This year I became a Prius convert. Until that point it had always been a car for other people; I found the whole doing-good-for-the-planet thing irritating. And the logic behind the Prius didn’t work either: if you wanted the best fuel economy, simply buy a diesel. That way you get choice too, rather than having to stick to a handful of hybrids.
But in the last 12 months the whole motoring landscape has changed. The Volkswagen scandal has turned diesel into a dirty word. Hybrid technology has become the default answer for the fastest supercars (even Formula One). And suddenly there were a lot more options if you wanted to go down the hybrid route, not least plug-in models.
Toyota, of course, can take credit for bringing the idea to the masses nearly 20 years ago. Yet, as masters of the mundane, Toyota somehow managed to make the original Prius look even duller than the rest of its range of dull cars.
The technology was another thing altogether, though, encouraging 3.5m sales worldwide. Now we’re onto the fourth generation, and it really should be on the list of cars you drive this year.
Finally, Toyota has got to a comfortable place with Prius styling. Strong enough to merit a second glance as it drives by, there’s an aerodynamic profile and character to the front and rear lighting. It’s a touch lower too, which sounds like a risky move in a world of increasingly tall cars, but there’s still decent space and comfort inside, as well as an improved driving position, and the dashboard is a knockout.
It’s a genuinely interesting car to drive, too, with the ability to adapt to your style thanks to an encyclopaedic range of information accessible from two central displays. You don’t have to drive it as if you need to get from Lands End to John O’Groats on a tankful, but it’s tempting.
The drive comes from a new generation of hybrid powertrains, a 1.8-litre petrol engine, nickel-metal hydride battery and some smarter software and electric motors. Fast it ain’t – acceleration to 62mph takes 10.6 seconds – but that rather misses the point.
This Prius is an easy-driving car. Automatic transmission, as always, is part of the package, so it’s more of a case of wafting quietly along than rushing away from the traffic lights. Where the new model does score is on open, winding roads, where developments to the steering and suspension make it a far more satisfying proposition.
Fuel economy is up to 30 per cent better than the previous model, which means 94mpg. This sounds crazy and probably is, but we’re still talking roughly equivalent to the very best diesels. Importantly, CO2 emissions are 70g/km on the smaller wheels that are available across the range, meaning no London congestion charges.
The fly in the ointment? The Prius is the Uber driver’s car of choice. If that matters to you, it’s a non-starter. But you’d be missing out on a very good car that makes for an ideal city commuter.
Toyota Prius Excel
Price | £27,450
0-62mph | 10.6 secs
Top speed | 112mph
CO2 g/km | 76 or 70g/km
Mpg combined | 94.1 or 85.6mpg
Design | ★★★★☆
Performance | ★★★☆☆
Practicality | ★★★☆☆
Value for money | ★★★★☆