2012 Toyota Prius Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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It's not often these days that things get less expensive, but that's the big news for the "original" liftback version of the Toyota Prius in 2012. Yup, the midsize Prius liftback has gained smaller and bigger siblings (the city-sized Prius c and versatile Prius v) and even a plug-in twin (the Prius PHV), and as a pleasant surprise this appears to mean that it now qualifies for the family discount rate.

It's a pretty nice discount, too: Where the MSRP on the base 2011 Prius liftback was $27,800 plus $1,490 in destination charges, the 2012 model lists at just $25,995 plus $1,565 in destination fees - a net reduction of $1,730.

Continuing the good news, the Prius liftback may now be less expensive but it hasn't gotten - ahem - "cheaper." Indeed, for 2012 there's new added standard equipment including Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port, backup monitor, front seatback pockets, all-season floor mats and scuff plates. And Toyota has even given the bodywork a mild refresh (the changes are remarkably subtle, but the front fascia and grille have been tweaked, as have the headlights and taillights).

Mechanically the 2012 Prius remains unchanged: the same 1.8-litre Atkinson cycle engine, automatic CVT (continuously variable transmission) and electric traction motor work together to provide 134 net horsepower, with a nickel metal hydride battery pack powering the electrical side of the drivetrain and regenerative brakes charging the battery during braking.

Naturally this means the driving experience remains pure Prius: calm and quiet, with the focus unabashedly on efficiency rather than performance or driver engagement. Driven as intended, the Prius delivers supremely frugal city/highway fuel consumption of 3.7 / 4.0 L/100km according to Transport Canada, and my observed mileage was satisfyingly close to the rated numbers. If you need to get going in a hurry the Prius can ditch the quiet demeanour and scamper up to 100 km/h in about 10 seconds - not exactly fast, but quick enough for normal situations like highway merges and passing slow traffic. The regenerative brakes are confidence inspiring if a bit grabby, and the handling is similarly reassuring, offering reasonably good levels of grip and plenty of warning before the limits of adhesion are reached (push the limits and a full suite of safety equipment, including vehicle stability control and antilock brakes, steps in to keep things in line).

Inside, the Prius remains familiarly futuristic, roomy and well equipped. In addition to the newly-included Bluetooth, USB and backup camera, standard features include power locks and windows, proximity sensing smart key with pushbutton start, automatic air conditioning, cruise control (dynamic cruise control is optional), a comprehensive multi-information display with Eco monitor, 60/40 split-folding back seats, and a six-speaker audio system (there's more, but those are some of the highlights). At a suggested price of $29,245 the Moonroof Upgrade package adds (surprise, surprise) a power moonroof with integrated solar panels, navigation system, built-in satellite radio, remote air conditioning and an integrated garage door opener. Alternatively, for $29,550 you can get into the Touring package that includes a navigation system and satellite radio, plus fog lamps, auto-leveling LED headlights, headlight washers and larger 17-inch alloy wheels (15-inch wheels are standard). Topping the range is my test car's Technology package, which carries a suggest price of $34,080 and includes all the equipment from the Moonroof Upgrade package as well as a superb sounding eight-speaker JBL display audio system, an eight-way power adjustable drivers seat, dynamic radar cruise control, pre-collision system, heated front seats, and synthetic leather upholstery.

In practice, while it makes a certain degree of sense for a car aimed at eco-conscious buyers to use synthetic leather, I was underwhelmed with this last feature, finding the synthetic leather both somewhat unconvincing and unpleasantly sticky on warm days. My preference would be to have the upholstery choice separated from the Technology package so that I could have all the high-tech gear but retain the cloth seats, or at least Toyota might want to perforate the synthetic leather on the seat squabs and backrests to improve breathability. In the meantime, genuine leather seating is offered as a dealer-installed accessory for the lower trim levels, and the dealers I called all said that, cost aside, there's nothing stopping you from having this option installed in a Technology trim car.

No matter what trim level you select, the Prius liftback offers a strong value proposition. Since its Canadian launch in July 2000, the Prius has matured from being somewhat of a novelty to a competent and well-featured mainstream car that's pleasant if not particularly exciting to drive. As always it offers outstanding fuel economy and excellent practicality, while its aerodynamic shape has been tweaked to become better looking while retaining its iconic profile.

As the Prius family grows, with larger, more practical siblings and smaller, sportier ones too, the original liftback still offers a compelling middle ground. 
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Hybrid, HEV, Toyota, 2012, Prius, $20,000 - $29,999, Midsize,

Organizations: Toyota

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