For many car makers their halo product is a sporty two-seater or luxury limousine, but for Toyota it's the company's fuel-sipping green hero, the Prius. The third-gen model packs plenty of tech kit between hood and trunk in addition to the hybrid drivetrain.
The overall shape hasn't changed much between the second- and third-generation models, but the current model features modern-styling features, including a prominent side slash.
The 15-inch alloy wheels look undersized, but no doubt help to reduce weight and aerodynamic drag.
The rounded roof line, sloping bonnet, pushed-forward windscreen base and abruptly cut-off tail contribute greatly to the car's title as the most aerodynamic production car — the co-efficient of drag is now 0.25.
Fog lights are standard on the Prius.
The boot-lip spoiler bisects the rear windscreen in two.
The rear brake and driving lights feature LED lighting.
It looks like a panoramic sunroof, but it isn't. The i-Tech features a tilt-and-slide sunroof for the driver and front passenger, aft of which are a bank of solar panels for the Solar Ventilation System (more of which later).
15-inch alloy wheels are standard, but Toyota mustn't think much of the average Prius driver's parking skills because they're partially clad with a plastic cover. Yummy-looking 17-inch alloy wheels are optional, but they do rule out some features optional on the base Prius.
The i-Tech features LED headlights with washers, although the high beam still uses a halogen bulb.
In Toyota- and Lexus-land blue equals hybrid, so there are blue-tinged badges around the place. The Toyota logos on the Prius look curiously 2D though.
Everyone's got LED mirror indicators nowadays.
The Prius' swoopy dash is made of plant-derived "eco" plastic.
Rearward vision is bisected by the boot-lip spoiler.
The centre console is raised, so all the controls, including the stubby gear lever, fall to hand easily. It helps too that the arm rest is nicely padded. Underneath the console is a carpeted tray and a 12V port.
The boot offers plenty of width, but vertical space is compromised by the sloping roof and rear. A removable sliding luggage cover is standard.
The rear seats split 60/40 and fold almost flat.
With no spare wheel, there's a very convenient storage tray underneath the boot floor.
The stubby gear lever electronically controls the continuously variable transmission. Although we're willing to be convinced about the unique shift pattern, the infernal beeping (for the passengers and driver only, mind you) that happens every time you engage reverse should be given the heave-ho.
A gentle interior down-light shines down on the gear lever at night.
Unless you're carrying the US basketball team, the Prius is comfortable for four to five human beings. Leg space is still good even with the front passenger's seat set all the way back.
Just in case the electric motor's battery pack gets a bit warm, there's an internal vent.
The instrument pack is an electronic affair in the centre of the dash. It's well positioned and easy to read without distracting the driver for too long from the road ahead.
The centre console bin features a flip-up smartphone-sized tray, underneath which is a 12V power port and a 3.5mm auxiliary jack for MP3 players.
The Prius features six airbags, as well as two gloveboxes. Unfortunately, neither box is lockable.
The hybrid drivetrain features two motors: a 1.8-litre petrol engine and an electric motor fed by a dedicated battery pack.
Both the electric and petrol engines power the front wheels and are snuggled up against each at the front of the car. The current model's 1.8-litre engine produces 73kW of power and 142Nm of torque, which is significantly higher than the old model's 1.5-litre unit that could only boast a meagre 57kW and 115Nm.
Together the 1.8-litre and electric engines can deliver a maximum of 100kW of power. Despite significantly bettering the second-gen model's max output of 82kW — not to mention the 60-or-so-kilogram weight gain from the old model — the third-gen Prius drinks less fuel.
In official Australian testing the Prius is rated at 3.9L/100km overall — 3.7L/100km on the highway and 3.9L/100km in the city. We couldn't quite match those figures, averaging 5.4L/100km during our time with the car. Driven aggressively the Prius drank 8.4L/100km; with a green hat on and a light foot we managed 4.5L/100km. During our daily commutes we recorded consumption of around 5.9L/100km, while our best figures (4.45L/100km) were achieved out on the freeway.
The Prius' electric motor is fed by a set of nickel-metal hydride batteries located underneath the boot floor. A tyre re-inflation kit lives where a spare tyre usually goes.
The standard 12V car battery lives in the boot too.
In addition to the standard hybrid mode, the Prius has three selectable driving modes. Eco significantly reduces throttle sensitivity, Power politely tells the Prius' electronic brain to forget its tree-hugging sensibilities and use more of the petrol engine, and EV allows the car to run on the electric motor alone.
There's a medium-res display that can display graphs and meters to help you drive more economically, as well as the Energy Monitor and configuration screens.
With the tilt-and-slide sunroof open, it's easy to see the solar panels that power the Solar Ventilation System that's standard on the i-Tech. When the system is activated, the car's internal flow-through fans bring the Prius' air temperature into line with the outside ambient air temp.
Finger or press any of the controls on the steering wheel's spokes and the Touch Tracer display appears, highlighting the button you're pressing or about to press, in lieu of the temperature and fuel gauges.
Controls on the left spoke control the sound system. All buttons are lit at night.
The Trip and Display buttons can be used to toggle the trip and odometer displays, as well as configure various instrument settings.
The remainder of the buttons allow you to mess around with the climate control air-conditioning system. As there's no climate control display in the instrument pack, when the temperature or recirculation is changed, you have to glance down at the air-con display (down by the gear lever) to check what you've set it to.
Climate control air-conditioning is standard both in the Prius and Prius i-Tech. The latter model also gains a Remote Air-Con button on the keyfob, so you can run the air-con for up to three minutes before entering the car. Alas it only works to cool the car down; you can't set the air-con temp higher than outdoor air temp and use Remote Air-Conditioning.
The i-Tech comes with seat heaters for both driver and the front passenger. Aye cap'n, set bums to scorch now!
The large LCD screen flips down to reveal a four-disc CD stacker, as well as a loading slot for the map DVD.
Bluetooth hands-free works well, but the voice-recognition button (middle) requires pre-recorded voice tags and only five can be assigned to various contacts.
The eight-speaker sound system works, but doesn't shine in any particular facet.
The interface is marred by having too many physical buttons and not having an on-screen main menu for all its functions.
A head-up display is standard on all Aussie Prius models. Viewing angles and display brightness can all be adjusted.
Try as we might, the head-up display was always slightly out of focus in our review vehicle.
The head-up display can show the current speed, upcoming turn or the Eco meter.
All Prius models come with cruise control.
Only the i-Tech model, however, comes with radar guidance for the cruise control. In the above shot you can see that we've set a maximum speed of 70km/h, but as the grille-mounted radar has detected a slow car ahead, our speed has been wound back to 65km/h. Should the car's speed fall below 40km/h, a warning chime will sound and speed control will become solely the driver's domain.
Intelligent Park Assist is standard fitment on i-Tech models.
Simply press the Intelligent Park Assist button and follow the instructions.
Now that the car's seen the same spot as you, shift the car into reverse.
You can fine tune the space you want to park in via the touchscreen display.
Once the parking space has been confirmed, take your hands off the wheel, but keep your foot on the brake to modulate parking speed.
Intelligent Park Assist can also manage 90-degree parking spots. For either parking mode it works best for spots bounded by two cars.
Be prepared to tap the Agree button every time you start the Prius up.