New Sasol GTC cars set for thrills

The iconic Grand Prix Circuit will present a new challenge to the GTC drivers as they tackle the country’s fastest racetrack on June 16.

Suzuki’s new Swift hatch and sedan in SA

Suzuki kicks off its new model assault with an all new Swift hatchback and standalone sedan called the Dzire.

Toyota's all-new Prius driven

2009-08-11 06:48

Lance Branquinho

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Toyota
Model Prius
Engine 1.8l, petrol/electric
Power 73kW @ 4 000r/min, 60kW electric
Torque 142Nm @ 2 180r/min, 207Nm electric
Transmission CVT
Zero To Hundred 10.4 sec
Top Speed 184km/h
Fuel Tank 45l
Fuel Consumption 4.1l/100km
Weight 1 370kg
Boot Size 445l
ABS Yes, with EBD, BAS
Airbags Seven - front and side, full curtain, driver's knee
Tyres 195/65R15
Front Suspension MacPherson struts
Rear Suspension Torsion beam
Service Intervals 15 000km
Service Plan 5 year/90 000km
Warranty Battery pack - 5 year/100 000km
Toyota’s third generation eco-mobile, the Prius, has been launched locally. Has there ever been a better time to embrace the Hybrid automotive philosophy?

Back in 1995, when the first Toyota Prius debuted at the Tokyo motor show, the world was not really concerned about drowning polar bears and tropical beach resorts becoming infinity pools due to global warming.

Although Toyota was widely lauded for bringing hybrid drive technology to the marketplace, the Prius remained an image purchase for many throughout the late 1990s and early part of the 21st century.

For academics, greenbelt fascists and celebrities - all yearning to scramble to the moral high ground - the Prius was a must-have mobility image solution.

It was never really great to drive though.

Although light on fuel, Prius suffered a peculiar image perception discrepancy as being flimsy and unsuited to third world conditions. 

When oil prices spiked to around $150 per barrel last year, and everybody started to feel the pinch, suddenly, alternative mobility technologies started to become very much in vogue.

With this third generation Prius, Toyota is spectacularly well positioned to capitalise on the burgeoning appeal of hybrid drive vehicles.

Cleaner design

Primarily due to its extraordinarily slippery shape, the Prius has always been easily recognisable.

Viewed side-on, the car’s nose to highpoint curvature only reaches a turning point around the B-pillar, whereas most other cars start tapering off in profile just after the windscreen intersects the roof’s sheet metal.

Although this teardrop side profile remains much in step with the first and second generation cars, Prius has been properly restyled.

A new, smaller upper grille, 370Z-like fishhook headlights and vertically arranged indicators and fog lights, mounted down low in the bumper, do much to clean up the front styling.

These changes help to render a Prius which looks a lot more family familiar Toyota than WWF (the wildlife fund, not the wrestling show) car poster child.

Extended centre console and new steering wheel help to revolutionise the cabin environment. Kit is comprehensive, with only SatNav, intelligent park assist and heated seats distinguishing the two trim derivatives - Advanced and Exclusive.
Inside, this third generation design is even better, eschewing a lot of its predecessor’s ergonomic silliness for a contemporary, yet functional style, and logical grouping of controls.

The steering wheel retains its four-spoke configuration, yet is of a new, much cleaner design – even featuring a little squaring off between the two bottom spokes, a delightfully sporty touch.

Satellite controls on the helm feature parallel heads-up display when engaged – a very neat function, which allows one to keep your eyes on the road when flipping through menus or selecting infotainment options.

Steering wheel satellite controls are illuminated as part of the instrument binnacle - clever.

The most fundamental cabin architecture change though, is the incorporation of Toyota’s flying buttress centre-console structure.

Although I am not a fan of this design – it rather horribly complicates the stowing of items in an Auris for instance – on the Prius it has been well executed.

Besides adding flow to the cabin, the flying buttress extended centre console has enabled the drive-selector to mercifully migrate closer to the driver. It now has a home much lower down on the extended centre console, instead of its extremely silly vertical positioning, next to the audio controls, as was the case on the second generation Prius.

Bigger engine, better performance?

Powering the third generation Prius is a Hybrid drive system which employs both internal combustion and battery power.

On the internal combustion side the Atkinson cycle four-cylinder petrol engine has increased in size from 1.5- to 1.8l and features a decidedly rotational force biased long-stroke architecture – with bore and stroke measuring 80.5- and 88.3mm respectively.

Considering the engine’s undersquare design, peak power of 73kW at a lowly 4 000r/min is hardly surprising. Maximum rotational force of 142Nm is on-line at only 2 180r/min. All things considered, it would appear to the Prius is a bit underpowered…

Internal combustion is of course only part of the car’s suite of propulsion technologies though.

Engine is larger in capacity, electric motor revs nearly twice as high as before and the batteries are smarter too. Together they do a good job - consumption figures are staggeringly low.

The 1.8l engine is augmented by a 650V electric motor (up 150V from before) which runs at a maximum speed of 13 000r/min - nearly double the previous 500V motor’s 6 400r/min maximum operational speed.

If you happen to be particularly literate with regards to things electric, the new electric motor is a 3JM-type, AC asynchronous unit. It not only adds 60kW and 207Nm worth to the Hybrid drivetrain, but also captures kinetic energy during regenerative braking and converts it to electric energy to charge the battery.

Smaller in size (easing packaging issues) the Prius battery has seen power output boosted by 2 units to 27kW, although it remains nickel-metalhydride in construction - which is a little old-tech compared to lithium-ion batteries, the stuff powering your digital camera for instance.

So you’re probably wondering how the 1.8l engine, 650V electric motor and that battery conspire to drive the Prius around?

Quite simple, really. Start up is via the 650V motor only, after which, depending on the angle of your throttle position, the 1.8l will get in on the act too. During deceleration the battery charges, which is good, for it adds extra power during longer bursts of acceleration necessary for overtaking.

From a driving point of view you can select three drive modes – PWR, ECO and EV – of which the latter is a pure electric drive set-up, and functions at sedate speeds up to 49km/h.

Toyota says EV drive extends only up to 34km/h, but we toyed with the system on launch and found it engages the 1.8l engine a moment before the digital display reads 50km/h when the batteries are properly charged.

Three drives modes available - with EV being sole electric drive, tailor-made for stop-start traffic. Blue accented drive-selector underlines the environmentally aware theme – apparently.

On the road

So the new Prius looks better than its predecessors and features a less silly cabin. How does it go on local roads though?

Toyota fashioned a test route which incorporated some of the Cape’s best mountain passes and less well known dirt roads.

Although the Prius is still not independently suspended at all four wheel corners (it has a torsion beam at the rear) and rolls rather oddly proportioned 195/65R tyres, it’s a curiously good car to drive – and I don’t just mean as a low-consumption eco-warrior.

The driving position is good, seats very comfortable (rear legroom is simply epic if you’re a passenger) and despite the CVT transmission’s characteristic whine, overall noise, vibration and harshness levels are very well contained.

I am supposed to tell you about the 4.1l/100km locally verified average consumption number too, which is deeply impressive. Let’s tally a few of the other numbers too though, like 0-100km/h in 10.4 seconds and topping out at 184km/h.

Overtaking acceleration is swift rather than effortless, yet good enough for a family car and even when driving in resolutely hooligan fashion, the Hybrid drive system’s frugality is astounding.

My driving partner and I absolutely caned the Prius for vast parts of our test route evaluation and the worst consumption we could get out of it was 5.8l/100km. And yes, the air-conditioning was humming all the way too…

I usually roll my eyes when manufacturers make fuel consumption claims which are plainly unachievable in real world conditions – Toyota’s 4.1l/100km number is, in my experience, awfully close to the honest truth. The tank might be quite small at 45l, yet the Prius could do over 1 000km on a tankful…

For the rest it’s a well engineered and executed out package. Those tall tyres banish most of the torsion beam rear suspension set-up’s possible harshness on bad surfaces and on dirt roads Prius is as good as any other Toyota product.

Clever buy?

Low ownership costs are further reduced by the low strain on all components.

Those low resistance tyres should last 50 000km a set, if properly inflated and managed, whilst the regenerative brake pads could do a spell of 100 000km per set.

Tailored to a very specific buyer, local numbers will be limited (international demand is massive, with Toyota’s Prius backorders at nearly 200 000 units) and only retailed through carefully vetted dealers, 30 in all, located mainly in the Metro areas.

Environmental awareness has now gained a share of social capital eco-warriors could only have dreamed of when the original Prius rolled around in 1995.

A decade and a half on, it’s now a fully validated, proper car. And it's one of the savviest purchases around, whether you want to save the planet or just drive further, for less...


1.8 Advanced R326 200
1.8 Exclusive   R370 700


There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.