Update: The new generation Prius has just been launched in Australia and we've updated this first take with relevant pricing and specification details.
While Honda has targeted affordability with its new Insight, Toyota focussed its energies on delivering improved fuel economy and oodles of new tech. Despite the company fitting the car with a larger 1.8-litre engine and upping the power output from the hybrid drivetrain to 100kW, the new Prius has achieved a fuel economy rating of 3.9L/100km in official testing — 3.7L/100km on the highway, 3.9L/100km in the city. By way of comparison the new Insight has achieved a combined rating of 5.9L/100km in the US.
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To aid fuel efficiency in the real world, Toyota has moved the Energy Monitor — the large graphic that displays whether you're running on petrol or electric power or recharging the batteries — from the large sat-nav/radio LCD to the instrument-cum-information strip along the top of the dashboard. Various bar graphs showing current and past fuel economy can also be displayed along this strip although, at first glance, none of these seem to be as earth-shakingly intuitive as Honda's speedometer, which turns from blue to green the more efficiently you drive.
There's also three manually selectable driving modes: EV which allows the Prius to be driven up to 50km/h on battery power alone, Eco which reduces accelerator responsiveness and makes the air-con more parsimonious, and Power that sharpens throttle response.
Standard on all Prius models is Bluetooth hands-free, an auxiliary jack for MP3 players and a new Touch Tracer system that highlights the stereo-wheel mounted controls in the instrument panel whenever you touch or press those buttons.
To get the cutting edge tech goodies, as well as some old favourites, you'll have to stump up for the i-Tech model (AU$53,500), which includes LED headlights, radar cruise control, climate control air-conditioning, and seats and trim covered in dead cow. Also part of the i-Tech package is a roof-mounted solar panel array that powers the air-con when the car is parked; Toyota reasons that if the car is nice and cool when you set off on your trek, the petrol engine will spend less time powering the air-con when you're on the move.
A reversing camera and sat nav system — a DVD-based system still, alas — is included in the i-Tech spec, but is also available as a AU$5000 option pack on the base model.
In Australia, unlike some overseas markets, like the US and Japan, the new Prius is more expensive than the outgoing model — the base and i-Tech models are up AU$2500 and AU$6600 respectively. Toyota counters that if you take features into account, the value has improved. Nonetheless, we can't wait to test out all of the Prius' funky new tech, as well as — dare we say it? — go on an economy run.