A Prius look into the future

IS THE Toyota Prius Hybrid a novelty in the motoring world or is it really the future as its developers claim?

IS THE Toyota Prius Hybrid a novelty in the motoring world or is it really the future as its developers claim?

Well, if you ask the Japanese it's definitely the latter as in their country it is the largest selling vehicle on the market and has just been voted Car of the Year for the second time in the last decade.

The Prius is now into its third generation and the technology that goes into this vehicle is amazing.

I'll try and simplify things. What you basically have under the bonnet is a 1,8-litre petrol engine that is supplemented by an electric motor.

Here's how it works.

When the vehicle is idling or travelling at slow speeds it is powered by the electric motor.

As you gather speed the petrol engine takes over and the vehicle is powered just like any other.

The advantage is that when the electric motor is in operation the car is neither using petrol or emitting harmful emissions.

There are three driving modes. First up you have "PWR Mode". If you select this driving style, the car has more power and higher torque. For want of a better expression it's like a "sports mode".

Second option is "ECO Mode". This will give you optimal savings in terms of fuel and emissions and is ideal for your everyday driving around town. The power is less but still more than ample for urban driving.

Lastly, you have "EV". This is the more technologically advanced side of the vehicle and where the future lies. But how practical is it?

In this mode the car is powered completely by the battery and so uses no fuel at all.

The downside is that you can only travel up to 2km in distance and your speed is restricted to 40km/h. How practical that is I question.

What I can confirm, though, is that the Toyota Prius is the most economical car - in terms of petrol used - that I have ever tested.

The manufacturers claim in the region of 3,9 to 4,1 litres per 100km but in round-town driving I managed 4,8 litres per 100km, which is still mighty impressive.

The Prius comes with an extensive range of features.

On the safety side you have front, side, driver and curtain air bags; emergency brake system; ABS brakes; traction control; and a head-up display which shows you information at eye-level while driving.

Combine the above and you quickly understand why it has received a 5-star safety rating with Euro NCAP.

At a price of R378100 you expect some luxury features, and with the Prius you get them.

It has "smart entry", which means you don't have to have the key in your hand to unlock the vehicle.

The smart entry senses the key in your pocket and unlocks the car when you touch the handle.

This is what I found particularly handy with hands full of packets from the supermarket.

Instead of searching around for the key the car automatically unlocks.

It also comes with push button start system; park assist, which helps when reversing; climate control air conditioning; and an eight-speaker sound system.

The engine itself produces 73kW and has a top speed of 180km/h and goes from 0-100km/h in 10,4 seconds.

Although an automatic it doesn't have the standard gearbox where you select the driving mode but a switch for drive, reverse, park and neutral.

To conclude, the Prius is an amazingly fuel-efficient vehicle that has a wide range of goodies to keep even the most fussy of motorist smiling. Mind you, at the price, so it should.