Michael Sheridan reviews the seven-seat hybrid, Toyota Prius+.
Prius has almost become a brand in its own right. When you think about it, Prius is to hybrid what Hoover is to vacuum cleaner.
The petrol/electric Toyota has struck a chord with early adopters, especially in California, where it remains fashionable with the Hollywood set. In Ireland, Prius has been a slow burner as it never quite delivered the promised low running costs compared to modern diesel rivals.
Prius+ is not a special edition stuffed with extras or a high-roofed version of the original (like a Golf+) but the first full hybrid, seven-seater on the market. At €4,000 more than the standard Prius, it will not be a big seller. However, it does slot into a very neat Toyota price list.
Prius+ is not going to win beauty contests but the functional exterior has some interesting design features that add a little sophistication. The exterior styling also signals the low drag co-efficient of just 0.28. Nice LED daytime running lights help identify the Prius+ from lesser Priuses - if that is the plural!
Inside, it feels more like an estate car than a people carrier. There is, however, enough space to rival mid-size MPVs. That sloping roofline means that headroom decreases as you go further back. The front seats get a spacious 190cm; the middle passengers (sitting in their individual seats) get 180cm and the last two seats, which are really for kids, get 170cm of headspace.
The cabin can be a very light and airy space, especially with two sunroofs as standard. There is a choice of two interior colours - dark grey or aqua - and there is a huge amount of standard equipment. You would expect a larger cabin to be noisier than the standard five-seat Prius - but it is actually 2db quieter. The seats are comfortable and the level of adjustment is impressive. The boot holds 505 litres (when used as a five-seater), but, even with all the seats in place, there is still space for schoolbags.
The driving position is good, helped by Prius' HUD (head up display) that displays the car's speed on the windscreen in the driver's eye-line. The stubby gear selector is tiny; I think it is actually getting smaller! There is a 'P' button next to the selector for selecting 'park'. The foot parking brake from Prius is still present.
Prius+ produces 136bhp from a combination of a petrol engine and electric motor that is powered by rechargeable lithium ion batteries. The batteries are now stored in just 56 cells (Prius has 168). CO2 is just 96g, so the car falls into the very low tax band 'A2'. The gearbox is the same automatic CVT that most enthusiastic drivers hate because of its 'noisy whine' when under stress. Auto stop/start features as do the three Prius driving modes of EV (electric), Eco and PWR (power). The air conditioning and water pump are electric to save on fuel consumption.
On the open road, Prius+ is comfortable (thanks to new sprung-mass damping control). As a family car Prius+ is perfectly adequate, but the motorway isn't where it performs at its best: about town in stop-start traffic is its environment. There, Toyota's industry-leading hybrid technology can work best. As with Prius, you can get very 'nerdy' monitoring how your car delivers and regenerates power using the centre screen. Enthusiastic drivers will be frustrated with Prius+ and its lack of dynamism - but they are not the target market.
€34,995 gets you a well-equipped, seven-seat Toyota hybrid. It will be a niche player, but for those who find a Verso too small and want to stay with the Japanese brand, Prius+ fits the bill.