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Welcome arrow Articles arrow Car Reviews arrow Toyota Prius ? The Green Machine
Toyota Prius ? The Green Machine PDF Print E-mail

The original Toyota Prius hybrid was originally launched in Japan in 1997.  It was initially greeted with mild curiosity and predictions of its early demise.  Since then it has gone on to become the world’s best-selling hybrid motor car with over 450,000 delivered globally.  When the Prius was first introduced, Toyota claimed the car achieved a fuel efficiency of 35km/l, or more than twice that of a comparable Toyota Corolla, on which the original Prius was based.  This, though, was a carefully controlled test cycle and in reality – certainly in Hong Kong – it is unlikely to be quite as economical.

The Prius was launched in Europe and North America in 2000, and in 2003 a second-generation model appeared with a newly developed Hybrid Synergy System.  It won the prestigious European Car of the Year award in 2005 as well as receiving various nominations for its low carbon dioxide output.

The latest 2006 Prius is a completely new model, with a revised exterior design, including a redesigned front grille and a new front spoiler.  Restyled headlamps now blend into the bodywork, while at the rear the tail lamps have received an update.

The interior is little changed although subtle refinements give the Prius a greater feeling of luxury over many of its small Toyota cousins, such as the Corolla.  There is however more room in the back now, with a slightly wider seat and increased headroom.

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Toyota Prius

There is a four-spoke leather steering wheel which adds to the feeling of luxury, as does leather upholstery.  A total of eight airbags, including dual front airbags, side bags and full-length air curtains, give a feeling of security.

The level of equipment in the Prius is impressive, with many additional features fitted as standard.  Auto turn-off headlamps, front and rear intermittent wipers, a press-button start system on the dash, automatic climate control with air filtration, an electronically tuned radio with in-dash CD player and six speakers: these are just some of the many features to be found in the 2006 Prius.

The hybrid system consists of a 1.5 litre, 16-valve petrol engine, mated to a synchronous alternating current electric motor, featuring permanent magnets.  In turn this is driven by a sealed nickel-metal hydride battery.  The combination of the two drive systems lowers C0² emissions by as much as 55 per cent over other vehicles, while its NOx (oxides of nitrogen) emissions are about half those of cars in the same class equipped with emission control devices (catalytic converters).  The two power sources combine on acceleration to produce a benchmark 0-100 km/h sprint time of 10.9 seconds, which, claims Toyota, is equivalent to a conventional car with a two litre engine.

Less desirable is a centre-mounted screen which advises you what the hybrid system is doing: charging the battery under braking, whether both motors are operating when accelerating, and which is being used on light throttle.  Fortunately this can be turned off as it is a considerable distraction in traffic or when negotiating difficult roads.

Power outputs are hard to quantify as both motors are not necessarily operating at any one time, but their combined output is 113 PS (82 kW), with a maximum combined torque figure of 478 Nm, which is mainly due to the strong torque generated by the electric motor.

To harness all this output, the Prius has ventilated front discs (with the regenerative braking system), solid rear discs, electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist and vehicle stability control (VSC).  Brake assist is a clever system that detects emergency braking and automatically increases brake line pressure in conjunction with the ABS.  Tests have proved that most drivers do not brake hard enough in a potentially hazardous situation.

Other safety features include 3-point seat belts for all occupants, with belt pre-tensioners and force limiters added to the front seat belts, and an ISOFIX child restraint system.

On the road the Prius is surprisingly lively, but it is also extremely quiet.  When coming to a rest the engine automatically cuts out, restarting again when the accelerator is pressed.  This further improves the economy and low emission aspects of the hybrid system.  The first-generation model suffered with this set-up as the air conditioning also cut out when the car came to a stop – not ideal in high humidity Hong Kong.  This fault has now been rectified and the A/C runs happily on battery power for the limited time the engine is not engaged.

The Prius may not be the only answer to global warming (see side panel) but as far as Hong Kong is concerned it is certainly a welcome start.  It may not solve all our problems, but at least Prius buyers know they are making a small contribution to preserving our environment.

William Tsui, managing director of franchised Toyota distributor, Crown Motors Limited, is justifiably pleased with Toyota’s environmentally-friendly product:  “We are extremely proud to introduce the first hybrid to Hong Kong and the new 2006 model is, I believe, the best petrol-electric model available.  While it is possible our competitors may introduce rival hybrids in time, for now Toyota leads the field.”

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Toyota Prius

While the Prius sold in Hong Kong is produced in Japan, Sichuan FAW Toyota Motor Co., Limited, a joint venture between Toyota and the China FAW Group, will produce the Prius in Changchun City exclusively for the Chinese market.

The 2006 Prius, from Crown Motors, starts at $235,665, with 250-300 expected to be delivered in Hong Kong this year.  Said a Crown Motors’ spokesman: “People in Hong Kong are becoming more and more aware of the environment; they are also concerned about fuel economy.  The Prius answers these concerns.”

 
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© 2018 Jeff Heselwood. All rights reserved.
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