Toyota Prius 1,8 Exclusive (2009) Driving Impression

Toyota Prius 2009

The second-generation Toyota Prius was a surprising success story. In a world still in the process of making a collective transition to greener lifestyles, it managed to appeal to a very large number of first adapters to hybrid motoring. But, it has to be said, it was also riding a wave of media hype. Now that hybrid motoring no longer seems like something from the future, and the realities of the Prius’s ability to battle climate change are better understood, it can no longer count on novelty and hype for sales. It has to be a good car, full stop. And it has to make sense to a wider audience. Can the third-generation (second for us) Prius rival similar-priced vehicles on merit.

Familiar Looks for Toyota Prius

You can still identify the newcomer as a Toyota Prius from a mile away. The silhouette is familiar and so is the general design approach, which is primarily because of the focus on aerodynamics. The chosen shape is simply the most slippery there is for such a passenger vehicle with an overriding emphasis on efficiency. But… the overall look is less amorphous, and the lines appear to have been drawn with more confidence. Consequently the new Toyota Prius looks slightly sportier. Slightly… The cabin is likely to be a major talking point to Prius first-timers – it truly looks like something from the future. The facia boasts a large central digital display, which has freed up space for storage areas under the transmission tunnel. There is also a simplified heads-up-display (HUD) and somewhat gimmicky “Touchtracer” steering-mounted buttons – when these buttons are touched, the choices are replicated on the facia display.

Riding on a lengthy 2 700 mm wheelbase, the Toyota Prius is a very spacious car with excellent rear legroom and even a big 445 L boot. Build quality is very good, too, even though the facia plastics feel lightweight to the touch. But, overall, the “techy” interior creates the look and feel of quite an upmarket car, with this impression helped along by the standard fitment of a colour satellite navigation system and leather upholstery. Other standard features of this well-equipped Exclusive model include climate control, auto lights/wipers, Bluetooth integration, radio/CD with remote audio controls and cruise control. Seven airbags are fitted and so is an electronic stability system (ESP).

Seated behind the oddly shaped steering wheel, and with so many high-tech features to take in, it takes a while to immediately feel comfortable. The steering features rake adjustment, and the seats are nicely supportive for longer drives.

More power, improved efficiency

The previous Toyota Prius model featured a 1,5-litre petrol engine mated to an electric motor, but this new version boasts not only a bigger, more powerful 1,8-litre engine, it also has a more powerful electric motor. Does this mean that Toyota has sacrificed efficiency in the name of some performance? Not at all. While the new drivetrain certainly delivers more punch, the new Toyota Prius is even more efficient than before, due to Toyota fine-tuning every single aspect of the design. For example, the new CVT (continuously variable transmission) is a full 20 kg lighter than before.

The petrol engine delivers 73 kW and 142 Nm of torque, and the electric motor brings 60 kW and 207 Nm to the party. All of this is still not enough to turn the relatively light (1 370 kg) Prius into a tar burner, but for the target market a 0-100 km/h time of 10,4 seconds will be sufficient. More importantly, it can return a fuel consumption figure of as little as 4,1 L/100 km in mixed driving, though you’ll have to drive gingerly to achieve such efficiency. Normal driving should see a figure of closer to 6 L/100 km – still excellent. Under 50 km/h, the Prius is programmed to prioritise electrical drive only, but it doesn’t take much pressure on the throttle for the petrol engine to be called into play. Toyota has certainly improved this drivetrain switchover, as the petrol engine no longer signals its awakening with a shudder that can be heard and felt.

In general, the new Toyota Prius Prius is a more refined, relaxed cruiser than before, largely the result of the bigger engine, but the CVT can still cause some labouring. Toyota has included a “power” button which, when pressed, sharpens the throttle response and puts the emphasis on performance. But it still doesn’t turn it into a GTI, so don’t get any ideas of guilt-free drag racing...

Composed and Safe

If you’re looking for a car that can cruise and handle entertainingly in the same measure, then best to go shop elsewhere. The Toyota Prius feels safer and more stable on the road than before, but grip levels remains relatively low, and there’s precious little feel through the steering to keep you informed of what the front wheels are doing. But to judge the Toyota Prius by these measures, is pointless and unfair. It offers good ride comfort, though, and the cabin remains quiet when cruising at higher speeds. The target market will appreciate these talents far more.

Toyota Prius - Verdict

At the price, the Toyota Prius 1,8 Exclusive is up against three turbodiesel offerings from the German premium brands. While it is certainly an improved product in every possible way, the likelihood of it appealing to buyers of these rival offerings is remote. During normal driving the German diesels are not much thirstier, and also offer significant snob appeal and more entertaining dynamics. The Toyota Prius, on the other hand, will continue to cater to the tastes of the anti-establishment and environmentally concerned. These folks can rest assured they’re buying a very a good car.

We like:

• Fuel economy • Equipment level • Cabin space • Improved refinement

We don’t like:

• Price • Droning engine

Fast Facts:

Engine: 1,8-litre, four-cylinder, petrol + electric motor (60 kW/207 Nm) Power: 73 kW @ 4 000 rpm (petrol engine) Torque: 142 N.m @ 2 180 rpm (petrol engine) Transmission: CVT (continuously variable transmission) Wheels: 15-inch alloy Top speed: 180 km/h 0-100 km/h: 10,4 seconds Fuel economy: 4,1 L/100 km


Also consider:

Audi A4 2,0 TDI Ambition Multitronic: For similar money to the Toyota Prius, you can have this excellent Audi, which boasts real-world fuel consumption of not much more than the Toyota’s. And you get a better driving experience to boot, too.

BMW 320d Steptronic: A significantly more energetic and fun vehicle to drive than the Toyota Prius. You won’t get Prius consumption and you’re unlikely to score many points in the eyes of the greenies, but in reality, the 320d strikes a superb balance between performance and economy.

Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI Auto: Imagine a premium sedan that offers the comfort and refinement of the Audi, but also a degree of agility that may even please a BMW driver… that is the Mercedes C-Class. Superb overall.