Toyota Prius i-Tech 2009 Review

If 1950s science fiction was ever to be believed we should all have flying jet-propelled cars by now. These fantastical vehicles were meant to be capable of intergalactic travel so we could reach our space-baches on distant planets. That hasn’t quite worked out just yet, but planet earth does have at least one futuristic vehicle.

When you think of futuristic vehicles you think of hybrids and it’s Toyota’s Prius that instantly comes to mind. Despite Honda’s attempts to creep in on its market share the Prius remains the alpha hybrid. This well-established badge recognition has obvious value to Toyota because the new third-generation Prius is much more about evolution than revolution. To find out more Car and SUV headed back to the future with the top-spec 2010 Prius i-Tech to see if it has the same spark as its predecessors.

One glance at the Prius and it’s obviously a vehicle playing to its strengths. Where the second-generation model gained success from its green credentials, fuel economy, distinctive styling and general practicality this new model represents advancement in all disciplines.

Starting with the power train, the new Prius continues with Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system that handles the switching between electric motor and Atkinson-cycle combustion engine. A new petrol power plant has been fitted and displacement increased to 1.8-litres over the previous 1.5-litre unit. It produces 73kW and works in tandem with the 27kW electric motor to offer 100kW of power in total.

Interestingly, the increase in engine size actually helps fuel economy by increasing torque to 142Nm and reduces engine speeds particularly during motorway cruising. The new engine combined with improved aerodynamics has resulted in a suitably impressive 3.9L/100km fuel economy and CO2 emissions of only 89g/km.

The Prius is at its petrol-sipping best around town where the electric motor gets busy. There are four driving modes offered; normal, power, eco, and EV. The EV mode is fully electric and if your light on the accelerator will let the Prius drive up to 50kph for 1-2km or until stored power runs low.

Performance and fuel economy largely depends on the selected driving mode with the normal setting providing a good middle ground, power making use of available grunt, and economy mode which further decreases fuel consumption by restricting the gas pedal.

When set to ‘power’ and driven with haste the Prius will hit 100kph from standing in just over 10 seconds. Gear changes are near seamless and handled by an electronic CVT box that is an excellent match for the unique power train.

In terms of handling, the Prius feels assured and offers ample grip. The suspension is set with comfort in mind and most bumps and dips in the road aren’t transferred to occupants. However, there is a certain degree of body roll when the Prius changes direction quickly and it does ride a little hard on the low resistance tyres. It’s definitely not a performance focused vehicle but dynamically it’s easily capable of general driving duties both in the city and on the open road.

When it comes to styling the Prius shape looks similar to the second-generation model but only 10% of parts have been carried over. The dimensions have changed making the Prius longer, wider and with a higher roofline. Front styling is more aggressive with swept back headlights and a wide air-intake. Out back it’s all about wide pillars and a split rear windscreen perched above the special blue-ringed Toyota badging. It’s not just about looking ‘space-age’ either, the Prius’ new sheet metal has resulted in an aerodynamics figure of just 0.25Cd.

Inside the Prius, there is a Spartan feel dominated by grey plastics that are nicely textured and made of plant-based materials but are a little flimsy to the touch. The floating centre stack houses a large multi-function display screen, plenty of buttons to play with and a tiny electronic gear lever. There’s no tachometer but vehicle speed can be seen on either the centrally mounted dash read-out or through the heads up display system. The trip computer is a real treat for car nerds, displaying a wide variety of details on fuel usage and power storage in addition to regular information.

Other high-tech tricks include satellite navigation, seat heaters, smart entry and start, reversing camera, dynamic radar cruise control, LED headlights, 8-speaker stereo and a solar paneled ventilation system. The solar panels are located over the rear of the roof and run a fan to minimize increases to interior air temperature when the car is parked. If that’s not cool enough, some of the power from the hybrid battery can also be used to run the air-conditioning remotely from the key fob for up to three minutes before the driver enters the vehicle.

A lot of consideration has been put into making the Prius’ cabin spacious and it’s worked out well. The front seats are wide and comfortable and rear passengers have good legroom and ample headroom thanks to the raised roofline. The rear hatch is very accommodating for luggage and has a total capacity of 446-litre with the seats up.

Another strength of the Prius i-Tech is in its safety systems. A full nine airbag package including driver’s knee is ready to pop and there’s a pre-crash safety system that works in with the radar cruise control to alert the driver of an impending collision and reacts to avoid or lessen damage. Stability and traction control are also included as is an emergency brake lighting system that blinks the rear brake lights when the vehicle is stopping suddenly.

The Prius gives hybrid followers exactly what they want and it has become a true halo car for Toyota. The level of technology in the i-Tech is very impressive and it serves as a likely showcase for equipment that will eventually filter down to Toyota’s lesser models. The hybrid system still forces the Prius into a price premium over similarly sized and specified petrol-only vehicles. Naturally, some of that cost will be reimbursed over time with the lower fuel consumption, but it still puts a new Prius out of many people’s price range. However, if it’s green credentials you need, you love new technology or simply require a practical family vehicle that’s a bit different then the Prius could be for you.

Price: $62,090

What we like:

  • Fuel consumption
  • Plenty of tricks
  • High safety level

What we don’t like:

  • Interior plastics
  • Price Premium
  • Body Roll

Words and Photos: Adam Mamo

Toyota Prius i-Tech (2009) – Road Test

Powertrain
Engine Model Code      2ZR-FXE
Type     In-line, 4 Cylinder, 16 Valve, DOHC, Variable Valve Timing-intelligent (VVT-i)
Battery Voltage     12 Volts
Bore     80.5 mm
Capacity     1798 cc
Compression     13.0 : 1
Configuration     In-line 4 cylinder
Emission     89 g/km
Test     ADR 81/02
Fuel Tank Capacity     45 litres
Fuel Type     95 Octane or Higher Recommended
Injection Type     Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI)
Location     Front, Transverse
Maximum Power     75kW 5200rpm
Maximum Torque     142Nm 4000rpm
Stroke     88.3 mm

Electric Motor
Type      201.6 Volt Nickel Metal-Hydride (Ni-MH) Battery & 12 Volt auxiliary battery
Description     Permanent Magnet Synchronous A/C Motor
Function     Motor function – Drive to wheels, Generator (Regenerative Brake Control); Generator function – Generator, Engine Starter, Electronic Continuosly Variable Transmission (ECVT) control
Maximum Voltage     AC 500 Volts

Fuel Economy Rating     5.5 out of 6
Litres per 100km     3.9
Fuel Cost Per Year2008 cost per year based on price per litre of $1.85 and an average distance of 14,000 km     $1,010

Suspension
Front     MacPherson Struts with Stabiliser Bar
Rear     Torsion Beam Type

Dimensions
Front Track     1525 mm
Rear Track     1520 mm
Gross Vehicle Weight     1805 kg
Kerb Weight     1370-1420 kg
Minimum Ground Clearance     140 mm
Overall Height     1505 mm
Overall Length     4460 mm
Overall Width     1745 mm
Wheelbase     2700 mm

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