Toyota Prius 2011

Hybrids. Green.

Many many years ago the Diesel engine spent quite a bit of time working its way into every-day motoring. Diesel engines had a terrible perception of being oil burning smoke puffing slow engines. NO wait, they were old burning smoke puffing slow engines.

Today, as a carmaker, if you don’t have a small diesel engine in the European market, your car will fail. Diesel vehicles back then had massive “DIESEL” lettering emblazoned on the cars, making sure everyone knew you were in fact driving a diesel car. (Not like the smoke pouring out the rear wasn’t dead giveaway) The engine has come a long way, and now finds its way into most manufacturers as torquey, efficient and sometimes even performance oriented models.

What has changed radically is that diesel engines are now discreetly integrated into vehicles. Emissions are more controlled so there’s no puff of smoke. The diesel nomenclature has now even changed to sexy itself up – with fun badges like TDI and D4-D. No more massive “DIESEL” lettering or cars that are bogged down and seem to have the diesel disability.

The hybrid suffers nearly the same story, just on different scale. The Hybrid has been positioned as the “Green” car to drive, and the Toyota Prius has been marching front and centre for that cause for quite some time. A genius move by Toyota, being first to market has done more for the brand image for innovation than any other car. The problem now however, is that nearly 10 years on, the need for a hybrid to look like a hybrid isn’t really as “cool” as it once was. Being seen in a Prius stood for so much in California and in the rest of the world, and to some degree still does. However if Hybrid engines are really going to succeed they don’t need to be in a quirky sleek unique package, but rather in the cars people already like and buy.

Lexus has been doing this for quite some time to huge success. Lexus Hybrid models outsell any other vehicle in class in the USA, and to be quite frank, this is the future of the Hybrid. It no longer needs its own car, but rather needs to find a home being sexy in the vehicle line up manufacturers already have. Sadly this is the conclusion I have about the Prius. It’s an amazing vehicle, and has come along leaps and bounds, but I think the overall hybrid package is going to see a longer life if mated to a current model (exactly that is happening soon).

House. Optional

The model I had on test was the 1.8 ECVT Advanced. The Prius comes in 2 specification levels, Advanced being the entry level at R332 700 and the Exclusive which ads some niceties at R378 100. The Advanced has pretty much everything you’d expect at the price so you’re not doing without any niceties…except the seats, which are covered in what I think is suede which just didn’t “sit” right with me. This is of course where the Prius pulls the rabbit out of the hat as most of the interior is made from recycled materials. The interior is an easy place to get comfortable, but is distinctively Hybrid. The facia runs a long slope up to the window with the electronic gauges that sit prominently in the middle. These are easy to read and give quite a bit of information (Drivetrain, different consumption read-outs and 3D holographic style indicators when you push on the steering wheel controls to tell you what button you’ve pressed)

The interior gives off the familiar Toyota quality with some international flair to it. Nothing is exactly “plasticy” because that shit isn’t easy to recycle, so there’s obviously very little of it on the interior. Great!

There is loads of room for passengers in the rear with the boot being a bit more restrictive as it’s a flat load space due to the batteries living in the rear. The only big gripe is the view out the rear with the split rear window, which is rather limited, and the “gear” lever with tacky blue Star-Trek plastic on it, even stood out in the Prius interior.

HSD Dash indicator

So the interior’s distinctively different, and takes some getting used to, but the ergonomics are simple and nothing takes too much brain power to operate. Speaking of power I was pleasantly surprised at the engine. This 3rd generation Prius now features the most powerful engine yet. Toyota increased the engine to improve acceleration and out-of-traffic cruisability as well as improvements to the Hybrid-Synergy-Drive set up. The system switches seamlessly between petrol engine and battery, and offers 3 driving modes that change at the push of a button. ECO-Mode for the more economical driving, subduing inputs to the pedal and is the best of all worlds mix. There’s also POWER mode which gives more shove but obviously sacrifices economy and EV mode which dials out the petrol engine totally. (can only be used at certain speeds, loads and conditions).

Sipping on fuel

I was genuinely surprised at how much shove becomes available when selecting Power mode! It’s no slow poke at all when in Power mode, but this is going to eat on your economy so is kind of counter productive.

The steering and braking take some getting used to. The steering being a little lighter and over-assisted and the braking, as always with a Hybrid, due to the brake regenerative technology, has a lot of grab in a short amount of travel, but these are things you quickly get used to.

Let’s talk efficiencies, which is really what the Prius is about. I returned 5.3l/100km over the 7day test period with my lowest being 3.2l/100km and highest over 10l/100km. That’s genuinely super impressive and I didn’t drive with a feather-foot touch either. I can honestly say that it’s the first time I haven’t actively tried really hard to get a low fuel consumption, but rather found driving in a relaxed manner brought about excellent fuel consumption figures.

Wave Bye Bye

Unfortunately this all said, I think the “Prius” as a car is seeing its final days. It did for Hybrid technology and electrical car innovation what the Chrysler Voyager did for family transport, but its market will only shrink with cars such as the Auris HSD and Lexus CT200h. To me the “coolness” of Hybrids will be in integrating them into existing shapes and model lines rather than creating “Hybrid” models unto themselves. Diesel became cool by fitting them into existing models as the engine developed and progressed.

Would I buy one? Probably not, but it doesn’t compliment my driving style or what I want out of a car. If relaxed driving and fuel economy is on your check-list for car buying, I can recommend the Prius. I don’t think there’s a car on the market, conventional competitors included, that compares on fuel consumption, emissions and interior size.

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Johannesburg International Motorshow ’11 highlights

It’s been quite a while since the last Johannesburg Motor Show, and it’s been well worth the wait! You’d expect the show to improve year on year but the jump in the quality of the show from the last is unbelievable. It truly felt like the “International” motor show the JIMS name holds. If you didn’t get to go, here are some of my highlights from the show

 

Audi Sex

The highlight for me from the guys in Ingolstadt was the Audi E-Tron Concept. The RS3 and A8 Long wheel base were also there but needless to say the long wheel base incarnation of the A8 didn’t exactly make the base of my penis fizz.

Take me to your leader

What did, was the Audi E-tron, which made its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2009, and attempts to take a stab at a high performance battery powered car. It’s claimed the e-tron’s electric motors produce 10 times the lb/ft torque of an Audi R8 4.2. Say what? Audi claims the car will reach 100km/h in 5.9 seconds and up to a 260km/h top speed. Doubtful that’ll all happen at once, and it’s still a concept, but my God it’s beautiful! This truly shows the future of electric vehicles, no longer do they have to shout “I’m driving a hybrid!” but rather, “Hey R8 driver! My car is better looking than yours and drops more panties than Daniel Carter. I do hope they change very little when this car makes it into production. Someone who has done very well when it comes to changing very little on a concept car is the guys from Range Rover.

 

Eeee-Vogue.

Another real show stopper, not because it’s something nobody knows about (if you don’t you’ve been living under a rock) but rather because for many people, including myself, it’s the first time seen in the metal. The Range Rover Evoque (pronounced E-Vogue…like an electric Vogue magazine) The Evogue goes on sale in a few months and 700 South African early adopters have said “I Do” to the Evoque without

RR Evoque Interior. Red. Hot.

seeing it in the flesh or let alone even taking it for a test drive. I can’t remember the last time that’s happened with a car in SA, especially one for Land Rover.  The Evoque looks amazing in the flesh, it’s a beauty, and a lot smaller than I initially thought it would be. Range Rover featured 5 models in different specifications to give a sense of how these cars can be specced out and they look haaawwwt! Underpinned by a Freelander drivetrain the Evoque is still very capable off-road (tyre selection dependant) but no doubt it’ll spend its time in the hands of the hottest car park mommies and BEE boys.

 

Ford Ranger Grille. Bling

Ranger Rear is Massive

Something that will however no doubt make its way onto the dirt roads of South Africa is the new Ranger. You might be frowning wondering why I’ve chosen to feature the Ranger, but this car is Ford’s first global “bakkie”. Ford is investing huge money into their model lines to develop vehicles for their “global” market, instead of having incarnations of model lines in every country (saving costs and so on). The Ranger however was quite a hit at the show, with many two-tone-bellies plowing over from Toyota and Nissan to have a look at this new “bakkie”. The most important changes are to the exterior, which now actually looks pretty damn cool, as well as interior, which, adds many

Ford Ranger Interior. Farmers frown at curved lines

creature comforts and brings it in line with its competitors. Ford has seen the light and states, “ Just because it’s a truck doesn’t mean it has to drive like one”. Truth. The Ranger goes on sale in SA before the end of the year (Nov) in 2.2TDCi, 2.5 Petrol and 3.2Diesel, aimed squarely at the competitor diesel engines. You can guarantee that Toyota, VW and Isuzu are shaking in their space boots.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not a whale, it's a Merc

Speaking of space boots, I must commend Mercedes Benz on what I thought was the best stand of the show. It was by far the most interactive and featured their entire model range, which I must say, is now looking very well aligned, and a lot better than back in 2005. This said the A-Class Concept was the star of the Mercedes Stand (Except of course for the Viano people mover, which Trevor van der Ven nearly wet his pants over) The A-Class concept is a mirror ball view into the design style Merc will bring us in years to come, and I’m not complaining.

A-Class Amaze

Most importantly will be this A-Class model (hopefully very close to the concept in styling) which needed a lot of work to do more to compete against the likes of the 1series and A3. The car is so vastly different from the current Elk-failure that I can’t even draw similarities. It’s quite brash and the grille very “in your face” but the lowered roof line and heavy creasing in the metal goes to show this A-Class is going to be a totally new car for a totally new market. Hashtag Excited.

3 Pointed Stars

 

Toyota FT-86. Smokin'

Another concept we’ve seen floating around the various motor shows for quite some time is something from, wait for it, Toyota! Yes sir, the Toyota FT-86! The FT-86 is a joint model (engine) development with Subaru but Toyota has stolen most of the lime-light with the FT-86 releasing first. This is the first car in quite a while that’s going to deliver on the demand for performance models for the Toyota market in SA, and of course the zooped up tuning shops worldwide. Toyota confirmed that the FT-86 will be coming to South Africa around June next year and we can expect a naturally aspirated four cylinder powering the rear-wheels, which is something we haven’t seen in SA for about a decade. What’s interesting is that Toyota knows their fans will be boosting and pimping the shit out of this vehicle so modifications and maximum strength parts are being used to ensure that the vehicles handles all the mods that will be thrown at it. Truly excited about the FT-86 from Toyota.

 

Overall a fantastic show! I’ve only just mentioned very few of the numerous new models and concepts released at JIMS but if you didn’t get to see the show you’ll no doubt see the full review in your local car magazines, newspapers and TV shows.

 

FJ Cruiser brute