I received another opportunity to review a passenger car, thanks to Toyota Singapore. It’s my third car so far, after Volvo S60 and Volkswagen Sportsvan. Yes, I’m keeping track because it’s not often that I get to take home a hundred-thousand-dollar product to try as if it was my own. Like most car blogger reviews, I only have 3 days and 2 nights to test out, which is barely enough to go in-depth. And because I am not a car fanatic, you will be spared of technical jargons or car-pro viewpoints. What you will read is how the Toyota Prius is unique, and some of the advantages of owning one.
The Prius is a 4th-generation hybrid car model by Toyota, with a bolder design that complements the unconventional motor powered by the combination of internal combustion engine and battery. For a driver used to the conventional dashboard with speedometer and tachometer, the Prius seems very unfamiliar, that I sat in the car for a long while before driving the car out of the showroom. I had to condition myself on the glossy multi-information display with capacitive touch buttons, the foot brake, the gear stick, the steering buttons.
At the end of the 3-day review, I got the hang of the controls and learned to appreciate them.
The gear shift stick is the most important instrument to understand for a new Prius driver. It looks so small and unassuming, yet strikingly blue and unconventional. To select the gear, I had to push to the right and slide either upward to reverse, or downward to drive. If I hold at the middle position for a second, it will go to neutral gear. Pushing directly down from the resting position invokes “B” which I found out to mean engine-braking, to mimic going downhill with a low gear. To engage in “P” parking mode, I press the “P” button next to the gear stick.
Probably the most convenient feature about this unique gear shift is that there is no need to move to any position when I switch off or start the car. It automatically engages the “P” mode when I turn off the engine, or releases the “P” mode when I shift to “D”. There is no option to manually change the gear.
The star of the Prius is the Hybrid Synergy Drive system, which manages the power between the petrol engine and the battery. There are a lot of articles online that explain how the HSD technology works. Essentially to the car owner, this system translates to exceptional fuel efficiency and low emissions, cleverly switches between the use of battery and gasoline engine, depending on the driving conditions and the drive mode that the driver manually selects.
It feels odd that when I press the “Power” button, there is no start-up sound from the front bonnet. In fact, the engine truly did not start, because only the electric motor is powered up. When I step the accelerator pedal, I can only hear the electric motor emitting a little noise that increases pitch as the car accelerates, just like an electric vehicle.
There are 3 drive modes that can be selected next to the gear shift. With normal mode, the Prius will balance the use of battery and petrol depending on how I step the accelerator. For eco mode, the Prius uses more battery and less petrol, resulting in a more leisurely response. When selecting power mode, the Prius delivers petrol engine power from the start for aggressive performance, though even in this mode, the Prius feels laborious in picking up speed. Plus, the gasoline engine generates considerable noise.
Compared to German-brand cars, the Toyota Prius feels cushy on the expressway and does not insulate the road noise as well as the premium models. Perhaps another way to describe is that the drive is smooth and not bumpy. But if you are concerned with safety, the Prius has the standard features:
– Anti-lock braking system (ABS)
– Vehicle Stability Control (VSC)
– Traction Control (TC)
– Emergency Brake Signal
– 7 SRS airbags
There is an “EV Mode” button that will make the Prius run entirely on battery power, but it will automatically disable when battery is low or when the driver is flooring the accelerator. Truth be told, the Prius is not for the heavy footed drivers looking to nimbly weave through traffic. What the car can achieve better than other cars is the fuel consumption. After the 3-day drive of nearly 140km, the fuel indicator of the 43-litre petrol tank barely moved, as I used merely 5 litres per 100km. It could go as low as 3.7 according to specs, if my foot was not that heavy during the review period.
I find that the Toyota Prius is best-suited for the urban city road conditions where the traffic is slow with frequent start-stops, which is very inefficient for petrol vehicles. Most importantly, I no longer feel guilty of keeping my car running when it is on stationary, because the gasoline engine does not run at all.
Having said that, the gasoline engine will automatically kick in when the NiMH battery level reaches 2 bars. You will hear the engine running at high RPM regardless of whether the car is moving or not. I came to learn of this behaviour when I saw the on-screen Energy Monitor showing that the engine is charging the battery.
At times, I notice that both the engine and the battery are delivering power to the wheels. This is called “Series-parallel hybrid” where both the combustion engine and the battery works together and the power contribution is managed.
The Energy Monitor screen, like many other screens, provides useful information to the car owner on what the car is doing and how it is performing. There are loads of data relating to the drive efficiency, like a chart of L/100km every 15 minutes, daily trip history, potential savings compared to full-petrol cars.
The data is there to encourage you to drive efficiently. Despite the availability of the Power drive mode, I feel that the Prius is really not meant to be driven nor expected to perform like a full gasoline car. The engine sound is louder and the pick-up is hardly competitive.
The interior of the car is spacious and the rear seats are roomy, while leather finishes wrap the dashboard and the doors. Like the previous generation Prius, the new Prius has a high boot with a tinted panel below the spoiler so that the driver can still see the back.
From the rear view mirror, the spoiler bar breaks the view between the rear windscreen and the boot.
Check out the 360 interactive image of the interior view below. Click the bottom right icon to expand to full-screen and swipe the image.
The multi-information display is factory-fitted and there is no option to upgrade to additional features like navigation system. There is no advanced smartphone interaction features other than the phone module, which lets you sync the contacts and create shortcuts for ease of calling.
There is a head-up display which projects onto the windscreen within the driver’s line of sight. The display shows the speed and power in LED colour and is adjustable to suit the driver’s height.
The audio system is fitted directly from factory, and the JBL audio speakers are one of the better ones I have heard. It delivers clear treble and the impressive deep boom bass that can rattle any loose parts in the cabin. There are several input sources to enjoy audio, like the disc tray, 2 USB ports, Bluetooth audio, and AUX (line-in). There are no knobs to adjust volume quickly, hence it will require multiple taps.
Likewise, adjusting the in-car climate control is via flat switches instead of knobs. It makes the centre console neater, though I’m not so sure about practicality. Anyway, it’s all a matter of getting used to. The air-con does not feel as cool as the temperature indicated, perhaps because it is an energy-saving car, so I had to set the thermostat to much lower.
The Prius comes with reverse camera with dynamic guidelines that follow the turning angle of the wheel. This is a rather useful feature that helps the driver get the right adjustment to park the car, a feature that many drivers will appreciate. The camera angle is so wide that you can see the rear car plate.
My Daughter Loves It Too
Please forgive her, she gets impressed easily. Here is the list of things she finds the Prius interesting.
In short, she likes the Prius for its innovative hybrid engine that runs on battery, the hatchback boot that lets her see the stuff in the boot, the colour and sporty design of the car, and the interesting placement of the gearbox.
The Toyota Prius is not a performance car. The premium you pay goes to the jaw-dropping fuel economy. My heavy-footed test drive clocked just 5 L/100km, which is pretty amazing. A normal gasoline car under normal urban traffic conditions will easily clock 10 (L/100Km).
The question then is that does it make economic sense to pay a premium for a hybrid car when you could get a more responsive car for less? For that, you have to do the sums yourself, but if you are bent on reducing carbon emissions, the Toyota Prius is definitely the car to make it happen.
Test drive the Prius at Borneo Motors to experience the interior comfort and design. It will take years to reap the monetary savings, but if you ply the road extensively, a hybrid car like Toyota Prius will certainly save on operating costs and our frail environment.
Official product website: http://www.toyotasingapore.com.sg/showroom/prius/