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Toyota Prius

£21,940£34,840
7/10
Overall verdict

For: 

Fresh-feeling cabin, urban economy, powertrain now less whiny

Against: 

Still not much cop to drive, horrendous looks
The Prius gets better in the areas it needed to, but its styling will scare your kids.

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What we say: 

Much better to drive than its predecessor; much worse to look at, too

What is it?

A business phenomenon. Toyota’s shifted 1.5 million Priuses worldwide, but it’s no longer the default eco-darling, as electric, hydrogen and plug-in rivals up their consumption game and swoop in, carving up Toyota’s kingdom. 

So naturally, the new Prius moves the frugality game on again (according to official test figures at least) now offering up to 94.1mpg and a mind-boggling 70g/km of CO2. But you’re not grimacing at those numbers are you? You’re more concerned with those Freddie Krueger looks, which is the 4th-gen Prius’s other tactic to stand out. Yikes. Still, it’s slipperier than before– same ultra-low drag coefficient as a Tesla Model S, in fact

Driving

Wonders shall never cease, for Toyota has admitted that hybrid CVT drive is not the most pleasant way to get about if you need to move quickly, and has addressed the problem with a meatier motor and battery (though both are lighter than before). The idea is you get more electro-torque more of the time, so the transmission drones less, and the engine isn’t leant on as hard. It’s a subtle improvement, but a worthwhile one. 

Meanwhile, the body knifes through the air with a smidge of wind noise, the crucial low-speed urban ride is nicely damped, and the regenerative brakes are way better than Toyota’s previous efforts. It’s still not a driver’s car, not by a long chalk, but it’s less wearing for you to pilot than before. 

Mind you, it’s still a car with a very urban comfort zone – the high-geared, superfast steering that makes traffic-dodging a cinch in town makes this heavy car rather nervous on the motorway. And, of couse, economy soon begins to plunge if you start leaning on that hybrid drivetrain..

On the inside

The familiar Prius jigsaw pieces remain – central driving data display atop the dash, a touchscreen for the nav above the climate controls, and a chopped rear window. However, the sweeping new shapes and less oppressive colours lift the ambience into something really rather pleasant and much less plasticky than we’re used to. The seats are particularly praiseworthy – not just extra comfy, but mounted 55mm lower in the car than the old model, so you feel more integrated into the body rather than perched in-mid-air, MPV-style. Aside from the powertrain tweaks, the cabin is easily the best aspect of Prius Mk4.

Owning

Think 94.1mpg is vaporware? Drive one of these through a typical British city then think again. It’s not thoughtless economy, mind – you need to concentrate, anticipate, drive to the Prius’s strengths, feathering the throttle and keeping an eye on the attractive graphics detents for when fossil fuels will cut in, ruining your average. Oh, and beware the entry-level trim level – it gets plenty of kit, but bizarrely wears lower rent cabin plastics as a cost-cutting measure. Weird: there was us thinking eco hairshirts were a thing of the past.

Highlights from the range

Title 0–62 CO2 MPG BHP Price
The fastest
1.8 VVTi T Spirit 5dr CVT Auto [Leather]
10.4s 92g/km 70.6 136 £26,740
The cheapest
1.8 VVTi T3 5dr CVT Auto
10.4s 89g/km 72.4 136 £21,940
The greenest
1.8 VVTi Plug-in 5dr CVT Auto
10.4s 49g/km 134.0 136 £33,340

Wildcard

How about something completely different?

Wildcard

5/10

Mini Countryman

£16,920£32,475
Assuming you don't car for the holier-than-thou image of the Prius, how about the Mini Countryman in Cooper SD guise?