Toyota Prius joins the Sportback
Around four months ago, I changed jobs and started commuting from Herts to West London. This meant using the overland train and tube, which wasn't just pricey, it took ages too. Luckily, the office I work at has parking and is well away from the congestion charging zone, so I drove it a few times in the Sportback 2.0TDI my wife and I share to try it out.
Running a car would work out much cheaper (or about the same cost including depreciation) but more importantly, the journey was quicker. So I looked into buying a second car. The main must-haves were that it had to be an auto because of all the stop/start traffic and it had to be as frugal as possible.
I researched this extremely heavily using the web. I must have considered just about everything, including a DSG A3 or Golf. Then I hit on the idea of a Prius. Although the congestion zone isn't really a problem, I'd read they were more frugal in town than the open road. A few reviews, particularly the long-term tests from magazines supported this. I'm no tree-hugger - I've been an EVO magazine subscriber for around five years! - but the Prius really did look like it would fit the bill. Literally, in fact, with road tax being just £15 - there's not even a six month option!
I arranged a test drive which was impressive; the car shifts seamlessly from electric to petrol, or both under hard acceleration or, better still, none, when you pull up to a stop: the engine cuts out. The real decider for me though was that it topped the 2008 JD Power survey.
Finding one was difficult as they're in real demand right now and the first five I chased up were sold within a couple of days of hitting the dealership. But step up Farmer & Carlisle in Leicester; they had a top-of-the-range 2006 T-Spirit (sat nav plus bluetooth) with the optional leather and intelligent park assist (it parks itself using a camera). I put down a deposit over the phone to secure it and took delivery on Saturday. And here it is!
The drive home down the M1 and cross-country back to Herts was great; the Prius turned in a mighty 61mpg. The next day, we went over to St. Albans and saw and indicated 62mpg, and today on my way in to work for the first time, I saw 64.9mpg! Coming home tonight it dropped to 55.4mpg as the battery was largely discharged once I arrived at work and it had to recharge for the drive home, but it's still extremely impressive.
So how does it compare to the Sportback? The first thing you notice is the ride - it's super-smooth next to our SE. Ruts and bumps are soaked up much better, and it's a lot less harsh (to be fair, the Sportback rides on 225/45 R17s and the Prius makes do with 195/55 R16s, although the A3 was never great on its original 16s before I changed them). The steering is incredibly light too, and with the only other noise being from a low-power petrol unit as opposed to a diesel, it is much more refined.
The A3 has it licked on road-holding and of course is much more gutsy. From a standing start, the Prius takes off like lightening as the electric motor works to around 30mph before the petrol engine takes over, but above this speed, hampered by the CVT transmission a little, it needs a lot of throttle to take off.
Inside, the quality is a bit down on the Audi but still much better than Japanese cars of old. The leather really helps, while it is very spacious inside and you have a slightly-elevated view of the road too. Most of the functions are either in the touch-screen display or on the steering wheel which helps keep the interior uncluttered. Incidentally, the sat nav is manufactured by Aisin Ltd - who also make the RNS-E - and there are some common looks about it, although in this one you can add a few POIs!
Most importantly, when driving the A3 to West London, I could never get more than 45mpg. The problem is that it doesn't matter how carefully you drive in heavy traffic, you're always burning fuel. The Prius switches off the engine in these situations, and inbetween you can creep around on the electric motor (or press the EV switch to force it to stay in electric mode). You have to watch for pedestrians and cyclists though!
It's early days, and I realise that this car isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea - particularly since Toyota's "green" claims have been put to rights recently about how the car is manufactured and disposed of - but already it looks spot on for me :)