Two cents… What does 2c get you these days? Not even a 2c coin, that’s what. It’s also the difference in cost per kilometre (based purely on the current price of fuel, and fuel economy) between the Toyota Prius and Volkswagen Jetta 1,6 TDI Comfortline DSG. In other words, the difference is next to nothing.
This is a driving impression of the revised Toyota Prius – and I’ll get to that soon – but to understand the Prius’s appeal, one must first get past a few preconceived ideas. The first and most important of those is that you’re going to be saving money if you buy a Prius.
Does it stretch your wallet?
Back to that Jetta. Priced at R274 000, it is nearly R100 000 cheaper than the Prius. It is more-or-less similarly sized (has a larger boot, actually) and has similar performance/economy. However, you’re going to have to spend extra to get it to a similar specification level, as the Prius is extremely generous in that regard. Add items such as leather, Bluetooth, sunroof, Climatronic, park-distance control and a 6-disc CD changer (amongst others) and your Jetta will set you back around R315 000. This excludes the ridiculously priced VW navigation system (R28 860) and items that are standard on the Prius that you can’t get on the Jetta even as options.
I exclude the navigation for two reasons. Firstly, you can get a much cheaper portable navigation system from a variety of suppliers. And secondly, that portable navigation system is likely to be far more accurate than the standard one in the Prius – I drove the revised Toyota in Johannesburg last week and it struggled to find anything. O.R. Tambo is still listed as Johannesburg International, and the new-ish office complexes and hotels I visited did not appear to exist within the Prius’s brain, either. So perhaps it needs to be updated. Of course, there is a possibility that I was simply incapable of operating it, which I think means it is too difficult to operate, seeing as I can manage any other navigation system…
So let’s take the difference in purchase price as being around R57 000. Take the current price of diesel at the Reef (R11,03 for 50 p.p.m.), and R57 000 will buy you 5 168 litres of fuel, which combined with the Jetta’s fuel index figure of 5,64 L/100 km (17,73 km/Litre) will be enough to keep your Jetta going for 91 623 km… before you’ve even turned a wheel in the Prius.
But even after you’ve used the difference in purchase price to pay for diesel for the Jetta and you’ve reached “price parity”, the Prius still isn’t necessarily a massive cost saver. Our Fuel Index figure for the Toyota is 4,9 L/100 km and if you can achieve that (easier said than done), this translates to it currently being 2 cents cheaper per kilometre using a price of R12,22 per litre of 95 Unleaded at the Reef, than the Jetta (5,64 L/100 km Fuel Index, and R11,03 per litre of 50 p.p.m. diesel at the Reef).
Using these figures, you’ll have to travel for – wait for it – 2,85 million kilometres before the Prius repays its more expensive purchasing price (compared with the Jetta). My calculations obviously exclude things such as parts, servicing (both have a 5-years/90 000 km service plan), insurance and changes in the price of petrol/diesel… and being bad at mathematics.
So why buy it?
As much as members of the public (and petrolheads in particular) like to poke fun at the Prius, this car’s appeal actually has much to do with its image. It was there at the genesis of the “green” car and no other hybrid is as well-known in the public domain as Toyota’s hybrid. Buy a Prius, and people will immediately see you as someone who cares about environmental issues – which in terms of CO2 emissions is true, seeing as the Prius emits only 94 g/km of the evil stuff.
There is also no other car at the price that combines the Prius’s green credentials with such a spacious/comfortable and features-packed cabin. So while it is true that you can buy a Honda Insight for much less, it lacks the Prius’s specification, performance, economy and, crucially, refinement. It is also true you can buy the same drivetrain in Toyota’s Auris HSD for much less (around R100 000), but once again you get less spec and, let’s be honest, you loose out on eco-warrior “visibility” as well. In the end, then, you are partly paying for green status when you purchase a Prius. Is that worth around R60 000 to you? That’s the question… Looking at local sales figues, “yes” is however not regularly the answer in South Africa.
The Prius was recently upgraded and the line-up rationalized. Only one model is on offer at present, the full-house Exclusive at R370 000. Look carefully and you’ll spot a revised front bumper and bigger lower airdam, as well as LED daytime running lights and revised tail lamps. The revised bumpers make it 20 mm longer but otherwise it remains the same as before on the outside – save for the fitment of a solar roof panel that powers the climate control system, and which cools the car while parked (a nifty feature). The wheels are skinny 15-inch items, featuring steel rims with plastic wheel covers. Overall, it’s neither offensive nor desirable in terms of design, but I can’t help but wonder how much of the fun-poking would disappear if it looked like, for example, Kia’s new Optima.
Inside, the change to darker trim material gives the Prius a more upmarket, sophisticated look. There has been other detail changes too – for example the cup holder in the centre console box can now be accessed without having to open the box. It remains a spacious, comfortable and feature-packed cabin. The centre-of-attention remains the touch-screen infotainment system which incorporates satellite navigation, audio, Bluetooth etc., and even voice recognition for certain functions (music search, phone contacts search etc.). The car also comes standard with a park assist system that can do partly automated parallel and alley-docking parking maneuvers. In terms of standard specification it really lacks nothing, which goes some way to further justifying the heady price.
On the road
I spent much of my time in Johannesburg doing what the typical Prius driver would do – urban and highway driving. The Prius is certainly comfortable, with good ride quality and surprisingly well-weighted steering. Subjectively, it also felt a fair bit livelier than rental cars of similar size I’ve driven before at the Reef. The 1,8-litre Atkinson cycle four-cylinder petrol engine/electric motor drivetrain remains unchanged, with a combined output of 100 kW. The big pluspoint of this kind of drivetrain is that the torque that comes from the electric motor is available at zero r/min.
The only major negative regarding the drivetrain remains the drone that comes as a result of the continuously-variable transmission (CVT), but drive gently and the Prius will be refined enough for its target market. It remains deeply satisfying to move around parking areas on electricity alone, at least partly because sneaking up on parking attendants in absolute silence can be very entertaining.
Yes, the Prius is not quite as economical in real-world conditions as it is made out to be, and yes its purchase price is high. The combination of those two factors means that as a money-saver it doesn’t really make sense… unless you’re buying down. And therein lies the secret. If you are stepping out of a larger, luxurious and thirstier vehicle, and want to be seen as making an effort to save the planet, but not sacrifice the space and features you’ve become used to, the Prius remains without equal. Just make sure you buy it for the right reasons to avoid disappointment.
Model: Toyota Prius 1,8 CVT Exclusive
Engine: 1,8-litre petrol/synchronous permanent magnet electric motor
Power: 73 kW (engine), 60 kW (electric motor), 100 kW combined
Torque: 142 N.m (engine), 207 N.m (electric motor)
0 to 100 km/h: 11,94 sec
Top speed: 180 km/h
Fuel consumption: 4,9 L/100 km (calculated CAR Fuel Index)
CO2: 94 g/km
Price: R370 000