.

My only worry was whether passersby thought I was a Hollywood heavyweight or an Uber driver…

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Toyota Prius: car review