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In terms of its overall shape, the second- and third-generation Priuses are much of a muchness. Where the differences lie are in the details, with the third-gen model featuring sculpted sides and more expressive features, like the stretched and slashed headlights.
Despite covering a similar footprint to the Corolla, the Prius looks and feels much bigger. That's because the base of the windshield is pushed as far forward as possible, with the windscreen angled steeply. Coupled with a sloping bonnet, the Prius can be tricky to place, with plenty of guesswork required, and the abruptly cut off rear features a boot-lip spoiler that bisects rearward vision.
Not only do the standard-fit 15-inch alloys look curiously undersized in this day and age, but Toyota has oddly fitted them with partial plastic covers too. However, all these details, not to mention extensive time in a wind tunnel, make the current Prius the world's most aerodynamic production car — an important piece in the car's economy play.
Our review vehicle, a top of the range i-Tech model fitted with all the kit, features a slightly bugged-eyed look thanks to its LED headlights. Not only do they draw less energy than convention lights, they, like, emit a very bright light with a slight bluish tinge. Headlight washers are standard with the LED headlights, but alas they don't turn with the car's steering. LEDs are also used for the rear brake lights and mirror-mounted indicators.
In keeping with its drivetrain, the Prius' interior is suitably futuristic. The dashboard plastics are made from plant-derived "eco" plastic, which although hard is very nicely textured and feels suitably durable. The centre console armrest is plush and all the controls, including the shift-by-wire gear lever, fall to hand easily. The Prius' instruments are an all digital affair conveniently situated in the centre of the dash and at the base of the windscreen, a quick glance away from the road in front.
Beyond the basic instruments, the instrument binnacle also contains a low-res screen that can display either a revised Energy Monitor (with an unfeasibly sexy-looking Prius) that informs you of where your power is coming from or going to, as well as various graphs and meters to help you extract maximum efficiency from the car. On the spokes of the tilt-and-telescope steering wheel contain Touch Tracer controls for the sound, information and air-con systems. Whenever you finger or press one of these buttons, a graphical overlay highlighting what you're about to press replaces the standard temperature and fuel gauges.
While the Prius' shape makes outward vision problematic, it does endow the cabin with plenty of light and good space utilisation. Although tall folk may want to avoid sitting behind one another, they shouldn't have any complaints about front seat accommodation. The split-fold rear seats don't lie completely flat, but it does expand the already lengthy boot. And with the hefty spare tyre junked in favour of a re-inflation kit, there's a handy under-floor storage compartment as well.
Storage spaces abound around the cabin as well, with a carpeted tray underneath the centre console (perfect for keys, phones and wallets), a large centre console bin with a handy smartphone-sized tray and a dual-glovebox (although we do wish that one or both had locks). All up there are six cupholders in the Prius, so those who like to drink (coffee) and drive are well catered for.
All Australian Priuses come fitted with two 12V power outlets for accessories (one underneath the floating dash and one in the centre console bin, right next to the auxiliary jack for MP3 players). Also standard is a single zone climate control air-conditioning system, six airbags, traction and stability control, keyless entry with push-button start, a rear-view mirror that dims itself automatically at night, and automatic headlights and window wipers. Presumably to save weight, all the seats are completely manual affairs, with the exception of the driver's lumbar controls.
For a steep AU$13.6k more i-Tech buyers enjoy leather seats with heating for both driver and front passenger, a tilt-and-slide sunroof, radar-guided cruise control, Intelligent Park Assist, remote air-conditioning, head-up display, solar-powered ventilation, reversing camera and satellite navigation (more of which a little later).
With Intelligent Park Assist engaged the Prius can park itself — well, the car controls the steering, while the driver modulates the brake pedal to regulate speed. The system works well for tight spots, but it gets its wired crossed if you try to use it to park behind a car with plenty of free space aft of it or in an empty parking lot (for a demonstration, check out our).
As we reviewed the i-Tech in winter, we weren't able to test the car's remote air-conditioning function nor its solar ventilation system. The former can, via a button on the key fob, run the air-con remotely for up to three minutes, cooling the car down to acceptable temperature on hot summer days. Unfortunately, it can't manage the reverse: heating the car up on wintry mornings. Another summer-time feature is the solar panel on the i-Tech roof that powers a ventilation system that brings the car's internal temperature into line with the outside ambient air temp.