And that cabin is just one of many, many enhancements. Existing owners, says Toyota, will find the latest model to be a significant step up from a past Prius. It’s easier on fuel. More responsive. More refined. Toyota’s also hoping that, by making this new Prius drive even more like every other car, they’ll attract new and apprehensive shoppers to the world of hybrid motoring, too. Hybrid cars have been improving in many recent years, with the Prius largely leading the charge. And this new one marks yet another step ahead.
Where former Prius models (and other hybrids in general), often operated with a shifty squirminess as electric and gas propulsion were combined and switched, the Prius’s latest driveline is seamless. Like, totally seamless. Other than just two occasions on my 1,300 km test drive where the Hybrid Synergy Drive system failed to anticipate my next move, you just press the throttle, and the Prius glides ahead. No squirm. No lurch. No shifting gears, since there aren’t any. Just a swelling up of momentum. And with the new powertrain built to be quieter and smoother, it takes plenty more throttle before you hear or feel the 1.8L gas engine at all. Toyota’s even made strides to reduce the negative effects of winter temperatures on fuel efficiency.
Some noises, or lack thereof, give it away a little. There’s no starter motor, so Prius fires up in silence. An occasional high-pitch whirr from the electric motor seeps in too, at times. But for the way it responds and feels, the new Prius virtually doesn’t feel like a hybrid at all.
Other notables include the vivid and crisp Head-Up Display, complete with on on-screen ECO coach, which helps drivers visualize the most fuel-efficient throttle application. The central command system falls behind some competitors in terms of graphics and resolution, though it’s logical and responsive and easily navigated without frustration. The standard LED lighting system is also above average: with a great cut-off line, even light output, good reach, good peripheral illumination, and crisp colour.