Gareth Butterfield finds more to like in the updated version of the Toyota Prius+ hybrid MPV
QUITE a while ago, if you wanted a hybrid car, you’d have to take Hobson’s choice. There were very few body styles available and some of them looked so outlandish you might have been put off even considering one.
Nowadays, however, the market is awash with the part-petrol, part-electric drivetrains and the hybrid revolution has made driving round in an electric car seem no more odd than flicking on your toaster.
The car that will always claim to have started it all is Toyota’s ubiquitous Prius. Toyota’s been at this game for the best part of four decades now, so they know a thing or two about the technology, but it’s only relatively recently that they’ve been “putting it about”.
To make sure it stays ahead of the game, the manufacturer seems to be putting its hybrid powertrain in just about everything now, from the Yaris to the Rav4 and this, the Prius+, is the latest version of its hybrid MPV.
Of course, these days hybrid MPVs are almost the norm, but this was among the first of its kind.
As the name might suggest, it’s based on the Prius and, as its + might suggest, it’s a bit bigger.
In fact, it’s quite a lot bigger. It has seven seats, which fold away into all sorts of configurations, meaning you can lob a couple of bikes or an old wardrobe in and still have room to spare.
Its triangular profile has changed very little over the years but, for the latest one, they’ve at least given it a bit of a facelift.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a relatively straight and sober design, especially when you park it next to the current Prius, but it’s certainly more interesting to look at than its rather dull predecessors.
Unlike the Prius, they haven’t gone full, hit-it-with-axes, mad on it, but it’s as if they’ve lifted some of the good bits off and moulded them neatly into the otherwise function-over-form body. I quite like it.
I also like the interior. Again, it’s not sculpted like some sort of spaceship out of a large sheet of white plastic, but it’s a bit more normal.
I say normal; as is often the case with MPVs, it sidesteps convention to some extent. The dash is a blend of several kinds of materials, with irregularly organised switchgear.
It’s all fairly easy to lay your hands on, just not always where you’d expect it. I can’t say that’s a bad thing, though, it’s refreshing, if nothing else.
And the design of the dashboard and controls is clearly prioritising space and accessibility. It’s comfortable, but also very light and airy with great visibility.
Not that it feels particularly heavy, but the Prius+ clearly isn’t built with speed or excitement in mind. It corners in a wallowy, slightly ungainly fashion, the steering is vague and the powertrain – although it has improved through the generations – is still fairly underpowered.
What this car is good at though, and I’m sort of getting back to the point at last, is refinement and efficiency.
This being a Prius you’ll easily manage 50mpg+ and, this being a Prius, you’ll spend most of the time pootling around town in fully electric mode. The engine is quite while at idle, but when it’s switched off entirely and you’re running purely on battery power it is, obviously, serene.
And while it’s fairly big, it’s also fairly clever. The latest one comes with a surprisingly competent multimedia touchscreen with DAB, a reversing camera and Bluetooth.
And on higher trimmed Excel and Excel Plus models, Toyota’s “Touch 2 with Go” system adds navigation and connectivity functions.
These versions of the Prius Plus also benefit from features that improve safety and contribute to smoother and easier driving.
This includes Toyota’s Pre-Crash Safety system, which is designed to help you avoid a collision, or to reduce the consequences should a crash happen.
So it’s not cool. And, even with the new design tweaks and LED lights, it’s not exactly stylish. But it is fit for purpose.
Its brief is to carry a family and their luggage around in safety, comfortably and efficiently. And it does just that.
In a world where diesel still almost makes more sense than hybrids, the Prius+ has some stiff competition. But the diesel advantage is being chipped away all the time by its grotty emissions and high tax rates.
The Prius+ gets around all that, while still presenting a comfortable, well-built, practical and reliable car perfect for big families.
It might not always be the best option, but even just as a wild-card, it’s definitely worth a look.