Toyota Prius Hybrid [XW50] (2019 - 2022) used car review

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

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Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

By Jonathan Crouch

Introduction

Toyota's Prius remains the most recognisable hybrid vehicle on our roads - and took a big step forward in this fourth generation guise, first launched in 2015. This MK4 model introduced a sleeker, more striking shape made possible by a stiffer, more sophisticated platform that helps to substantially improve the handling. The hybrid powertrain was clever too, hence a set of efficiency returns that established this car's superiority over comparably-priced diesel rivals. But the electrified vehicle marketplace was evolving in this period and the Prius had to continue to adapt. So in mid-2019, this 'XW50'-series design was enhanced with a general wash 'n brush-up and the novel option of AWD. That's the car we're going to look at here as a used buy.

Models

5 door hatch (1.8 Hybrid - petrol) [Active, Business Edition, Business Edition Plus, Excel]

History

Toyota's Prius was a car that in its first two decades of life re-shaped the global automotive landscape, bringing hybrid technology into the mainstream market, while focusing the motor industry's attention on the way its products could be cleaner and more efficient. The Prius did all that and in this rejuvenated MK4 model guise launched back in 2015, aimed to continue to set those standards, building upon quite a heritage of ingenuity. Here we're going to look at the lightly revised version of this fourth generation model, an update introduced in mid-2019.

But first a bit of Prius history is needed for us to be able to put the importance of this model into some sort of context for you. To understand that, we need to turn the clock back to 1994 and a year in which the Toyota Motor Corporation made a decision aimed at fundamentally changing the way the world would drive. Engines, until that point exclusively fuel-based, could, the company decided, be developed in future to run with a combination of fuel and battery power. This so-called 'hybrid' solution would double efficiency, slash harmful emissions and create a whole new class of car. So was born the Prius, the world's very first mass-produced hybrid-powered vehicle, a model true to the Latin roots of its name in being very much 'ahead of its time'.

So familiar are we with hybrids today that it's easy to forget how ground-breaking this technology was two decades ago. It certainly took Toyota a while to get it right, early prototypes catching fire, failing to start or merely silently expiring after just a few miles of use. But Chief Engineer Takeshi Uchiyamada and his 'G-21' development team persevered and by early 1997, the very first 'XW10'-series Prius model was ready for launch, a dumpy rather awkward-looking saloon that suited the Japanese market but rather puzzled everyone else. It was refined into 'XW11'-series form for overseas markets and global sales began in 2000. Toyota lost money on every one sold - but they weren't put off. The world would have a hybrid: it was simply a matter of time. And public perception - which began to change when movie stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and Harrison Ford all became Prius people. Drive this car and it was clear to all that you cared about your world and its future, a statement that, as it turned out, a lot of people wanted to make.

So many in fact that suddenly, what had begun as something GM's Vice Chairman described as 'an interesting curiosity' became a 'must-have' eco-fashion accessory, especially when a larger, more stylish second generation 'XW20'-series hatchback version was introduced in 2003 with significant gains in power and efficiency. 'You look smart: you should drive a Prius' the advertising told us - and very soon, millions were doing just that, the model's mass-market success sealed with the launch of a third generation 'XW30'-series version in 2009 that used a more efficient hybrid system and switched from 1.5 to pokier 1.8-litre petrol power, yet was still cleaner and more frugal. It formed the basis for an MPV version launched in 2012, the Prius+. By now, Toyota was ready to roll out hybrid technology across all its mainstream products - and share it with its Lexus luxury brand. As a result, by the end of 2015, the corporation had sold over eight million hybrids, 3.5 million of them Prius models.

A success story then - to a point. For all its notoriety, the Prius remained a niche market choice in its first three generations of life. A great option if you wanted to demonstrate your concern for the Polar Ice Cap, but too compromised in handling and practicality to interest most mainstream family hatch folk. The suspension lurched through the corners. The CVT auto you had to have was thrashy. And the batteries took up boot space. What kind of car would this Toyota be if these things were sorted and the Prius brought up to date with a younger, more dynamic image, we wondered? Could it be made efficient enough to out-class a fresh generation of eco-minded diesel rivals? And would Toyota match its environmental credentials with an equally impressive showing in the fields of safety and connectivity?

At its UK launch in the early Spring of 2016, the fourth generation 'XW50'-series Prius answered many of these questions, but it found itself operating in a very different market to its predecessors. In the years following, virtually every manufacturer introduced some kind of engine electrification - it was no longer any kind of novelty. And of course the other thing that happened after 2016 was that this car had to deal with its first really direct competitor, Hyundai's IONIQ hybrid, which had a more sophisticated automatic gearbox and could undercut this Prius in price. When that IONIQ model was updated in the Summer of 2019, Toyota decided it was time to fight back, introducing the lightly updated version of the MK4 model we're going to look at here. It was slightly smarter to look at and the cabin was carefully upgraded but the main change lay with the option - for the first time of this kind of car - of AWD for the few that wanted it. Otherwise, things were much as before and there was still the option of a pricier Plug-in version at the top of the range. Here though, we're concentrating on the standard 'self-charging' hybrid model that most will want. It sold in this updated MK4 form until late-2022.

What You Get

The appearance of a Prius must not only be instantly recognisable but also aggressively futuristic. That is, after all, the whole point of it. Were you to want this technology packaged more conventionally, you'd be looking at one of Toyota's more ordinary models - maybe a Yaris, a Corolla or a RAV4. Here, in contrast, is the poster child of the eco revolution, complete in MK4 form with its familiar styling cues - the trademark arching roofline, the slab sides and the double rear screen. Yet somehow, with this XW50-series design, the Prius visual formula was reinterpreted, the concept behind this car reinvented for the modern era by a team of young Japanese designers who set out to make it look more powerful, engaging and sporty.

Nothing really changed at the wheel with the revised version of this fourth generation model, apart from a few minor trim enhancements - piano black dash trimming, smarter seat upholstery, that sort of thing. As usual in a Prius, there are no conventional dials to view through the three-spoke steering wheel: instead, the instrument cluster retains its position top and centre on the dash, in this case made up of a couple of 4.2-inch TFT colour screens. The main display closest to you incorporates a digital speed and driving mode read-outs, while to the left of it, a further 'Multi-Information Display' gives you information about the hybrid system and eco driving guidance, along with a range of other driving info. Anything this can't tell you will probably be dealt with by the 'Toyota Touch 2' media screen that sits a little further down on the centre stack, which gained an upgraded DAB audio system as part of the model update and further up the range could be equipped with navigation, a range of useful media features and even Wi-Fi connectivity. The curious, stubby blue auto gear lever falls neatly to hand, but its light, friction-less action is rather at odds with the effort required to operate the ratcheting foot-pumped parking brake. The lower bonnet and the deeper windscreen mean that forward visibility is OK. Unfortunately though, the split rear screen still compromises your view out back, so the standard rear view camera is a welcome feature.

Leg room in the rear is generous and, thanks to the low central transmission tunnel, it's easier to seat three folk than would normally be the case in this size of car. Useful practicalities include provision of a 12v socket and, as well as the usual seatback pockets, on the left you get a neat zippered pouch too. There are coat hooks in the overhead grab handles, small bottle holders in the doors and you get a couple of cup holders in this fold-down centre armrest.

Finally, let's consider the boot. With the first three generations of Prius models, the batteries took up cargo room. Not with this MK4 version. They were specifically designed in this case to be more compact and this, along this XW50 version's well-packaged rear suspension and particularly compact hybrid system, meant that boot capacity could be surprisingly spacious for an electrified family hatch, rated at 502-litres, 343-litres of it below the window line. For reference, the pre-2016 MK3 Prius had 56-litres less than that, so packaging progress was clearly made. And this figure certainly looks better than the 443-litre capacity of a rival Hyundai IONIQ hybrid sold in this period.

There are a few spacial caveats to bear in mind though. On base-spec models with the smaller 15-inch wheel rims, Toyota supplied the space-saver spare wheel that you don't get with variants that feature the larger 17-inch wheels.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

Toyota had sorted out most persistent Prius faults by the time this MK4 version was launched, so not much goes wrong; we certainly haven't come across any reported issues with the Hybrid Synergy Drive system. There have been reports that the windscreen cracks easily; that's about it. As usual with a family hatch, check for things like interior child damage and scratched alloy wheels. Rear dents and scratches may have been caused through this design's somewhat restricted rear vision. Check the paperwork to ensure that your Prius hasn't been used as a taxi - though this car can cope with large mileages. The hybrid system's batteries tend to be durable, easily lasting 10 years or so and going for 200,000 miles. Signs of a weak battery include the petrol engine running constantly or a car that struggles to get above 40mpg on the instant fuel economy readout. Look out for this on the test drive and, as usual, prioritise models featuring a fully stamped-up service record.

Replacement Parts

(approx - based on a 2018 Prius Hybrid ex VAT) An air filter is priced in the £7 bracket. An oil filter costs in the £4 to £5 bracket. On to brakes. A set of front brake pads tend to retail in the £22 to £32 bracket; think around £20 for rears. A front brake disc is around £68-£75; think in the £52-£93 bracket for rears. A set of wiper blades are about £39. Rear shock absorbers are in the £72 bracket - fronts are in the £75 bracket. A headlamp will cost in the £332-£415 bracket; and a front fog lamp in the £193 bracket.

On the Road

This revised version of the MK4 Prius model didn't feature any engineering enhancements, but Toyota did embellish this self-charging hybrid's appeal by adding in the option of AWD. We'll get to that, but first we'll need to brief you on the way this fourth generation 'XW50'-series design dynamically advanced this model line quite a lot, thanks to the extra stiffness and lower centre of gravity made possible by the adoption of the brand's 'TNGA' 'Toyota New Global Architecture' platform. The surprisingly accurate feel and feedback of this MK4 model's electric steering system also helps here, as does the redesigned double-wishbone rear suspension layout that's far better than the previous damping set-up at soaking up impacts from our country's terrible tarmac.

As with the pre-2016-era MK3 Prius, the hybrid synergy drive system allows very limited all-electric progress at speeds of up to 31mph (which you can insist upon by pressing a provided 'EV' button). But most of the time, you'll leave the hybrid set-up in its automatic comfort zone, where engine and battery power cut in and out with seamless synchronicity. As part of this, during deceleration and under braking, the engine switches off and both electric motors act as high-output generators, recovering kinetic energy that automatically recharges the batteries for the next time the hybrid system is able to switch back to electric-only mode. You can increase the effectiveness of the regeneration process by flicking the gear lever from 'D' into a provided 'B' setting.

The Prius hybrid powertrain was first mated to a 1.8-litre petrol powertrain back in 2009, but this particular VVT-i unit was very different to that used in the pre-2016 MK3 model and works in partnership with a more responsive CVT auto gearbox. For this MK4 model, the hybrid technology used a more effective battery and a clever heat recovery system which combined to enable the electric motor to cut in 60% more frequently than it had with the previous pre-2016-era MK3 model. That was a major factor in the creation of impressive WLTP efficiency stats that claim a front-driven version of this car to be capable of up to 68.3mpg on the combined cycle and up to 94g/km of CO2 - that's assuming the car is running on the smaller 15-inch alloy wheels. To get anywhere near to that kind of return of course, you've got to embrace a very environmentally-minded style of driving, activating the provided 'ECO' mode and keeping an eye on the vast array of electronic read-outs provided to discourage any unnecessary flexing of the right foot. It's the Prius way though - and the pay-off comes at the pumps. We'll finish with a mention for the optional AWD-i set-up - though few buyers wanted it. This E-Four set-up automatically engages to provide additional drive to the rear wheels in slippery conditions, transferring torque to the rear axle when sensors detect a loss of grip.

Overall

Toyota's Prius makes real world sense in this updated MK4 form. A car you could justify buying, even if you're not trying to make some kind of environmental statement. True, it isn't cheap but it's decent value for what you get, especially if you compare against comparably-specified high-efficiency diesel rivals featuring engine technology that by comparison, dates back to the Ark.

With enhanced driving dynamics, a roomier cabin and more user-friendly design, this fourth generation version dealt with many of the drawbacks which used to be part and parcel of Prius ownership. And this lightly revised version added a bit of welcome extra tinsel to what was a fundamentally very strong package. As a result, Toyota created a model that remains difficult to ignore in the gloomy times we live in. A Prius for the people then? That's about the size of it. Toyota's hybrid revolution continues to gather pace.

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