We’re a few days in to our time with the smart blue Prius that we’re test driving, and we’ve already put a variety of drivers behind the wheel and passengers in the seats surrounding them. I’m yet to get hold of the keys, but while I’m looking forward to my turn I’m not too jealous – I recently had my chance to drive the car, and something even more special.
Last Tuesday, in what was without doubt the highlight of last week’s rush of activity, me and film-maker Jo made a 400-mile round trip to the East Midlands. The trip itself – coming a couple of days before our Prius arrived – was unremarkable, but as our hire car rocked up at a private race track north of Loughborough it was clear our journey had been worthwhile: there, parked up and gleaming in the bright afternoon sun, was the first next-generation Prius in the country.
It was only a couple of days earlier that we’d first heard rumour we might get a chance to see the car at a private event. We weren’t sure if it would happen, and if it did we certainly weren’t sure we’d be invited, but as it turned out we got to see three strictly pre-production, left-hand drive cars, and even to take photos and video.
Seeing the new car parked up next to the current Prius gave us a great chance to see how Toyota’s designers have moved things on. In photos, the cars’ similar shape – designed to slip through the air as easily as possible – suggests that the styling has changed little, but in the flesh the differences are pronounced. The new car is sharper, more muscular, and it gains presence from styling details like the crease running along its flank and ‘aerocorners’ ahead of the front wheels, which help to push the airflow away from the wheel arch to reduce turbulence and drag.
It’s clear, too, how the new shape starts to taper further back along the car’s length, giving rear seat passengers more headroom. Inside, it feels massive – with a surprising amount of legroom for passengers in the light and airy back. Despite some pre-production finish on the inside of the car we saw, the sweeping dual-zone interior surrounding the driver and front passenger feels like it would be a good place to spend some quality time.
And then, we got taken for a drive.
Much as I was hoping we’d get behind the wheel, our first experience of the new car on the move came as test driver Rob eased us onto the circuit under purely electric power – the Prius immediately proving even quieter than the current car. As we carried on round the circuit, we only realised the new car’s bigger engine had cut in when Rob powered through a bend with enough gusto to send poor Jo – trying to film from the back seat – flying.
As he built up speed, Rob talked us through the car’s controls and pointed out how, even on the racetrack, there were plenty of points where its Hybrid Synergy Drive was saving fuel by recovering energy as we braked or backed off the throttle. All very interesting, but, er, could we have a go?