Toyota Prius i-Tech 2012 Review

Toyota Prius i-Tech 2012 Review

There’s an interesting exercise in brand pricing going on with the Prius i-Tech. You can get into the Prius range with the Prius c for around thirty-one to thirty-five thousand, but then there’s a big jump to the base model Prius at fifty grand, and if you want this tricked-out i-Tech verion, it’s $54,490 (online price).

Coincidentally this is only $10 less than the base model Lexus hybrid (the CT200h), but if you plump for the top-of-the-line CT200h F Sport which has similar features to the Prius i-Tech you’ll pony up $72,000.

So, your decision is whether to

spend fifty-five grand on a plush Toyota, or fifty-five grand on a lesser-specified Lexus but have improved neighbour bragging rights.

The Prius i-Tech has an enormous list of specifications. Someone prior to me removed the manual from the car and I was still finding new features even on the day before I took it back. Features like when you walk towards the car at night the car senses you’re carrying the key and illuminates the inside light. It makes for fun times when there’s a friend’s five-year-old son that can’t understand why when he walks the near the car it doesn’t illuminate.

The Prius i-Tech is a very well appointed car with features that you still don’t find on $100,000+ cars today. In addition to leather heated seats, a large touch-screen to control all audio functions and the satellite navigation, climate control air conditioning and Bluetooth phone integration there is a useful HUD (head-up display that shows speed and navigation projected into the windscreen, and adaptive cruise control which will match your speed to the car in front.

I couldn’t match the 3.9l/100km fuel economy quoted by Toyota. I got close, though – 4.4-litres per 100km range, and that’s impressive for a car that has all this kit and can carry five adults. My feeling about why it would be difficult to get those fuel economy figures is if you try to drive the i-Tech within the ‘eco’ zone for acceleration you will have other drivers wanting to climb through your back window to make your head bleed, especially in Auckland. Interestingly, my most frugal runs were some of my shorter ones through the city. When you’re cruising at 100-105kph you’ll start averaging around 6 litres per 100km, which is still impressive.

Part of what contributes to the low fuel usage is a drag coefficient of 0.25. Most passenger cars are at least 0.3 and SUVs, well, the less said the better. But the main reason for its frugality in sipping fuel is the Hybrid Synergy Drive. When you accelerate you’ll initially use just the electric motor until you either get to around 30kph or exceed the power requirements of that motor, at which time the 1.8-litre petrol engine kicks in absolutely seamlessly. Unless you have the power usage monitor visible on the in-dash screen often you won’t even know the petrol engine has turned itself on or off.

When you cruise along a flat section of road the electric motor will keep you going until you reach a hill when the engine will kick in to give you some boost. When you’re braking or going downhill the regenerative braking captures the energy and feeds it back to the battery.

This completes what is a full hybrid system. You can run on just the battery in EV mode (but only for a couple of kilometers), you can run in Eco mode which adjusts the throttle response and air conditioning output, or you can run in power mode which gives you improved throttle response and full use of the 73kW petrol and 27kW electric motors.

The satellite navigation has a comprehensive range of features including points of interest. It calculates up to three routes you can take and let’s you prioritise based on how short or how quick it will be. You can choose to avoid certain types of roads and it will show the directions in the HUD so that you don’t have to take your eyes off the road. The system was excellent, only getting confused once where the old SH2 joins the new SH2 just north of Mangatawhiri. There seemed to be more features available, but as I didn’t have the manual and kept getting it stuck on a screen where it wasn’t following the car’s progress, I let it just do its basic job.

Handling-wise, the Prius feels a little heavy when the road is bumpy. It’s fantastic around town or on motorway cruises, but a trip out through Clevedon and around Kaiaua and Miranda exposed its weaknesses. It will turn well in the smoother twisty bits but always feels like it’s threatening a large episode of understeer if you push it hard when the surface is uneven. Of course, this probably won’t actually happen because there are extensive electronic aids to help keep you on the road – Vehicle Stability Control, Brake Assist, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Traction Control System and ABS. VSC brakes each wheel independently until you regain control. If it still all goes wrong there are nine airbags as a last resort.

Reversing is made simple with the reversing camera that includes guidelines for the direction you are steering. The image appears on the large in-dash screen.

As for your passengers, the front one gets a heated seat, but there’s no dual climate control. The rear ones have plenty of legroom and plenty of width, as long as they don’t block the vent that’s used to cool the battery.

There are probably a great many more features I haven’t found. For example, you can set it to remind you when to change the windscreen wipers, oil and various other disposal mechanical items. I’m presuming you can also set a price per litre of fuel because after each trip it tells you how much you have used. Except, I don’t have the manual and there are quite a lot of menus to search through.

Should you purchase the low-end Lexus or the high-end Prius? There’s no doubt that Toyota and Lexus are making the best hybrid vehicles available on the market right now. Other hybrids, such as the Honda Civic IMA we tested a few weeks ago are not full hybrids, just using the electric motor to boost the petrol motor’s performance. The question of brand loyalty and image has to be asked, then, to determine this question. The Lexus is undoubtedly a hybrid for the slightly older couple – I see him as an architect or her as an interior decorator and they want something a little bit funky and more exclusive. The Toyota Prius i-Tech sits firmly in sensible family territory. Eco-conscious families for whom the hybrid image and sensibility is paramount will not care that this is not a Lexus because they value Toyota’s brand reliability. For them, the fact it is a Toyota is perfect.

Price: $54,490

Pros

  • Extensive list of useful equipment and features
  • Clever features such as the hidden storage in the boot and the optional solar-powered ventilation (not installed on our test car).
  • Fuel economy with reasonable performance
  • Comfort

Cons

  • Sat nav seems to be always on and without the manual I couldn’t make the screen stay on the radio. User interfaces should be easier than this.
  • You have to use 95 octane fuel which does slightly negate the fuel economy savings

Words and photos: Darren Cottingham

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