Prius: Car of the future is stuck in reverse

The Prius is undoubtedly number one when it come to hybrid cars says Declan Colley but their latest edition is going nowhere fast

IT IS without doubt the world’s most popular hybrid — with nearly three million sold — and the one driven by Hollywood celebs, cartoon heroes and political heavyweights, but it remains to be seen if the Toyota Prius is the automotive world’s answer to saving the planet.

I am not — and never have been — a fan of these things but it remains an immutable fact that the Prius is, by some considerable distance, the best hybrid on offer out there. Others have come along in the wake of the success of the Toyota, but most of them are pretty grim when it comes to providing any driving pleasure.

My time with the Prius this time around coincided with a visit from an American friend who, as a long-term Accura (a fancy-dan Honda only available in the US) driver, he was unlikely to be impressed by this environmentally friendly beast which, even now is somewhat alien to anyone for whom a V6 or a V8 are essential elements of a successful motor car.

He was, not it has to be said, that impressed with the Prius and vocalised at length as to why the thing was so popular. He found it cramped — he’s a big guy, in fairness and not particularly comfortable (I suspect he’d say the same about any small Japanese car), although he was reasonably impressed about how it handled the Irish roads.

I doubt that on his arrival home in Chicago that he was dashing out to replace his Accura with a Prius on the evidence of his Irish adventures. Like myself, he is not convinced that hybrid engines are anything other than a temporary road bump on the way to efficient, clean car engines and, even though he is an investment consultant and not an engineer, he knew of Toyota’s experiment with hydrogen fuel cell engines.

He also knew of how the Japanese automotive industry — Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Mazda etc. — is now collaborating with the local oil and gas industries to try and work out how to create a workable infrastructure for nationwide hydrogen supply. He knew quite a lot, did our Ted.

Prius: Car of the future is stuck in reverse

The thing is that Toyota has long had a deserved lead in the whole Hybrid market, mainly because it spotted a long time ago that there was going to be a worldwide demand for cleaner cars and it took a punt on the hybrid format that paid off bigly, if you’ll excuse the Trumpism. They have even made a funky one with the C-HR which is selling by the shed load here in Ireland right now.

This version of the Prius — a plug-in hybrid — however, has a few problems. At over €37,000 it is not cheap, for a start; it is also not particularly great to drive; and, it has also been caught up by a raft of European contenders which appear to have grasped the PHEV nettle with considerably greater aplomb and with greater cost-effectiveness.

Because of bigger batteries, this Prius is a lot heavier than a regular one and does nothing for the driving dynamics. The top speed of 163km/h and the 0-100km/h time of 11.1 seconds will not enthuse many, although the 23 g/km emissions (for an annual tax bill of €170) and the nominal 1 l/100 km (282 mpg!) fuel consumption will.

This is obviously not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and while it is visually different from a regular Prius and quite interesting to look at, if not terribly inspiring, I’m not sure that that fact alone is going to be a factor in selling it. It is also true that its sales potential may be stymied by the increasing practicality of full EVs, many of whom are now able to offer a range of up to 250 km and thus reducing the necessity for hybrids in the first place.

In truth, I don’t see a great future for cars of this nature.

THE VERDICT

The Cost: €37,100, including rebates and grants

The Engine: a hybrid

The Specification: very good, all told

The Overall Verdict: The future? I think not

Star Rating: ***


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