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Toyota Prius+ review (2012 onwards)
Summary: Toyota's continuing rollout of its hybrid system makes its debut in seven-seat MPV guise in the Prius+.
We like: low height and therefore centre of gravity, styling, claimed economy
We don't like: some cheap materials inside, cramped rear cabin
The Toyota Prius has been around since 1997 and the firm's hybrid family of vehicles has grown to incorporate five models, with the seven-seat Prius+ the latest addition to the range.
The new car is aimed at drivers looking for MPV practicality without compromising efficiency and Toyota has worked hard on combining these two major qualities in the Prius+.
Underneath the skin is the same engine and electric motor from the standard Prius, with a new 50% smaller battery pack saving 8kg, while the addition of an extra row of seats means greater flexibility.
The Prius+ looks broadly similar to the standard car - the front end is pretty much identical - and at 1.22 metres high, it's a low car for an MPV. A lot of work has gone into keeping the car's proportions modest, while retaining the greatest possible space inside. It's certainly not the worst looking MPV around.
The Prius has proved hybrids are viable technology in smaller cars, with great efficiency returns around town, but is the migration of petrol-electric technology to a seven-seat MPV an eco-bridge too far, or can the Prius+ pull off its smaller siblings trick of fossil-fuelled flexibility with high efficiency?
The Prius+ doesn't force you to recalibrate your benchmark for performance, but the combined maximum output of 134hp from the 1.8-litre petrol engine borrowed and electric motor setup borrowed from the standard Prius makes for decent enough progress.
In urban areas and on the motorways is where the car will spend most of its time, and for this type of driving the migration of Toyota's hybrid technology works well.
You can keep the Prius+ in EV mode with some careful throttle application and there's (just) enough urge from the engine so it doesn't feel sluggish. It's quicker than its rivals, dispatching the 0-62mph sprint in 11.3 seconds.
It'll easily carry motorway speeds with enough in reserve to overtake slower traffic, too - it might not feel quite as torque-rich as a conventional diesel, but the numbers suggest the Prius+ is a feasible alternatively-propelled MPV.
Despite the addition of 125kg of bulk over the standard Prius, the seven-seat car doesn't feel much slower and a switch to a new lighter lithium-ion battery pack and lower gearing help claw back some lost performance.
The CVT gearbox works well and is quicker to respond than in some other hybrid Toyotas. Overall, you never feel the Prius+ is woefully underpowered.
Ride and handling
For a car that'll accommodate seven the Prius+ is a surprisingly agile vehicle. That's not to say it's the last word in handling, but it posses a nice neutral steering setup that means you rarely find yourself having to correct your inputs.
Ride quality is good, too. We only sampled the Prius+ with two front seat occupants so can't categorically state how a full complement of passengers would change how the chassis reacts, but it felt refined and stable.
It's thanks in part to Toyota's new "pitch and bounce control" system - the electric motor delivers up a burst of power or brakes the car when going over bumps to adjust the attitude of the chassis. It's unnoticeable in operation, but the overall ride is calm.
The location of the battery pack between the two front seats helps here - with less mass (and a significant proportion of it in the batteries) outside of the wheelbase, the Prius+ feels less pitch-sensitive than the smaller hybrid hatchback with its boot-mounted batteries.
It does roll without much provocation, however, and the eco-friendly tyres run out of grip early on, meaning intervention from the stability systems. It's un-dramatic though, and even if it's unrepresentative of how the Prius+ will be driven 99% of the time, it's nice to know you've got an electronic guardian angel.
The Prius+'s interior is best described as functional rather than lavish. Build quality is solid but to the eye at least, some surfaces look scratchy and not particularly tactile.
It's actually not the case - although there are some less expensive hardened plastics used out of reach - but there is a sense that the interior has been designed with a wipe-clean attitude in mind.
Seven-seat vehicles are all about carrying around the family, and if you've got young kids the chances are they'll be soiling the interior. While it might not boast the most luxurious of cabins, it's practical and we can see it wearing well.
We do have reservations about interior space though. The second and third rows of seats are cramped and boot space with all seven chairs in place is only adequate and less than the competition.
The third row of seats folds completely flat, creating a much larger load space and the second row of chairs slide individually to aid practicality. The Prius+ offers a blend of efficiency and space, but if the latter is more important, you'd be more limited with the Prius+ than some of its rivals.
Standard-fit equipment is good, even on the £26,195 entry-level T4 trim - 16-inch alloys, a touchscreen interface, Bluetooth rear-view camera climate control automatic headlights and wipers and a head-up display all feature.
Economy and safety
Over a varied mix of driving we saw an average of 55.4mpg - quite a long way short of the official 68.9mpg combined, but strong performance none the less. 96g/km CO2 emissions means the Prius+ is road tax and congestion charge exempt.
Bear in mind a 110hp 1.5-litre Renault Grand Scenic will return a claimed 57.6 and it starts to look more impressive - add in the lower cost of a litre of petrol over the same volume of diesel and the increased performance and the Prius+'s case is a strong one.
It should be a safe vehicle, too. With the switch to lithium-ion technology, the car's battery pack has been relocated from under the boot floor to in between the two front seats providing better protection in a crash.
The standard Prius on which the Prius+ is based receives a full five-star Euro NCAP rating, so expect the seven seater to perform well.
The MSN Cars verdict
Can a seven-seat hybrid vehicle work? Yes, it can. The added weight hasn't dented the attractiveness or hampered any of the qualities the standard Prius possesses.
Efficiency is good and will likely better more conventional rivals in town driving, but in keeping the Prius+ more car-like in its dimensions, Toyota has limited space and therefore practicality.
Surely that's what an MPV is all about? It's not enough to sip fuel at a meagre rate and only offer adequate seating and luggage capacity when a Ford S-Max or Renault Grand Scenic will do both for around £4,500 less.
|Need to know|
|Power, hp||petrol engine 98hp, electric motor 81hp, max combined output, 134hp|
|Torque, lb ft||petrol engine 105lb ft, electric motor 153lb ft|
|0-62 mph, secs||11.3|
|Top speed, mph||103|
|Mpg combined||68.9 (T4), 64.2 (T Spirit)|
|CO2, tax||96 (T4), 101 (T Spirit) / 10%|
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