Road test by Steve Rogers

AT last, a hybrid that gives serious miles to the gallon.

I have been blowing hot and cold, mainly cold, on hybrids for a couple of years. Those I have driven promise big economy but under deliver. Yes emissions are commendably low which is great for our health and our planet.

Hybrid cars are just the job on low speed runs and driving around town when economy is good because an electric motor kicks in to drive the car and there is very little nastiness coming from the exhaust.

But things go south on the open road where 45-50mpg is a decent result for me. Until now.

The car that has restored my faith in hybrids is the Toyota Prius.

The company has been a driving force in developing cleaner, alternative power for cars and wants 50 per cent of its sales to be hybrid by 2020. This new fourth generation model has raised the hybrid bar with a high voltage battery that is more compact and with a better charging performance.

Not that good economy is handed out on a plate. To get the best out of a hybrid calls for a change in driving style, almost like learning to drive all over again. Boy racer acceleration and heavy, late braking is a definite no-no. That is true of any petrol or diesel car but it is even more relevant here.

The batteries for the electric motor can be recharged through gentle braking, while smooth acceleration prolongs the battery charge. On the flip slide this can turn you into a better and calmer driver.

Toggling through displays in the instrument binnacle helps the driver monitor progress and played a part in my stunning economy drive. Over 130 miles of mainly motorway driving the Prius averaged 68.9mpg at an average speed of 51mph, and to prove it was no fluke I got 68.3mpg on the return journey.

This gave me a driving score of 79/100 and an ‘excellent driving’ accolade. A good result all round.

There is a mound of information in these displays but the most telling is the ‘eco diary’ which records five days of driving. The lowest figure I returned was 48.7mpg while my week’s average was 60.1mpg so I can fairly boast to being a reasonable hybrid driver which will come as a shock to a few people.

Should you need a quick burst of speed Prius will not let you down making good progress through 40-60mph which is overtaking territory. I even found the CVT gearbox more user friendly. At least I was satisfied with the gear I was in which hasn’t always been the case with this style of automatic gearbox.

New Prius has turned into an appealing family motor and has at last got a bit of style. By Toyota standards the wedge shaped body is quite racey and will be easy to spot from the rear thanks to the spectacular ‘streak of lightening’ rear light display.

There is room for five and as the battery packs get smaller hybrid boots get bigger so no complaints there either.

Some customers might balk at the price. The other side of £28k will seem a lot for this size car but hybrid technology does not come cheap and Toyota has been fairly generous with kit. On top of the usual powered bits and pieces Prius gets automatic dipping LED headlights, self parking, navigation, head up display for speed, speed limit and turn by turn navigation, heated seats, keyless entry and a full suite of safety aids.

Toyota is one of only a few car manufacturer to respond to the longer warranties offered by the Koreans  and offers five years or 100,000 miles, but has shied away from matching Hyundai’s five year’s roadside assistance which would be a worthwhile extra bonus.

But all in all Prius would appear to be in hybrid heaven.

Fast Facts

Engine: 1.8 litre VVT-i; 97bhp

Electric motor: 71bhp

Performance: 0-62mph 10.4secs; 112mph

Economy: 85.6mpg combined

Emissions: 76g/km. Road tax £140

Insurance group 14

Price: £28,345