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Toyota Prius


If you're buying a Toyota Prius to wave your green credentials, this i-Tech model has to be a grandstander

The Toyota Prius recall brou-ha-ha exploded as I was driving this Prius i-Tech, which hadn't had the software update to its electrically managed brake system. It's a preventative fix, but given the amount of too-clever techie stuff in this type of car the surprise could be that software updates aren't needed more often.

For example, somewhere under the skin there's a system channelling solar energy from roof panels to boost power-draining functions like the climate control air-con, which draws from the battery when there's not enough sunshine. It's one reason this i-Tech costs so much more than the entry level, but if you're buying to wave your green credentials, it has to be a grandstander.

Otherwise this car is more everyday than it once was. Partly because the novelty is wearing off, and partly because the new generation features changes designed to ensure Prius competes on a level playing field with conventional vehicles in its bracket.

Hence the now 73kW, 142Nm 1.8-litre engine, with a bit more power, mated to a CVT transmission. Hence the smaller but more powerful 60kW, 207Nm electric motor it's linked to, the combination providing 100kW and better across-the-range pull where its predecessor occasionally ran out of breath when you'd rather it didn't.

As before, pressing the start button fires a green 'ready' light on the dash but there's no other sign of life. The petrol motor starts only when needed, to boost acceleration, for cold starts or low battery conditions.

Not that I ever had a low battery. Given the regenerative system, which generates power when you decelerate or brake, round town driving keeps the power-pack more-or-less charged. Even my very hilly commute didn't entirely drain power, as it's also a very twisty one and slowing for the odd 35kph corner kept enough on tap for those need-a-boost moments.

Or for silent, electric-only running near home, or when parking. That's when you see the point of proposed artificial sound-tracks for electric cars, as pedestrians simply don't realise you are moving. Don't expect boring beeps to be the norm - owners may be able to choose their preferred sound. Birds tweeting? A Ferrari on-song? Think of the extra money Toyota could spin from internet soundtrack downloads...

But back to the point. Fuel economy. Knockers like to underline that a modern diesel-engined car of a similar size is as frugal. And in overall conditions they are usually right - though our road user charges structure still penalises the diesel on cost.

But the Prius system makes most sense round town, where the petrol motor often switches off. A traffic jam full of Prius would spill no noxious emissions and make no noise at all (pending those downloads...). Heaven.

Where its performance evens out is when you factor in open roading. Up over 50kph or so the petrol motor is always running, boosted by electricity where needed. My commute involves almost no highway running; I see engines operating at their thirstiest. So this car's 4.7l/100km figure for the duration of my test is quite impressive.

Handling is slightly less impressive, Prius rating as average (better than its predecessor), with brakes a tad stronger than a conventional set-up thanks to their regenerative function; you soon get used to it.

Otherwise the cabin's modern, cleanly laid out, with fold-down seats and a high boot floor. The i-Tech is packed with goodies - cubbies, satnav, heated seats, cruise with auto following distance, head up display - but you pay for them, and at $62,090 at the time of writing, this i-Tech retails at $13,600 more than the standard car.

See used Toyota Prius for sale here.

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