She’s sleek, she’s stylish……and, most importantly of all, she’s sustainable.
‘She’ is Toyota’s newest, state-of-the-art Prius Plug-in Hybrid car, and earlier this year I was given the opportunity to drive her on a 1-day #50kmRoadTrip through the coastal and countryside delights of Catalunya in Spain.
Why 50km? Well, that’s the car’s range on a fully charged battery, and this campaign has been designed to pay testament to that, by demonstrating just how much of this lovely part of Spain you could see without generating any CO2 emissions.
I was invited by fellow blogger and long-time friend Kathryn from Travel With Kat, to join her on the journey as she Instagrammed for Toyota and I reviewed the Prius Plug-in Hybrid for Boutique Travel Blog. For me, the appeal was threefold; another adventure with Kathryn, a return to a favourite part of Spain, and the privilege of experiencing the world of sustainable motoring, something I’ve been keen to do for a long while.
Our base for the weekend was the exquisite Mas de Torrent Hotel and Spa, and after breakfast and a quick vehicle brief we set off for the day. You can read about the destinations in my article at Travel Continuum, but my mission here is to focus on the car itself, so read on for my account of Toyota’s latest pride and joy.
Prius Plug-in Hybrid Review
For those who don’t know (and I was one of them), a full hybrid car can be run both electrically and by traditional combustion methods – in this case, a petrol engine.
The electrical charge for the in-built lithium-ion battery comes via two methods; the external charging socket, and, to a much lesser extent, regenerative braking.
Regenerative breaking: when you brake, or decelerate, the motor basically reverses, generating power back to the electrical battery pack.
It couldn’t be easier to charge the car – you can fully charge up in just over 3hrs using a standard household socket, or use one of the charging points which are becoming increasingly commonplace (there are around 4000 in the UK to date).
There are 3 drive modes with this car, but for the purposes of our road trip, we stayed in Eco mode, where the car uses battery power by default, and only engages the engine under appropriate circumstances, such as at higher speeds along more major roads.
This car can keep going for 50km (approx. 30 miles) on battery power alone, and this is one of the stand-out elements of this vehicle. Fuel economy is good too – even if you don’t charge the battery to maximise efficiency, you’ll still get 60 miles per gallon.
A unique feature with the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid is the option of solar panels for the roof, which can be added to further increase operational efficiency and top up those green points. While the amount of energy generated is small when looked at over short periods of time, it does add up. Perhaps this feature is more relevant to those who live in a particularly sunny climate.
Eco credentials aside, what gives this car the real wow-factor are the display and safety features. The central display panel is as impressive as you’d hope to find in a car marketed as the future of motoring. A schematic display shows you the energy flow of the car as you drive it, indicating which power source (electric or petrol) is in use – even showing you when regenerative braking is being applied.
There’s a Parking Assist system, which can virtually park the car for you. We didn’t use that, but the built-in sensors and cameras are helpful for navigating any tight space. Most impressively, the car includes Toyota’s Safety Sense system, a highly responsive feature which uses a camera and laser to detect moving pedestrians and other vehicles. In case of an imminent collision, the car will auto-brake, either preventing the accident or at least reducing the severity of the impact. As with all technology though, we shouldn’t consider this any kind of replacement for full concentration and safe driving!
As much as I tried to consider the mechanics first, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the striking colour of our vehicle. It’s called ‘Spirited Aqua’ and although other colours are available, this is a lovely shade, which seems to fluctuate subtly under different light conditions.
The car has a fluid, aerodynamic design with an upward slant from front to rear. It’s modern and stylish and gives an impression of understated high quality. I’m used to small cars for my day-to-day driving, and although this Prius is considerably larger I felt very comfortable with its layout and proportions.
I’ve always been told that I’m a good driver, but it’s not something that has come naturally to me, so to begin with I’m always a tad tentative about driving unfamiliar vehicles. Also, I drive a manual car, and no matter how many times I’m reminded of how much simpler an automatic is (and it IS), I usually need a few miles to get used to the difference.
I really needn’t have worried, because this car instantly reassures with its smooth reactions and easy-to-handle controls. We felt at ease from the start, and even when we lost our way slightly and found ourselves having to negotiate a steep coastal road with dozens of tight bends, I wasn’t once doubtful about its handling and reliability.
And boy, is she quiet…sshhh! The only time she whirred was during acceleration when it sounds as if you’re over-revving the engine. But it’s nothing more than a little quirk of the technology, and you just have to be a little patient.
Talking of speed, one of my favourite features is that the sensors can detect roadside speed limit signs, and project the speed limit onto the windscreen. The image turns red if you exceed the limit, which I found to be very helpful, but is subtle enough to not interfere with your forward vision or distract you.
We tested out those built-in sensors (unintentionally!) whilst in the stunning medieval town of Pals – pushing our luck through a narrow alley, with the car beeping at us with increasing frequency and volume until we gave in to the pleading tones and edged back.
I’m still convinced we could have made it, though….
Finally, the sat-nav was very straightforward to use, allowing us to make the most of our limited time on the road. I would have preferred if the instructions gave distances first, e.g. ‘in 100 metres turn left’ rather than ‘turn left in 100 metres’, but I gather the latter is quite common, and I suppose a lot depends on what you’re used to.
Prius Plug-in Hybrid Review Summary
For the UK market, I think this car works very well. The extended 30-mile EV range will make many more workplaces accessible for commuters, but will be of equal benefit for leisure activities, both in large cities and in more suburban areas.
The new Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid is the result of a lot of technological development in the realm of motoring sustainability. She’s snazzy without being flamboyant, practical without being an industrial work-horse and sustainable without compromising on the quality of the experience.
And it was indeed a quality experience, which Kathryn and I thoroughly enjoyed – except for the part where we reluctantly had to hand the car back, as we’d grown rather attached to her!
When it comes to driving, I’ve always been a simple creature who just wants a car to be safe, reliable and cost-effective to run. Sustainability has always been an aspiration, but it’s only relatively recently that viable options have become available for many people. For me, this car ticks all the boxes, and is a great choice as we strive to reduce our environmental impact.
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