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Theis loved and loathed in equal measure. To some, it is a mere gimmick that does as much to harm the environment as it does to protect it. Others believe it represents the future of motoring, boldly forging a path that other cars simply aren't equipped to follow.
Whatever your opinion, it's difficult to deny the Prius has always been a technological tour de force, but has the latest iteration evolved sufficiently to silence the brand's critics? We think so.
Toyota hasn't been sitting on its laurels since the last Prius. Almost every major component inside the 2008, generation II Prius has been overhauled, rejigged or replaced, although in many cases these replacements aren't what you might expect. The 1.5-litre engine from the previous model has been ditched for a larger, more powerful 1.8-litre unit, which delivers 98bhp and 142Nm of torque. You might assume it guzzles more fuel, but its frugal Atkinson cycle combustion process actually uses less petrol -- particularly on the open road where it doesn't need to work as hard as a smaller engine to achieve the same speed.
Toyota has also overhauled its famed Hybrid Synergy Drive system. It now consists of a lighter, more powerful electrical engine, which is capable of driving the vehicle all on its own; working alongside the petrol engine to boost acceleration; or acting as a high-output generator that recovers kinetic energy and charges the battery when braking. Total power is increased by 24 per cent to 134bhp, and it certainly feels it. The new Prius strides from 0-60mph in 10.4 seconds -- half a second quicker than its predecessor. You shouldn't make the mistake of assuming it handles well -- that's not what this car is about -- but under most circumstances, it delivers a driving experience on a par with its non-hybrid rivals.
Toyota has worked magic on the car's emissions and fuel consumption. The company's official figures say the Prius achieves 72.4mpg on a combined cycle, but if driven frugally on flowing roads, you can expect to figures closer to the 100mpg mark. Over a 20km stretch averaging around 70kph, the Prius' onboard computer told us it was using just 3.3 litres of fuel per 100km -- the equivalent of 85mpg. Carbon emissions are just as miserly – the Prius now dumps just 89g/km of CO2. As this is significantly below the 100g/km threshold, the car is exempt from road tax and London's congestion charge.
The latest Prius is 70Kg heavier than its predecessor, and this is largely down to the amount of new technology inside. It sports a brand new head unit with a 7-inch touch-sensitive display that gives access to audio, satellite navigation and vehicle control features. But while the audio portion of the system has potential, it has big flaws. Tracks can be ripped from a CD to a 40Gb hard drive, though 30GB of that is reserved for satellite mapping data.