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Toyota Prius II T4 2004 Long Test First Report

Sun, 11 Jul 2004

I’ve had my Toyota Prius II T4 for more than three months, now. Not as long as Autocar and Auto Express have had theirs, but long enough to understand what this car of the future is all about. 

Put simplistically it has the 1.5 litre VVTI petrol engine from the Yaris and Soluna Vios de-tuned from 109PS to 76PS and 85lb ft torque. But between this and its epicyclic automatic transmission is a regenerative electric motor which can add another 67PS and 295lb ft torque. Or, when the car is coasting or semi-coasting on a feathered throttle, the motor generates electricity which is stored in a battery pack between the rear wheels.

Exactly what happens when is shown on a pictogram on the central screen of the dashboard.

The car takes a bit of getting used to, first to drive, and secondly to drive regeneratively so you squeeze the most out of your petrol.

Get in from either side (no Ford console in the way), plug the electronic key into its socket and press the start button. The dashboard lights up, but the engine doesn’t start. You then left or right foot brake and snick a tiny lever into ‘D’ or ‘R’, release the foot operated parking brake, and you’re on your way by electric motor. The engine will start when it needs to, which is usually very soon after a cold ‘start’ because the batteries have run down.

Once you have driven a bit, enjoying the car’s brilliant speed display right in your line of sight at the base of the windscreen, you build up energy in the batteries which the car’s systems will then use at appropriate moments, or you can press a button marked ‘EV’ and it will run solely on electricity until the stored energy runs out.

The process is at its best in moving traffic that alternately slows speeds up and slows down, as in the current M25 contraflows near Heathrow. The slowing down allows regeneration of energy which the systems then use to save fuel. Alternatively, if the contraflow is moving steadily and you have already driven some distance that day to store up some energy, you can set the cruise control to 40mph, press the EV button, and watch your average mpg rise considerably. Driving regeneratively for my first 1,000 miles or so, I managed over 58mpg.

Unfortunately you don’t do so well when you have to travel long distance on the motorway and time is of the essence. Then you experience very little regeneration so the consumption you get is effectively that of an efficient 1.5 litre engine driving a 1,300kg car with an extremely low Cd of 0.26. I tend to manage 40 – 45mpg.

Having run the car for 3 months I have used it for all sorts of things, including furnishing a house. Though the load bay is high and shallow to clear the batteries between the rear wheels, the rear seats flop down painlessly at the press of two buttons and leave enough space to squeeze in a double mattress, TV set, CKD sofa-bed; basically everything I needed without having to resort to the bigger family Mondeo.

It also handles very well, though you have to be careful with the throttle to set it up so you don’t get a gear-change half way round the bend. Left foot brake into the corner to use get the back out slightly and you will find you can safely carry a lot of speed through without any screeching or drama of any kind.

A word of praise for the computer-controlled powered brakes, which can be noisy at low speeds but have such sensational stopping power they almost justify a warning notice on the tailgate. Further applause for the ‘P’ button, which locks the transmission in Park if you are stopped at traffic lights. To move off again you simply dab the brake and move the lever into ‘D’. It works so well there is absolutely no excuse at all for blinding the driver behind with your stoplights by sitting on the brakes.

Finally, the steering wheel. Buttons on it control the stereo, the aircon, air recirculation and demisting, so no need to take your eyes off the road and that superb speedo display.

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