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Toyota Prius+ review: More than wishful thinking

Toyota's Prius+ seven-seater brings green motoring mainstream with its utility, space, fuel efficiency

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Toyota’s Prius+.

NOBODY doubts electrified vehicles are the wave of the future, with the promise of motoring that's more responsible and less polluting.

While it's fully electric cars that have taken the headlines as of late, the term also refers to hybrids, which have been on the market for a few decades now. Since 2007, the population of hybrid passenger cars has swelled by almost 20 times, from just 1,057 units to 20,751 in 2017

But Singapore has a long way to go in terms of electrification. Despite the mini-boom, hybrids still only made up 0.034 per cent of the 612,256 passenger cars on the road here in 2017.

On the face of it, replacing a historically-popular model with a hybrid in a conservative, and extra price-sensitive, segment seems like mismatching your voltage, but Toyota has done exactly that.

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The Toyota Wish seven-seat multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) has been on sale here for more than a decade. For family men on a sub-S$120k budget, the Wish has been the default choice for most of that time, and the thousands of them still on the road.

Which is why Toyota introducing the hybrid Prius+ MPV as the official replacement for the Wish sounds like, well, wishful thinking.

The idea of driving a hybrid will immediately put off a small set of conservative buyers, but the fact is, if any hybrid tech has proved its reliability by now, it's surely Toyota's.

More importantly in the Prius+, the hybrid experience never gets in the way of the more important business of people-moving.

That's quite literal, as the Prius+ uses a lithium-ion battery pack, which is smaller and lighter than the nickel metal-hydride units found in every other Prius model. That allows it to sit underneath the front armrest, instead of taking up vital people-space in the usual spot beneath the boot floor.

The Prius+ is also slightly wider and longer than the Wish. Its wheelbase -- the amount of space between the front and rear wheels, and a good indicator of interior space - is 30mm longer.

Three centimetres don't sound like much, but when it comes to fitting seven people and/or cargo in a box on wheels, every bit counts, and it does help the Prius+ feel at least as spacious as its predecessor, if not more so.

The second row of seats have an equal, three-way split, so the middle passenger isn't hemmed in. They're also adjustable, so if there aren't any third-row passengers, the occupants can push their seats back or recline for even more room.

Toyota says the second and third row seats have been designed for people up to 1.8 metres and 1.7 metres tall, respectively, but in real life we managed to fit people taller than that - six adults in total - with no elbow wars, thanks to a little give-and-take.

The only major minus is the absence of air-conditioning vents for the second and third rows, another byproduct of placing the battery in between the front seats.

Like any MPV worth its salt, you can fold down each seat individually to accommodate cargo, and with all five thrones stowed away you have an impressive 1,085 litres to fill with shopping from Ikea.

There's also more room than there would be in a seven-seat sports utility vehicle (SUV) such as the Hyundai Santa Fe or Mitsubishi Outlander, but the hybrid does lose out on fashion points here. The understated style of the Prius+ means it's fairly anonymous, but as mentioned, amongst the more conservative that might actually be a plus.

It's a theme that continues in the way the car drives. The latest fourth-gen Prius wears its high-tech badge on its sleeve, but the Prius+, which uses the hybrid tech from the previous-generation Prius, tones this down.

Besides the middle-mounted instruments and tiny gearshift lever there's little hint of 'oddness'. There are three buttons on the armrest for specific modes (more power, more efficiency, or short-range electric-only mode) but just as it is with the regular Prius, you can safely ignore them, drive as you otherwise would, and still net excellent fuel efficiency.

As a boxy MPV, the Prius+ has a slightly stiff ride quality - the better to cope with the weight of seven - and it'll never leave you grinning with exhilaration at its dynamic prowess. It's also not the most refined, with some noticeable wind noise at higher speeds.

What it does, though, is deliver the same performance as the Wish (both have the same 0-100km/h time) with even more space and flexibility, while drinking far less fuel. So where it will make you smile is at the petrol station, or rather, being there far less often.

It behaves like the total opposite of a sports car, in that almost anyone should be able to reap tiny consumption numbers without even trying, and our own real-life figures during the test drive closely mimicked the quoted 4.5L/100km.

But while EV buyers currently need to pay more for the privilege of ownership, the Prius+ has one very convincing trump card: Even if the Wish were still on sale (it was discontinued in May this year) it would still be S$5,000 more expensive than the Prius+, thanks in part to the hybrid's Vehicular Emissions Scheme (VES) rebate of S$10,000.

Hybrid technology is neither new, nor is it something Singaporean car buyers should still look at askance. In fact, the widespread adoption of less polluting cars here is long past due, and the keenly priced Prius+ can only help that along..

Given that it delivers cleaner, more efficient motoring with a strong financial case, and not just a moral or environmental one, the Prius+ can help an owner fulfill more than just the wish for mobility.


TOYOTA PRIUS+

Engine 1,798cc, inline 4
Power 98hp at 5200rpm
Torque 142Nm at 4000rpm
Gearbox CVT
Electric Motor 71Hp
Battery
Lithium ion, 1kWh
System Power 134hp
System Torque Not Stated
0-100km/h 11.3 seconds
Top Speed 165km/h
Fuel Efficiency 4.5 L/100km
Agent Borneo Motors
Price S$114,988 with COE
Availability Now