Toyota Prius i-Tech (2009 ZVW30)

Thrifty and spacious, the Prius is the most refined hybrid we've driven thus far. Despite its impressive tech swag, including the ability to park itself, the i-Tech doesn't come cheap.


8.4
CNET Rating
9.5
User Rating

About The Author

CNET Editor

Derek loves nothing more than punching a remote location into a GPS, queuing up some music and heading out on a long drive, so it's a good thing he's in charge of CNET Australia's Car Tech channel.


Exterior design

In terms of its overall shape, the second- and third-generation Priuses are much of a muchness. Where the differences lie are in the details, with the third-gen model featuring sculpted sides and more expressive features, like the stretched and slashed headlights.

Despite covering a similar footprint to the Corolla, the Prius looks and feels much bigger. That's because the base of the windshield is pushed as far forward as possible, with the windscreen angled steeply. Coupled with a sloping bonnet, the Prius can be tricky to place, with plenty of guesswork required, and the abruptly cut off rear features a boot-lip spoiler that bisects rearward vision.

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Click through for an in-depth look at the Prius.
(Credit: Derek Fung/CNET Australia)

Not only do the standard-fit 15-inch alloys look curiously undersized in this day and age, but Toyota has oddly fitted them with partial plastic covers too. However, all these details, not to mention extensive time in a wind tunnel, make the current Prius the world's most aerodynamic production car — an important piece in the car's economy play.

Our review vehicle, a top of the range i-Tech model fitted with all the kit, features a slightly bugged-eyed look thanks to its LED headlights. Not only do they draw less energy than convention lights, they, like xenon headlights, emit a very bright light with a slight bluish tinge. Headlight washers are standard with the LED headlights, but alas they don't turn with the car's steering. LEDs are also used for the rear brake lights and mirror-mounted indicators.

Interior design

In keeping with its drivetrain, the Prius' interior is suitably futuristic. The dashboard plastics are made from plant-derived "eco" plastic, which although hard is very nicely textured and feels suitably durable. The centre console armrest is plush and all the controls, including the shift-by-wire gear lever, fall to hand easily. The Prius' instruments are an all digital affair conveniently situated in the centre of the dash and at the base of the windscreen, a quick glance away from the road in front.

Beyond the basic instruments, the instrument binnacle also contains a low-res screen that can display either a revised Energy Monitor (with an unfeasibly sexy-looking Prius) that informs you of where your power is coming from or going to, as well as various graphs and meters to help you extract maximum efficiency from the car. On the spokes of the tilt-and-telescope steering wheel contain Touch Tracer controls for the sound, information and air-con systems. Whenever you finger or press one of these buttons, a graphical overlay highlighting what you're about to press replaces the standard temperature and fuel gauges.

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Click through for an in-depth look at the Prius' interior.
(Credit: Derek Fung/CNET Australia)

While the Prius' shape makes outward vision problematic, it does endow the cabin with plenty of light and good space utilisation. Although tall folk may want to avoid sitting behind one another, they shouldn't have any complaints about front seat accommodation. The split-fold rear seats don't lie completely flat, but it does expand the already lengthy boot. And with the hefty spare tyre junked in favour of a re-inflation kit, there's a handy under-floor storage compartment as well.

Storage spaces abound around the cabin as well, with a carpeted tray underneath the centre console (perfect for keys, phones and wallets), a large centre console bin with a handy smartphone-sized tray and a dual-glovebox (although we do wish that one or both had locks). All up there are six cupholders in the Prius, so those who like to drink (coffee) and drive are well catered for.

Features

All Australian Priuses come fitted with two 12V power outlets for accessories (one underneath the floating dash and one in the centre console bin, right next to the auxiliary jack for MP3 players). Also standard is a single zone climate control air-conditioning system, six airbags, traction and stability control, keyless entry with push-button start, a rear-view mirror that dims itself automatically at night, and automatic headlights and window wipers. Presumably to save weight, all the seats are completely manual affairs, with the exception of the driver's lumbar controls.

For a steep AU$13.6k more i-Tech buyers enjoy leather seats with heating for both driver and front passenger, a tilt-and-slide sunroof, radar-guided cruise control, Intelligent Park Assist, remote air-conditioning, head-up display, solar-powered ventilation, reversing camera and satellite navigation (more of which a little later).

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Click through for an in-depth look at the Prius' features.
(Credit: Derek Fung/CNET Australia)

With Intelligent Park Assist engaged the Prius can park itself — well, the car controls the steering, while the driver modulates the brake pedal to regulate speed. The system works well for tight spots, but it gets its wired crossed if you try to use it to park behind a car with plenty of free space aft of it or in an empty parking lot (for a demonstration, check out our video review).

As we reviewed the i-Tech in winter, we weren't able to test the car's remote air-conditioning function nor its solar ventilation system. The former can, via a button on the key fob, run the air-con remotely for up to three minutes, cooling the car down to acceptable temperature on hot summer days. Unfortunately, it can't manage the reverse: heating the car up on wintry mornings. Another summer-time feature is the solar panel on the i-Tech roof that powers a ventilation system that brings the car's internal temperature into line with the outside ambient air temp.

Entertainment and navigation

Disappointingly, the i-Tech features the same DVD-based AVN navigation system that does duty in the Camry Hybrid and a myriad of other Toyota and Lexus vehicles. The large touchscreen monitor isn't exactly bursting with pixels, so the overall look is more mid-noughties than 2010, and the interface isn't the most intuitive to use, with too many physical buttons for too few features.

The nav system itself misses out on many features that have long been standard on portable navigation units, including 3D view, lane guidance, traffic messaging and text-to-speech. With its maps stored on DVD, destination entry isn't as brisk as we'd like, while the generated routes aren't anything out of the norm — not terribly efficient, but they should get you from A to B, eventually.

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Click through for an in-depth look at the Prius' hybrid drivetrain.
(Credit: Derek Fung/CNET Australia)

The eight-speaker sound system does without a subwoofer and is perfectly adequate without ever shining, even when it's playing CDs. As we've mentioned before, there's an auxiliary jack in the centre console bin, but disappointingly, especially for a model dubbed the i-Tech, there's still no iPod/iPhone compatible USB port. A four-disc MP3-compatible CD stacker hides behind the flip-down LCD screen.

Bluetooth hands-free works well enough for most conversations, but tyre grumble can sometimes be an issue, especially on Sydney's coarse-chip, low-grade streets. While some other makers are fitting their cars with sophisticated voice-recognition systems, the Prius' is limited to five pre-recorded voice tags for phone book entries.

On the road

Despite sticking with nickel-metal hydride batteries, instead of newer but more expensive Lithium-ion ones, the Prius hybrid drivetrain is the most advanced and refined we've sampled in a Toyota family vehicle. It features a larger than before 1.8-litre petrol engine and an electric motor; power from either or both engines is sent to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission.

Which engine(s) drives the Prius depends on your mood and speed. When driven gently at speeds under around 30km/h, the Prius relies entirely on its electric motor. Stomp on the gas or go quicker and the petrol engine fires up, without any of the judder that we experienced on the Camry Hybrid, we might add. Above 30km/h the petrol motor does the bulk of the work, with the electric engine helping out when required. Stab the brakes, or simply cruise on flat ground or downhill, and the electric motor acts as a generator, recouping kinetic energy to recharge the car's battery.

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Click through for an in-depth look at the Prius' hybrid drivetrain.
(Credit: Derek Fung/CNET Australia)

Once you get over the other-worldly sensation of pottering around at low speeds in silence, the Prius is a surprisingly normal car to drive. The regenerative brakes are touchy and require a bit of acclimatisation, but aren't difficult to modulate like the Camry Hybrid's. One thing we couldn't come to grips with, however, was the van-like beeping every time reverse is engaged. Oddly enough this beeping isn't for benefit of pedestrians, but only for the driver and passengers.

Not surprisingly for a car focussed on fuel efficiency, the chassis isn't configured to carve up a racetrack nor put a smile on your dial when you chuck it into a corner, but it's safe and dependable. Body roll is well controlled, the ride absorbent without being pillowy soft and the steering is well weighted, although it does little to communicate to the driver what the tyres are feeling or doing.

Another impediment to pedal-to-the-metal driving is the drone from the engine, as the continuously variable transmission does its thing and keeps the petrol engine spinning at same speed for maximum power. Although spirited driving isn't encouraged, the Prius has plenty of pep with the hybrid drivetrain capable of producing 100kW of power, which is significantly up from the 82kW the old model had with its electric motor and 1.5-litre petrol engine combination.

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Click through for Toyota's complete Prius gallery.
(Credit: Toyota)

There are three selectable driving modes on offer: Eco significantly reduces throttle sensitivity, Power politely tells the Prius' electronic brain to forget its tree-hugging sensibilities and use more of the petrol engine, and EV allows the car to run on the electric motor alone. EV mode is automatically disengaged whenever you accelerate with too much vim or exceed a speed of around 30-35km/h. Not only is it perfect for car parks and quiet speed hump-strewn streets, it provides a great, non-gas guzzling way to stay warm or cool when you're waiting around for someone; the car's battery lasts around 30 minutes with the air-con or heater on.

During our time with the Prius we managed an average fuel economy of 5.4L/100km, well beyond the official rating of 3.9L/100km, with 5.9L/100km the norm for our daily peak-hour commute; out on the freeway and highway we managed 4.45L/100km. Setting our right foot to extremely light saw the Prius achieve its best city figure of 4.5L/100km; on the flipside when we did our best Jeremy Clarkson impersonation the Prius drank 8.4L/100km.

Conclusion

Thrifty and spacious, the Prius is the most refined hybrid we've driven thus far. Despite its impressive tech swag, including the ability to park itself, the i-Tech doesn't come cheap.

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epaphs posted a comment   
Australia

My guess is you never drive a Prius. You learn this car only by YouTube.... A better place to learn this car without driving it is log on to priuschat.com which many Prius users exchange their experience - real experience, not YouTube experience.

groggles
10
Rating
 

"Brilliant, grows on you"

groggles posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Comfortable, ultra-smart, spacious, cheap to run

The Bad:People doing maths proving that a V6 Commodore is a better proposition over 5 years

We bought the 2010 Itech 30 ... partly to reduce weekly fuel bills and partly as a vote for the enviro. It grows on you, its sooooo comfortable, it is smart, in 'Power' mode it is really punchy, it actually returns 5.5L around town ( yes, published car numbers are rubbish ), it is a peaceful car to be in and encourages you to drive well on our traffic congested roads. Heated seats fab in winter, great sound system, great sunroof, and EV mode is a blast. Apparently less eco-friendly than a Hummer ( redneck myth ), ruined most of Ontario due to its batteries needing Nickel ( myth: 30 year old history referring to Inco, rewritten by rednecks ), the interior ruins health, the planet and other things. Um, sure ... well, we love our car. So far cannot fault it, it does what it was designed to do.

 

Priora posted a comment   

Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, and I think the Prius a great car. Just a question, though: What do you think makes the Prius ugly?

 

EverythingHD posted a reply   

It's economical shape to fit the engine...... the shape.... yeah it's a great environmental friendly car

Shelley
9
Rating
 

Shelley posted a review   

The Good:It feels like I am driving a spaceship!

The Bad:The beeping when in reverse

I love everything about my 2009 Prius i-Tech.

 

Well informed posted a reply   

You can turn off that beep with your local Toyota dealers. I have done mine for free!

 

Sarah80 posted a comment   
Australia

The Good:Cruise Control radar

The Bad:Ugly, overpriced

Watch Top Gear Youtube "Supercars: The One Gallon Fuel Crisis Race" and tell me the Prius is economical. In 10 laps it used 2 gallons less than a M3 V8. It's not the car, it's how you drive it! Driving a Prius is only economical in traffic jams.

 

Jack5 posted a reply   

Aren't all hybrid cars look ugly because the engine is all ways making it a look like van than a car but still it is the most economical car in the market.

 

Jackie posted a reply   

Well then, go get your M3 V8 and stop complaining! I hope your normal daily drive is on the racetrack.




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User Reviews / Comments  Toyota Prius i-Tech (2009 ZVW30)

  • epaphs

    epaphs

    "My guess is you never drive a Prius. You learn this car only by YouTube.... A better place to learn this car without driving it is log on to priuschat.com which many Prius users exchange their ex..."

  • groggles

    groggles

    Rating10

    "We bought the 2010 Itech 30 ... partly to reduce weekly fuel bills and partly as a vote for the enviro. It grows on you, its sooooo comfortable, it is smart, in 'Power' mode it is really punchy, it..."

  • Priora

    Priora

    "Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, and I think the Prius a great car. Just a question, though: What do you think makes the Prius ugly?"

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