The world’s most popular hybrid gets a big makeover
Pros Incredible fuel economy, more pleasant to drive, functional hatchback body style
Cons Styling both inside and out not to all tastes
Value for money Good
What would I change? Ditch the weird white interior plastics
How I would spec it? The Technology trim has everything you need
Rejoice! For those who worship at the altar of the world’s top-selling hybrid passenger vehicle – 5 million and counting – let it be known the reimagined 2017 Toyota Prius has improved to the point where it is actually quite pleasant to drive. No longer does waving the Prius flag signal acceptance of an automotive experience where excellent fuel economy goes hand in hand with joyless progress.
Not that the Prius faithful were overly concerned with their hybrid’s shortcomings, as it seems few were griping about the Prius’ hard plastic interior, brittle ride, wobbly handling, Novocain steering feel and moaning drivetrain. Well, we need gripe no more as this fourth-generation model kicks most of those foibles to the curb.
Key to the 2017 Prius’ newfound charisma is the all-new TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture), which imparts a sense of substance and solidity. The platform sports a modern double-wishbone rear suspension replacing the old torsion-beam axle. Being lower, wider and with a lower centre of gravity, the new Prius cuts into corners with some conviction, and ride quality and refinement are considerably improved. The cabin is quieter too, thanks to the more rigid platform and targeted sound insulation.
You’ll still be looking at the Prius’ signature central dashtop instrument display, but it is now larger, clearer and colourful. Much of the nasty hard plastic of yore has been replaced with soft-touch surfaces, and the design is pleasingly swoopy. The seats are comfortable and forward visibility panoramic, but the in-your-face shiny white plastic centre console is a truly jarring oddity – especially when it clashes spectacularly with the beige interior. Ouch. My initial urge was to fill it with water and splash my face. Rear seat legroom is down just a tad in this new generation, but by moving the battery pack from the trunk to under the back seat, Toyota has found an extra 57 litres of cargo space.
Outside, the car’s signature teardrop profile is adorned with a riot of sharp creases, bulges and complex sculpting. The new LED headlights and taillights are slimmer, and the C-pillar is blacked out to create the trendy “floating roof” illusion.
The 2017 Toyota Prius starts at $27,055, and for that we see 15-inch alloy wheels, heated cloth seats, a 6.1-inch in-dash touchscreen display, a backup camera, smart key access with push-button start, and LED headlights – plus, the radar- and camera-based Toyota Safety Sense P suite, including lane departure alert, adaptive cruise control and pre-collision system with vehicle and pedestrian detection.
This tester is the one-up $29,690 Technology that adds a seven-inch touchscreen with navigation, a (faux) leather-wrapped wheel, sport seats, SiriusXM and wireless smartphone charging. Stepping up to the Touring trim adds leather seats, 17-inch wheels, fog lamps and a few other doo-dads for $30,290.
On the midrange Technology, the Advanced Package ($2,675) here bestowed a blind-spot monitor, Softex seats, a head-up display, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, side laminated glass, a garage door opener, rain sensing wipers and a park assist system.
With all models, power still comes from the combined efforts of a 1.8-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor, but there have been numerous tweaks to the system – all in the name of fuel efficiency. The electric motor has been downsized slightly and the gas engine gains efficiency at the expense of a little top-end power. Torque output remains the same and it arrives lower in the rev range. The continuously variable transmission is smaller, lighter and frictional losses are down by 20 per cent. Improvements are also seen in the Prius’ regenerative braking, as the system is now smoother and more progressive.
The 2017 Toyota Prius has two available battery packs: a nickel-metal-hydride pack for the base model and a more powerful, energy-dense lithium-ion unit for the Technology and Touring. Factor in a marginally more slippery shape (drag coefficient drops from 0.25 to 0.24) and the Prius’ claimed combined fuel economy improves from 4.7 to 4.5 L/100 km. My week of mixed driving ended smack-dab on the quoted 4.5.
Now, if your green disposition gets the occasional spraying of red mist, selecting Sport mode calls up a tad more urge from the hybrid drive system. No, you won’t be dicing it up with any BMWs, but it does play into this fourth-gen Prius’ newfound sense of … well, we can’t honestly call it fun. Let’s just say getting the maximum number of tire revolutions per drop of gasoline is now an entirely more pleasant experience thanks to Toyota’s reimagining of its hybrid poster child.