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Car reviews - Toyota - Prius - 5-dr hatch range

Launch Story

Toyota logo2 Jul 2009

By LUCIANO PAOLINO

THE price of admission to the new Toyota Prius club in Australia will be $39,900 – an increase of $2500 over the model it replaces – while the premium i-Tech version will cost $53,500, which makes it some $6600 more expensive than before.

Toyota Australia says the price increases are more than compensated for by additional specifications that it values at more than $4000 at base level and around $10,000 for the i-Tech, which previously carried a $9500 premium but is now some $13,600 pricier.

The higher price-tags in Australia are at odds with the Japanese market, in which Toyota will continue to offer the superseded MkII Prius alongside the third-generation model, and the UK, where Toyota’s differently-specified four-variant Prius range will be released on August 1 without price increases.

Despite the higher prices, Toyota Australia is in line with global expectations by predicting the MkIII Prius will be the most popular ever in Australia, where it plans to sell 3500 examples this year, including 1500 second-generation models.

Next year, however, Toyota expects to sell 4500 Prius MkIIIs, equating to a monthly sales rate of 375 vehicles, which is well up on the 285-per-month figure averaged in 2008, when a record 3413 examples of the hybrid icon found homes here.

So far this year, Toyota has sold 1211 Prius MkIIs – 32.2 per cent fewer than the 1787 it sold during the same period in 2008. Toyota Australia has sold a total of 12,921 examples of the Prius since 2001, but at forecast rates the new Prius will double that figure within just three years.

Further, it expects a higher proportion of i-Tech buyers, at about one-third (up from 25 per cent), as well as private buyers, which are forecast to account for 43 per cent of sales – up from just 23 per cent with the current model.

Sales of the new Prius are booming worldwide following its April release in Japan, where the new Prius defeated Honda’s Insight hybrid – which is not due here until late 2010 due to similarly high global demand – to become its home market’s top-selling vehicle in May, when it found 10,915 buyers in its first month on sale there.

As a result, Prius production has now been ramped up to nearly full capacity in Japan, where attractive new government incentives for fuel-efficient vehicles have helped drive sales, with monthly manufacture of about 40,000 vehicles corresponding to annual production of up to 500,000 units.

To May 2009, global Prius sales have topped 1.29 million since 1997, including a high of 285,675 last year. Toyota says it holds some 210,000 orders for the new model.

Based for the first time on the same basic chassis as the Corolla and RAV4, which is said to have reduced production costs by 30 per cent, the MkIII Prius is 15mm longer (4450mm) and 20mm wider (1745mm) overall despite riding, coincidentally, on the same 2700mm wheelbase as before. Overall height is unchanged at 1490mm.

Designed by ED2 in Europe, the fresh bodyshell’s more pronounced wedge shape underwent more wind tunnel testing than any other Toyota model and has an improved drag coefficient of 0.25Cd (down from 0.26Cd), which Toyota says makes it the world’s most aerodynamically efficient production car.

By moving the roof’s highest section rearwards, rear headroom is said to have increased by 15mm, while a new ‘flying buttress’ centre console design is complimented by extra storage space under the drive-by-wire gearshifter, a wider and more liberally-padded driver’s seat base and 30mm-thinner contoured front seatbacks that deliver improved rear legroom. Front seat height and fore-aft adjustment also increases.

As part of Toyota’s desire to make its newest five-door hybrid hatch more appealing to a wider and younger range of buyers, improved handling dynamics and engine performance were key targets.

To that end, all examples of the new Prius will come with Toyota’s upgraded petrol-electric Hybrid Synergy Drive system, which is claimed to be 90 per cent new and comprises a larger petrol engine assisted by an upgraded 60kW/207Nm electric motor via an electronic constantly variable transmission (CVT).

As previously revealed, the new Prius is powered by a larger, 21 per cent more powerful and 11.3 per cent more economical 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine (up from 1.5-litre in the MkII). The Australian version will require a diet of 95 RON premium unleaded petrol to produce 73kW at 5200rpm and 142Nm of torque at 4000rpm (up from 56kW/110Nm), for a total system output of 100kW.

Our Prius will match the European version in returning combined average (ADR 81/02) fuel consumption of 3.9 litres per 100km (L/100km) and CO2 emissions of just 89 grams per kilometre (g/km), making it “the cleanest production car sold in Australia”.

While average fuel economy of 3.9L/100km (down from 4.4L/100km for the outgoing Prius) matches that of the new Mini Cooper D turbo-diesel, the Prius is the only new vehicle to produce less than 100g/km. Interestingly, the average city-cycle figure is the same 3.9L/100km, while the official extra-urban figure drops to 3.7L/100km.

At the same time, the slightly larger MkIII Prius is said to be quicker, with the claimed 0-100km/h acceleration time reducing from 10.8 to 10.4 seconds.

Standard equipment across the range will include 15x6.0-inch alloy wheels with 195/65-section low-rolling resistance tyres, seven airbags (two front, two front-side, two full-length curtains and a driver’s knee airbag), active front head restraints, electronic traction and stability control, keyless entry and starting, power windows, power driver’s seat lumbar adjustment, remote steering wheel air-conditioning, audio and telephone controls, a head-up display, multi-information display with “world-first Touch Tracer” function and an eight-speaker sound system.

An optional ‘Navigation’ pack for the base model comprises a seven-inch Audio Visual Navigation (AVN) screen, a DVD-based satellite-navigation system and the Intelligent Park Assist (IPA) self-parking system, for $5000.

Those features are standard in the Prius i-Tech, which has a standard equipment list that adds LED low-beam headlights, self-levelling headlights, pop-up headlight washers, dynamic radar cruise control, a pre-crash safety system, a sunroof with solar cells, leather-clad seats, door trims and steering wheel, heated front seats, an electro-chromatic rear-view mirror, a climate-control system with remote air-conditioning feature and a tyre repair kit instead of the regular Prius’ space-saver temporary spare wheel.

New technologies include a head-up display that projects vehicle speed and other information on to the windscreen, plus the ‘Touch Tracer’ system that displays a duplicate read-out of audio and other information on the instrument panel when selected via the steering wheel hub.

As previously reported, the new Prius is also claimed to feature the world’s first automotive application of injection-moulded material derived from plants, which is employed in areas such as the driver’s seat cushion, while a Multi-Information Display continues to monitor fuel and energy consumption.

Another Toyota first is the belt-free petrol engine, which incorporates electrically operated power steering and water pumps to lower fuel consumption, while a new exhaust gas recirculation system results in quicker engine and cabin heater warm-up.

Exclusive to the i-Tech Prius are sunroof-mounted solar panels that generate up to 59 Watts of electricity to run a fan that cools the interior when the car is parked, with a remote air-condition function accessed via an ‘A/C’ button on the key fob.

The i-Tech also features a pre-crash system that uses millimetre wave radar to alert the driver, provide additional braking assistance and activate the seatbelt pre-tensioners if there is a high possibility of a collision, while ‘Dynamic Radar Cruise Control’ governs speed to maintain a pre-selected distance from the vehicle in front.

Standard on the i-Tech and optional on the entry-level Prius will be a rear-view camera in conjunction with the AVN satellite-navigation system, as well as the IPA park assist system, which helps Prius drivers in both parallel and 90-degree reverse parking situations.

Another new development for the Prius is a smaller, lighter gear-driven hybrid transaxle that can handle higher torque loads than the chain-driven unit it replaces.

The output of the new Prius’ “proven and reliable” nickel-metal hydride battery pack has increased due to improved cooling, while a new direct cooling system also reduces by about one-third the size and weight of the inverter, which converts direct electric current into alternating current.

The MkIII Prius comes with three new driver-controlled modes: EV (electric vehicle), in which the vehicle can be driven on electric-only power at speeds of up to about 50km/h for up to 2km depending on driving style ECO, in which throttle mapping prioritises fuel economy and the air-conditioning is strictly controlled and Power, which delivers maximum acceleration and response.

The electric rack-and-pinion power steering system requires some 3.7 turns lock to lock and returns a tight 10.4-metres turning circle.

Total cargo capacity increases by 30 litres to 445 litres – enough to accommodate three golf bags, while kerb weigh increases by at least 50kg, despite the use of an aluminium bonnet, hatch and front anti-roll bar, plus super high-strength steel pillar and roof reinforcements – to between 1370kg and 1420kg.

According to TMC, Prius emits 35 per cent fewer carbon dioxide emissions than a comparable petrol-engine vehicle, equating to a reduction in CO2 emissions of 7.5 tonnes during 100,000km of driving.

Toyota says the extra CO2 produced during manufacture of the Prius is recouped within 20,000km of driving, and recently increased the Prius battery warranty from five years or 100,000km to eight years/160,000km. It claims 85 per cent of the Prius is recyclable.

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