2018 Toyota Prius Review
Isaac Bober’s 2018 Toyota Prius Review with pricing, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: The Toyota Prius kick-started the hybrid movement and this latest-generation model is more of the same, but there’s now more competition too.
2018 Toyota Prius
Price from $34,990+ORC Warranty three-years, 100,000km Safety five-star ANCAP Engine 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol Power 72kW at 5200rpm Torque 142Nm at 3600rpm Electric Motor 53kW/163Nm Transmission CVT Drive front wheels only Dimensions 4540mm (L) 1760mm (W) 1490mm (H) 2700mm (WB) Weight 1375-1400kg Boot Space 457-502L Spare Space Saver Fuel Tank 43L Thirst 3.4L/100km claimed combined
THIS CURRENT-GENERATION Toyota Prius arrived on the market in 2016 and debuted the brand’s Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA). A modular set-up designed for all sorts of vehicles, it’s now been used under the C-HR, Camry and the soon-to-launch new Corolla.
But the Prius, even if it was a duffer to drive, would still be assured of its place in history of the very first mass-produced hybrid. It was a gamble from Toyota, an inherently conservative company that tends to chase volume ahead of innovation, yet the Prius captured the hearts and minds of celebrities and those who saw our wanton guzzling of oil and used the Prius as a champion of the environment. Now whether that argument is just smoke and mirrors is a story for another time.
What is the Toyota Prius?
This is the fourth-generation Prius and it arrived with some impressive figures, a drag coefficient of 0.24 and fuel consumption of 3.4L/100km which was a 0.5L/100km improvement on the previous-generation model. However, the Prius’ claim to be the hybrid dejour has been battered by the recent arrival of the Hyundai Ioniq, which will roll out its complete range by the end of this year.
Beyond the new platform and styling, key improvements to the new Prius are safety, with a raft of active safety features now standard, and improvements to ‘performance’ with a 72kW (90kW system total) at 5200rpm and 142Nm of torque (petrol) and 163Nm of torque (electric). The updated Prius is bigger than the old model, up by 60mm and 50mm wider (4540mm L; 1760mm W) and depending on the variant gets a boot from 457-502L.
The TNGA platform, according to Toyota, allows for a range of improvements, like torsional rigidity (60% more rigid) and suspension tweaks, and a lower centre of gravity. Indeed, Toyota claim the TNGA has also impacted on the design of its vehicles, allowing for the “development of exciting new, low-stance designs”.
The Prius has gone for a futuristic design both inside and out and much of that is down to, according to Toyota, the youth of the team behind this car’s development. Hmm. While the Prius is an overall familiar look from models gone by, there’s now doubting the styling cues from Toyota’s Mirai fuel cell vehicle. It looks better than the old model, but I still think it looks awkward.
There have been some key improvements to the powertrain which we’ll jump into further on in the article, but there have been changes to the battery pack (more energy dense), motor/generator now smaller and the range in which the electric motor can supplement the petrol engine has been improved via new software and, allegedly, the speed at which the electric motor can be used exclusively has been increased by 60%…but I’m not so sure that comes across in the real-world.
Pricing is keen with the entry-level Prius listing from $34,990+ORC and the top-spec Prius i-Tech listing from $42,990+ORC. The major competitor for the Prius is the Hyundai Ioniq but it’s only been soft-launched with some fleet trials taking place. As such, there’s no pricing, but Hyundai has hinted it will undercut the Prius when it finally announces pricing, and it will offer more variety too with a plug-in hybrid and all-electric variants arriving later this year.
What’s the interior like?
The Prius was always designed to make the driver and passengers feel as if they were in something slightly more quirky than the average vehicle, and that theme continues with this latest generation. You sit down much lower in this Prius than any Prius that’s gone before it, this makes getting in easy and gives a real sense that you’re sitting down close to the car’s doings. A large glasshouse and a low-mounted ‘floating’ dashboard offers a thin instrument panel which gives a sense of airiness inside the cabin. There’s a lot of soft touch material inside the cabin and a variety of high-tech-esque surfacing used. That said, there’s just too much surfacing types all crashing into one another and to my eye it’s just too much.
There’s a 7.0-inch infotainment screen in the centre of the dash and unfortunately, it’s the typical Toyota unit which means while it offers sat-nav it’s connectivity with smartphones is clumsy. It’s easy to navigate but it’s not overly feature rich. When will Toyota offer Apple and Android connectivity…
Instead of analogue dials the Prius offers screen with a digital speedo; the background changes colour depending on your driving mode: green when driving in Eco; red in Power and Grey in normal. There are actually two digital displays and you can actually get quite a lot of information displayed on the primary one in addition to the speed, from fuel consumption to the outside temperature, and more. The second shows hybrid specific information, specifically elements encouraging economical driving practices, the state of the battery, and more.
Like in the new Hyudnai Ioniq, the Prius features the ability to adjust the air-con so that only the driver is receiving the benefits and that excess energy isn’t being wasted. There’s no way you can set the system to operate in this mode, as you can in the Ioniq, rather you rely on the system itself to determine how many people are in the vehicle and how the air-con should be working.
There’s reasonable storage around the cabin although I find the side-opening glovebox awkward; useful for the driver but hopeless for anyone else.
The front seats are broad and not overly supportive but this isn’t the sort of vehicle you’ll be tossing into corners, and the lack of bolstering certainly makes it easy to slip in and out from behind the wheel. There’s plenty of adjustment on the seat and enough on the steering wheel (although in typical Toyota fashion the level of steering adjustment is small either up or down and in and out) so that you can get comfortable. The big airy cabin ensures good visibility around the car although the split glass at the back of the vehicle and the bulky C-pillars are a little obstructive. There’s a reversing camera but its struggles in poor weather and low light.
The back seats, like the front seats are broad but well-shaped. There’s plenty of leg and kneeroom and headroom isn’t as compromised as it is in the Ioniq. There’s no rear air vent, though.
Move into the boot and there’s an impressive 457 and 502 litres depending on the variant. The petrol tank and batteries were moved under the rear seats to ensure good boot space. There’s a space saver spare under the boot floor.
What’s it like on the road?
Toyota claims the thermal efficiency of the engine in the new Prius is at 40% which is apparently better than any other engine in the world. Ever. The engine is a 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol which still uses the Atkinson cycle but has been tweaked from the old model in just about every way to improve its efficiency. The engine offers 72kW at 5200rpm and 142Nm of torque at 3600rpm. This is down compared to the Ioniq but when you add in the new electric motor and improved battery pack (still nickel-metal hydride as opposed to newer tech lithium-ion) you get a total output of 90kW or 53kW and 163Nm of torque when travelling on electricity alone. This set-up is mated to a CVT which, again, is different to the Ioniq which runs a six-speed DCT.
Fuel consumption is down to 3.4L/100km although in my week with the Prius I couldn’t get below 4.9L/100km in mixed driving (highway, countryside and around town). Still that’s impressive.
The Prius continues to impress in the way the petrol and electric motor cut in and out. From start, the car defaults to electric and will reverse silently before switching to petrol once it detects throttle load. And this is a theme that continues throughout the driving experience.
The Prius is concstantly trying to operate in electric mode but even just breathing on the throttle will see it switch over instantly, indeed, any kind of load at all on the powertrain, be it a slight rise in the road or the transition from a 40km/h to a 60km/h zone, even accelerating carefully, will see it switch to petrol. You can try and select EV mode in the Prius via a button down near the gear selector but when I did this on the school run, moving from stationary to a creep as I built up to 40km/h the display said that EV mode was unavailable. This happened to me every single time I tried to manually select EV mode.
Another issue I experienced was, despite Toyota’s claims of a 60% increase in the speed range at which the EV mode will operate, I found only at take-off on the lightest of light throttle loads would the Prius operate in EV mode. Travelling on a constant throttle at 80km/h or when on overrun, times you expect it would operate in EV mode, it didn’t…instead the set-up was charging the battery pack despite being three-quarters full. And that was in stark contrast to the Ioniq which at 110km/h o the highway drove for periods in EV mode and at various other speeds when on a constant throttle.
Maybe it’s where I live and maybe there are just too many hills for the Prius to be properly effective, although that didn’t seem to affect the Ioniq. I would suggest those living in towns and cities would get much more out of the Prius than I did. Perhaps the hills were causing the battery pack to overheat too quickly causing the petrol engine to be called on.
Put through its paces on Practical Motoring’s road test loop revealed that it’s not quite the handler it’s TNGA platform would suggest. The suspension tune has clearly been developed to suit those living in town, because once you ask it to cope with lumps and bumps in the road the ride quickly becomes lumpy and joggly. There seems to be a lack of suspension travel or a damping tune that can’t handle quick load changes, like a speed hump or a pot hole; hitting those things on the road and you could be mistaken for thinking the transport blocks had been left in the suspension.
But looked at as a total package, the Prius offers a soft ride that is nine times out of 10 comfortable, only becoming stiff-legged when the surface brakes down.
The steering is very light but more direct and consistent in its action than ever before but it still lacks feedback. And the same goes with the pedals which take some getting used to, particularly the long brake pedal that you need to give a decent shove to because of a lack of progression meaning it can take some getting used to to be able to stop the car smoothly. That said, the regenerative braking effect is perhaps a little more noticeable than it is in the Ioniq.
The Prius goes where you point it better than ever now and with a level of dynamic competence its predecessor could only have dreamed of. But it’s still not 100%. The hybrid functionality isn’t amazing meaning you’re not benefitting from the fuel saving it promises, the suspension needs better damping, the brake pedal more progression and the steering more weight. Compared back to back with the Ioniq, the Prius is a very distant second where ride and handling and hybrid functionality is concerned.
What about safety?
The Prius gets a five-star ANCAP safety rating and a host of active safety features, including autonomous emergency braking (active from 10km/h to top speed), active cruise control, lane departure alert with steering input and automatic high beam. The steering assistance is not great reacting to phantom lines and yanking the wheel and letting it go almost as quickly or, in some cases doing nothing. The Prius also gets seven airbags, reversing camera with active guidelines, traction and stability controls and more. Spend more on the i-Tech variant and you get blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.
So, what do we think?
The Prius has been the gold-standard in hybrids for the last 20 years but its reign is about to come to an end. The arrival of the Ioniq has shown how easy it is to make a hybrid that works in the real world and that feels more like a conventional car…the Prius is too quirky for mainstream drivers. Sure, there are some that like that but they’re the ones trying to make a statement. It’s ride and handling is better than ever but it’s still not great, and the improved hybrid powertrain is better than the old car but it’s not the best.