Japanese carmaker Toyota has officially launched the enlarged, seven-seat version of its famous Prius. Called the Prius+, the long-awaited seven-seat variant of the car that put eco-motoring firmly on the map was unveiled at the 2011 Geneva motorshow.
Though often the butt of jokes, the Toyota Prius has become one of the most successful cars in the USA since it was launched there in 1997. With a high-tech hybrid electric powertrain and a raft of engineering and design innovations that contribute to a reduced carbon footprint, the Prius has become the darling of everybody from Hollywood tree-huggers and Colorado environmentalists to middle-American families keen on a well-built, quiet and clean way to get around.
The Prius has done a great job of smashing many preconceived ideas about green cars being impractical, hard to live with or otherwise not realistic. Toyota sold its two-millionth Prius globally in September last year and in April this year, the company sold the one millionth Prius in the USA, where it has overtaken sales of Ford’s Explorer SUV.
The original Prius offers a number of innovative features that make it even more practical than many comparable conventional saloons. Of particular note is the large amount of usable space inside the cabin.
Prius drivers love the ability of their cars to carry pieces of wood and other such items of more than three metres in length. Campers love having so much space in the back that they can, in a pinch, sleep in the car.
Toyota has now revolutionised this winning formula with the Prius+, which extends the theme to provide a bunch more room and seating for up to seven people. Though it looks very much like they simple extended the existing model, the new Prius+ is actually all-new.
The basic Prius theme remains the same. The latest generation of the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive system propels the car. For the first time, a Toyota hybrid comes with a battery pack using lithium-ion technology.
The new battery pack is so compact that it slots under the second row of seats. That second row is comprised of three independent seats – the split-folding combines with the 50:50 split of the third row to make creative use of the interior a cinch.
The Prius+ will drive just like the regular Prius. This means drivers get a choice of three ‘on-demand’ modes. In EV mode, the car is powered only by electricity, producing no exhaust at the tailpipe and burning no fuel.
ECO mode lets the Prius+ make the most efficient use of the hybrid power system and fuel economy. In POWER mode, the car responds with greater power and performance.
Whether the Prius+ will steal much market share from many of the existing popular seven-seaters remains to be seen but one thing is almost guaranteed to belong to the Prius+. Thanks to the potential to operate as a plug-in electric vehicle, resorting to petrol power only when absolutely necessary, the Prius+ is certain to enjoy fuel economy that blows all other seven-seaters into the weeds.