Review and road test of the Toyota Prius+ (2015 - 2019)

PLUS POINTS

By Jonathan Crouch

Introduction

Toyota's Prius+ enabled larger families to also join the hybrid-powered tax-efficient clean and frugal fraternity. With citycar-style emissions and MPV-style versatility, it's the kind of People Carrier that'll appeal if, for you, seven-seat transport must tread lightly on our polluted planet.

Models

5 door MPV (1.8 Hybrid - petrol) [Active, Business Edition, Business Edition Plus, Excel]

History

In an age when we have hybrid sportscars, SUVs and superminis, the lack of this technology in the MPV People Carrier segment might seem rather surprising. You can find it though - in the form of this car, Toyota's Prius+ MPV, introduced in 2011. There's a reason why you don't get many full-hybrid People Carriers of course. Hybrid car design usually has to find space for the siting of a huge battery pack, normally located just over the rear axle: exactly where you'd want to place the third row accommodation in a seven-seater MPV. Which is why we never had a hybrid able to take more than five people - until the launch of the Prius+. Toyota was able to design it thanks to better battery technology introduced at the end of the New Millenium's first decade, the kind consumers pushed for with the need for longer-lasting laptops and smartphones. These use small but powerful lithium-ion units, more advanced versions of which by the time of this Prius+'s launch in 2011 were starting to replace the big, heavy nickel-metal hydride batteries traditionally used in hybrid cars. These had to be sited at the back of the car due to their size, but the more compact lithium-ion packs didn't have to be. Which meant that in this Prius+, the first non-Plug-in hybrid Toyota to use this technology, the battery could be mounted between the two front seats, freeing up space for the rearward third seating row that made this Europe's first full hybrid seven-seat vehicle. It sold until early 2021.

What You Get

The Prius+ model's characteristic 'triangle' silhouette means that despite its rather different remit, you'd recognise this as a member of the Prius family. So you get the familiar arched roofline and neat fastback rear end in a design that's 30mm wider and 85mm higher than Toyota's trendsetting hybrid hatch - but only 135mm longer. Not enough, you might surmise, to properly accommodate third row seating ready and able to take two fully-sized adults for long distances in the way that, say, a Ford Galaxy or a VW Sharan might be able to manage. You'd be right to think that. They're not too difficult to get to, but the rearmost pair of seats are indeed best left for small kids. Still, a combination of the standard panoramic roof and a thin, curved seatback design means that a place right at the very back isn't quite as claustrophobic as the compact exterior dimensions might lead you to expect. Provided that you're not too tall: Toyota's decision to place each seating row 45mm higher than the one in front does certainly offer everyone a good view out, but it also means that headroom's a tad restricted by the time you get to the very back. Still, adults over shorter distances will just about fit if those in the row ahead are prepared to help out by making use of the way their chairs can slide forward. In the middle row, there is, as you would expect, an awful lot more room than you'd get in an ordinary Prius hatch, thanks to three individual chairs you can not only push back and forth but also fold - and recline by up to 35-degrees for greater comfort on longer journeys. And up-front? Well it's certainly spacious here too, something you'll appreciate once you've adjusted to a fascia that's anything but conventional, with no binnacle in front of the driver. Instead everything sits on the rather densely-packed centre stack, with display screens, parking brake, starter button, gear selector, ventilation and stereo controls all in close proximity. We've seen better presented, more up-market-looking layouts, but with familiarity, it all falls to hand easily enough and the minor controls you use most often are available from the steering wheel. Included on the fascia display is a digital speedometer, but you'll hardly ever look at it as the same information's also projected onto bottom part of the windscreen so that you can more easily keep your eyes on the road. As for cabin stowage space, well, if you're aware of the location of the hybrid battery pack between the front seats, you might expect a few compromises here. As it is, things have been packaged well enough for most family folk not to notice, thanks to the provision of big doorbins, two gloveboxes and a side-opening centre console storage section that can take up to eight CDs. As for cargo capacity, well, with all seats in place, there's 232-litres of cargo space to the roof. Not a great deal, though to be fair, we should also point out that there's also a 60-litre storage tray beneath the luggage deck which keeps your valuables out of sight or can be used for wet or dirty gear. More typically though, you'll be using the car with the third row seating folded flat, in which case, you'll have up to 784-litres to play with. Fold all but the front seats and you can boost that figure to a useful 1,750-litres.

What to Look For

As usual with a family MPV, check for this like interior child damage and scratched alloy wheels. The car may well have been used for taxi work (fortunately, this model can cope with large mileages), so look out for sagging seats and shiny wheels. Rear dents and scratches may have been caused through this design's somewhat restricted rear vision, which could then lead on to botched repairs, mismatched paintwork and bumper cracks. Cars built before February 2014 were subject to a recall to adjust the hybrid system to avoid the risk of it cutting out. Make sure that on an early model, this was done. The hybrid system's batteries tend to be durable, easily lasting 10 years or so and going for 200,000 miles. Signs of a weak battery include the petrol engine running constantly or a car that struggles to get above 40mpg on the instant fuel economy readout. Look out for this on the test drive and, as usual, prioritise models featuring a fully stamped-up service record.

Replacement Parts

(approx - based on a 2018 Prius+ Hybrid ex VAT) An air filter is priced in the £30 bracket. An oil filter costs in the £15 bracket. On to brakes. A set of front brake pads tend to retail in the £50 to £53 bracket; think around £46 for rears. A pair of front brake discs is around £142; rears are around £131. Wiper blades retail in the £7-£49 bracket. A thermostat is in the £33-£100 bracket. A headlamp will cost in the £180 bracket; and a radiator in the £125 bracket.

On the Road

If you haven't yet had the hybrid experience, it can still surprise. At first, as you flick the little blue CVT gearbox lever into D (hybrids are nearly always automatic) and ease underway, the silence is a little disconcerting and you're tempted to wonder whether something might be wrong. But no, this is the silent sound of milk float mobility, the car theoretically able to run on electric power alone for a distance of just over a mile, providing the batteries are fully charged and you don't exceed 31mph.You can also select electric motion manually by pressing a provided 'EV' button, which lets you make greater throttle inputs without starting the engine. Once the 1.8-litre petrol powerplant does cut in, a combined engine and electric motor power output of 134bhp means that it's possible to push on a little, 0-60mph occupying 11.3s, though the car will run out of ultimate puff rather early, courtesy of an embarrassingly modest top speed of just 103mph. Still, it's unfair to complain. After all, these performance figures are pretty much the same as you'd get from the same engine as fitted to an ordinary Prius hatch, a car that weighs a hefty 145kgs less. To achieve them, you'll need to have selected 'Power', the most aggressive of the three different drive modes the hybrid system makes available. Here, response to throttle inputs is boosted by 25% for those times when, in a frantic need for speed, you've left dinner burning in the oven or are running late for the school play. Unless such a scenario applies though, we can't see many owners wanting to drive like this very often. Quite apart from the fact that such progress decimates the frugal fuel returns that presumably prompted purchase in the first place, this car feels ragged and rather noisy when you thrash it. Better to chill out a bit and run either in normal or, better still, in the 'Eco' mode where throttle response is softened and the air con tweaked to improve economy. While you're in this frame of mind, it's probably also worth snicking the auto gear selector from 'D' into 'B', a setting that increases the amount of regenerative energy the Hybrid Synergy Drive system can harvest from cruising or braking. That'll mean it can charge up the batteries more quickly so they'll be ready to use for those low speed urban moments when the technology will automatically want to return you to electric-only mode. So that you can monitor what's powering or being charged by what, there's an 'Eco Drive Monitor' on the central 'Toyota Touch' dash display, showing the flow of energy through the hybrid system at any time. As for ride and handling, well you probably won't be expecting this Toyota to number among the ranks of more sporting people carriers. Which is true enough. The light speed-sensitive steering and easy manoeuvrability have been targeted instead at making it perfectly suited to the kind of town work that gets the best from the hybrid powertrain. That said, an awful lot of effort has still gone into the driving dynamics on offer here. Take the clever 'pitch and bounce control system'. As the car moves at speed over dips and bumps, almost imperceptible little reductions or additions to the torque flow are made to compensate and keep the car level. A little touch you'll appreciate on a long trip when your little ones are starting to look a little queasy.

Overall

The Prius has always been a first choice for eco-minded frugal families. In Prius+ form, it can deal with rather larger ones, this Prius+ being the model that took hybrid power into seven seat territory. It isn't especially big, or particularly fast or fun to drive. But we're guessing that little of this will matter to many potential purchasers. At the wheel of one of these, planet-friendly people can proudly parade their green credentials, even if they've a permanently reserved parking space at the local maternity unit. And should you not be of a lentil-eating, sandal-wearing persuasion? Well, you may still find plenty here that'll impress, citycar economy matched with seven-seating sense. Yes, there's a premium to pay for the clever technology, but in return, you're rewarded with an effortless and smoothly silent means of family travel that's very different from the experience on offer in the kind of clattery diesel people carriers that might otherwise be on your shopping list. This then, is the Prius of People Carrying. A timely Toyota - for the more thoughtful family.

Toyota Prius+ (2015 - 2019) review by Jonathan Crouch

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Overview

Car review: Toyota Prius+ (2015 - 2019)
Manufacturer:Toyota
Model:Toyota Prius+ (2015 - 2019)
Category:Hybrid Petrol/Electrics
Rating:8 out of 10

Gallery

Car review: Toyota Prius+ (2015 - 2019)
Car review: Toyota Prius+ (2015 - 2019)
Car review: Toyota Prius+ (2015 - 2019)
Car review: Toyota Prius+ (2015 - 2019)
Car review: Toyota Prius+ (2015 - 2019)
Car review: Toyota Prius+ (2015 - 2019)
Car review: Toyota Prius+ (2015 - 2019)
Car review: Toyota Prius+ (2015 - 2019)
Car review: Toyota Prius+ (2015 - 2019)

Scores

Performace:
50%
Handling:
60%
Comfort:
80%
Space:
80%
Styling:
80%
Build:
80%
Value:
80%
Equipment:
80%
Economy:
100%
Depreciation:
80%
Performace:
80%
Total:
77%