“The Toyota Prius is the internet’s most hated car”. How’s that for an opener? Let me explain. You see half a year ago, we decided to ask exactly what you disliked about the Prius. The answers were intriguing. Many of you challenged the Prius’ eco credentials, you abhorred its lack of excitement and were put off by the ‘smugness’ that surrounds Prius owners.
So when Toyota offered me the opportunity to live with a Prius for three months, I jumped at the chance to see whether all of this hate was simply conjecture or whether I’d also morph into Captain Eco-Smug. Now that the Prius has returned home, I can finally look back on our fling with some findings:
1. My rep as a petrolhead didn’t end in tatters
The first time I rolled into London in the Prius, I was nervous. I expected to be looked at with disdain and to be pointed and laughed at when parallel parking on Tottenham Court Road. But to my surprise, there were no thinly-veiled death threats. In fact, no-one in London seemed to care that I was driving a silver Toyota Prius with a (gasp) hybrid engine capable of churning out 134bhp with a 0-62mph sprint in 10.4sec. The only snarky comments I received were from my petrol-swigging chums: “Adnan, you have got to be joking…”
2. Prii run the streets of London
I challenge you to walk for five minutes in Britain’s capital without coming across a Prius. Toyota has managed to do a remarkable job of selling this car, in part due to the congestion charge exemption the Prius first had when it was introduced (now only plug-ins qualify). The hybrids also make for great taxis - Uber is proof of this - and all in all, Toyota has managed to rack up 3.36 million hatchback sales (including first-gen cars) globally. In the UK, 30 per cent of all Prius sales are in the South East.
What that meant for yours truly, was three months spent fitting in, initially giving other Prius drivers the nod, until I felt my neck start to give way with RSI.
3. The Prius is surprisingly roomy
We’ve seen so many pictures and memes of the Prius, that when you finally come face-to-face with one in the wild, you forget that it’s a hefty beast; 4.48m long and 1.75m wide to be precise. While it can make trying to find a car parking space that little bit more of a challenge in London, it means you’re blessed with lots of room inside. I was able to lug my family 100 miles north to Leicester and back again in a day without so much as a complaint from the passengers riding in the rear.
4. The Prius is an incredibly easy car to drive
If you really do want to be a walking cliché, then getting from Point A to Point B couldn’t be easier in the Prius. Foot on the brake, hit the Start button, wait for the beep, and release the foot-activated handbrake. The steering is light which makes low-speed manoeuvrability an absolute breeze and thanks to the battery pack (nickel metal-hydride for the scientifically curious) there’s more torque than you’d expect to get you off the line, should you wish to plant the loud pedal to the floor. The thing is, driving the Prius is almost too easy. The thrill us purists get from a simple manual gearbox is lost. The Prius carries too much weight to be able to effectively attack B-road corners. And as is the case with most of these transmissions, the CVT whine above 50mph is enough to put you off burying the throttle altogether.
5. I didn’t spend all of my savings on fuel. For once
Prior to the Prius, I spent time driving a tasty-looking Kia Pro C’eed GT. A front-wheel drive warm hatch which churned out 201bhp and admittedly soothed my soul with its turbocharged awesomeness, it drove me insane in my attempt to hit a consistent 30mpg. Prius ownership, however, saw my fraught relationship with my wallet fixed, seemingly wingman’d by a regular 58mpg readout. According to my back-of-the-envelope calculations, having driven a total of 5000 (mostly urban) miles in the Prius, I saved over £500 had I done the same mileage in the Pro C’eed. Great success!
6. But if you’re a country dweller, a hybrid may not be the answer
Despite the many smiles per gallon in town, I knew I was falling short of Toyota’s 70.6mpg combined economy claim. Sure, the economy tests manufacturers run rarely produce achieveable ‘real world’ figures but I found myself struggling to hit 60mpg on my home turf.
I live in a small village outside London, where there’s not much stop-start traffic and a much higher average driving speed. In order to remain in fuel-efficient EV mode with the Prius, you have to delicately modulate throttle input to prevent the 1.8-litre petrol engine from kicking in. Out in the sticks, this is seemingly impossible without accelerating away from a traffic light too slowly and incurring the wrath of drivers following behind. I found myself regularly using both electricity and engine power to get the car up to a steady speed, before taking my foot off the accelerator to try and coast in EV mode under 40mph.
What ended up happening, was that I wasn’t coasting or braking enough to recharge the batteries. The charge would drop and the engine would kick in regardless to make sure that there was sufficient voltage. And this ended up costing me those precious extra miles per gallon.
7. I just don’t miss the Prius
In the last 12 months, I’ve been lucky enough to ‘long-term test’ some exciting cars. The 208 GTi was a quirky, French hot hatch with a small steering wheel and plenty of charm. The GT86 was, well, a GT86.
But while the Prius did change my driving style to a point where I found myself only enjoying motoring moments where the green EV symbol was lit up, now that she’s gone, I find myself struggling to miss her. There were never any customary glances back at the Prius when it was parked in a multi-storey and I never looked forward to a spirited drive in her either.
Hate it or love it, the Prius seems to have found its niche. The fact that Toyota has sold nearly 5 million Prii in their various guises over the years speaks volumes for where the motoring world is headed; the consumer masses want clean, cheap-to-run, practical cars. And while it might be the internet’s most hated vehicle, it’s those three crucial points which the Prius seems to tick off with ease.
So maybe the best parting words I can give to the Toyota Prius are:
“It’s not you, it’s me.”