*Combined City/Highway EPA estimate – your results may vary
Roughly twenty years ago, Toyota’s Prius was brand new to the nation’s highways and byways. And within a preponderance of Ford Explorers and Chevy Silverados, it was – at least within the expansive confines of Texas – one weird duck. Of course, for it to be perceived as weird you’d first have to notice it, and the 1st-gen Prius was disinclined to draw attention to itself. With its new-as-tomorrow hybrid drivetrain, it wasn’t about sexy sheetmetal or lounge-like interiors; it was, instead, all about the numbers.
A generation later (and two gens later on a Prius timeline), you might think – on first blush – it’s ALL about the sheetmetal. While knowing opinions on design are almost entirely subjective, this is one wacky (in my view) interpretation of hybrid transport. With extended overhangs front and rear, an aggressively dropped nose (better, we think, to ‘pick up’ pedestrians) and better air management than your typical 737, the newest Prius could have been dubbed ‘Polaris’ – as in, you know, polarizing. But enough about the shape, as you – and any number of others – will probably like it.
Back, then, to the numbers. With an EPA estimate of 54 City/ 50 Highway and 52 Combined, you can pay cash and toss the Shell card. The Prius efficiency is achieved via a 1.8 liter four in combination with two motor/generators driving through a CVT (continuously variable transmission). As you’d hope, while the bodyshell is longer and wider the drivetrain has been optimized with smaller, lighter components. That includes a new lithium-ion hybrid battery, replacing the nickel-metal hydride (ya’ getting this?) battery installed in most Prius models. With its smaller size the battery can now be placed under the rear seat. And that location means it no longer compromises trunk space.
The interior of our Prius Three Touring was expansive and, with its SofTex interior trim, surprisingly upscale. Given its hybrid spec, the dash almost overwhelms you with info; you should pencil in roughly two hours for the overview when taking delivery, after which they’ll be picking up pieces of your brain from the showroom floor. Thankfully, audio and HVAC controls are reasonably intuitive, while the drive modes – Eco, Normal and Power – are self-explanatory.
Behind the wheel of the Prius Three Touring the sensation remains remarkably benign. Acceleration is competent, steering is reasonably direct, and once you get past the peculiarities of a hybrid’s regenerative braking the stoppers provide the necessary assurance that yes, you will come to a halt. But even in the Prius’ ‘Power’ drive mode there’s little connection between you and the mechanism. And perhaps the hybrid customer isn’t looking to make a connection; rather, they’d rather distance themselves from what’s going on in the car or on the road, and simply get back to their e-mail inbox.
As both an observer and an enthusiast, I prefer a connection to the car, truck or SUV beyond the monthly payment. And while the Prius remains the dominant go-to choice for hybrid prospects, and the VW scandal suggests a dearth of diesel choices (if not the actual death of diesel), there are a growing number of alternatives to checking the Prius box. The all-electric EV is the most obvious, and while none can do the cross-country tour in the way a Prius can, ranges of 200+ miles suggest they can do most – if not all – of what you require in your daily commute and weekend errand running.
With an as-tested price of just over $30K the Prius Three Touring is a viable option, especially when compared to compact crossovers offering similar utility but only half the efficiency. If opting for a Prius, we’d go for the more spacious – and conservatively drawn – Prius V wagon. Or we’d wait for the new RAV4 Hybrid, netting (maybe) 40 on the EPA test cycle…but not having to look and feel like George Jetson on a skyway.