The Straits Times Car of the Year 2016

Engaging and economical

The Toyota Prius 1.8 offers a smooth drive and instant throttle response.
The Toyota Prius 1.8 offers a smooth drive and instant throttle response.PHOTO: ST FILE

Toyota's Prius is known for being fuel-efficient and carbon-lite. It is also known to be as entertaining as a piano with missing keys.

The latest version changes the second perception. For one thing, there is no longer any hint of engine-motor interface.

The two power sources work as if they were one. Toyota has been improving this seamlessness over the last two decades and it looks like it has perfected it.

The result is a smoother drive and instant throttle response.

Braking, which tends to be vague and stodgy at the pedal on most hybrids (because of power recuperation), feels natural and easily modulated in the latest Prius.

  • SPECS / TOYOTA PRIUS 1.8

  • Price: $136, 888 with COE

    Engine: 1,798cc 16-valve inline-4 with motor assist

    Transmission: Continuously variable transmission

    Power: 120bhp at 5,200rpm

    Torque: 142Nm at 3,600rpm

    0-100kmh: 10 seconds (estimated)

    Top speed: 180kmh

    Fuel consumption: 3.7 litres/ 100km

    Agent: Borneo Motors

The other pleasant surprise is how well the car's continuously variable transmission (CVT) works with the engine and motor. No matter how heavy your right foot is, the petrol-electric Toyota moves with alacrity, betraying none of the rubbery whine associated with CTVs.

The Prius is supported by a comfort-biased suspension system, which is always a good thing on the increasingly lumpy tarmac here. Despite that, the car is supremely confident and sure-footed when going around corners.

You might not have had the inclination to drive a Japanese hybrid with fervour before, but this is a delight whenever you are in a sporty frame of mind. Even if its power output is modest in today's context, the car never feels reluctant - whether you are leaving the junction or overtaking another vehicle.

The new Prius' chassis feels taut and well-sorted. Yet, unlike the typical heavy-set Europeans, the car also feels light and breezy.

In short, the car rewrites the conventional recipe for sportiness and is a joy at the wheel.

Lastly, it is almost as frugal as advertised.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2016, with the headline 'Engaging and economical'. Print Edition | Subscribe