We drive the unassuming little saloon that kick-started the hybrid car revolution: meet the original 2000 Toyota Prius
Some motorists could be in for a nasty surprise when it comes to renewing their Vehicle Excise Duty (VED). Under the current rules, cars that emit less than 100g/km CO2 are exempt from tax, making them very attractive to new car buyers.
From April 1, 2017 only cars with zero emissions will be free of tax, striking a major blow for those driving low emissions cars. If you haven’t done so already, check out the new tax rules, as it could save you hundreds, if not thousands of pounds over the coming years. In short, you should buy a low emissions car by the end of March, and here are ten great value cars to get you started.
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Toyota Prius Active: 76g/km
Hybrid and plug-in hybrid buyers will be feeling the pinch from April 1, as even the greenest vehicles will be subject to some kind of tax. In the majority of cases, the Toyota Prius emits 76g/km CO2, putting it on the cusp of the fourth tier tax band.
Buy a Prius today and you’ll pay no tax whatsoever. Purchase the same car in April and you’ll pay £100 in the first year, and the new standardised £140 flat rate from year two. Downgrade to the smaller 15-inch alloy wheels and the CO2 emissions drop to 70g/km, saving you £75 in the first year.
Suzuki Celerio SZ3 1.0 Dualjet: 84g/km
The Suzuki Celerio is a no-frills, low-thrills city car, designed for people who want nothing more than a vehicle to get from A to B. Prices start from just £6,999, but we’d recommend spending an extra £2,000 for the mid-range SZ3 trim level and excellent 1.0-litre Dualjet engine.
CO2 emissions are a hybrid-troubling 84g/km, which means you don’t have to pay a penny of tax. But be quick, because under the new rules you’ll pay £100 in the first year, followed by an annual fee of £140. In three years, you’ll be £380 worse off.
Hyundai i10 SE Blue: 93g/km
The recently revised Hyundai i10 is one of the best city cars on the market, especially in the tech-laden Premium SE trim. But if you’ve got one eye on the household budget, you should opt for the SE Blue, powered by a 1.0-litre engine. It’s the only i10 to slot into the lowest tax band, while a group two insurance rating means it’s one of the cheapest cars to run.
Sadly, come April, you’ll be asked to fork out £120 in first-year VED, followed by the £140 standard rate. On the plus side, a list price of £10,845 isn’t going to break the bank.
Skoda Superb Estate SE 1.6 TDI GreenLine: 97g/km
The Skoda Superb is one of our favourite cars at any price, offering an unbeatable blend of practicality, value and specification. It’s amazing to think that you can own something quite so cavernous and yet pay nothing in car tax. A list price of £24,725 is nothing short of sensational.
The Skoda Superb with the fuel-sipping GreenLine engine is tax exempt until April, at which point it is subject to a so-called ‘showroom tax’, which is based on CO2 emissions. The higher the emissions, the more you’ll pay. In the case of the eco-friendly Superb you’ll pay £120, followed by £140 for each year thereafter.
Dacia Sandero Ambiance dCi 90: 90g/km
The Dacia Sandero is famously Britain’s cheapest new car, with prices starting from £5,995 for the basic Access trim level. The most efficient models are powered by the dCi 90 1.5-litre turbocharged diesel engine, with CO2 emissions of just 90g/km.
You’ll have guessed already that is a car that you need to buy before the end of March, unless you’re happy to pay £380 in tax over the first three years.
Mazda3 1.5 Skyactiv-D: 99g/km
In a sector dominated by the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Volkswagen Golf, you’d be forgiven for forgetting the Mazda3. But overlook it and you’ll be missing out on one of the sharpest looking and sweetest handling cars on the market.
The 1.5-litre Skyactiv-D engine is a tad underpowered, but with CO2 emissions of just 99g/km, it takes the crown as the most efficient in the range. Buy now, or pay later.
Kia Cee’d ‘2’ 1.6 CRDi: 99g/km
The Kia Cee’d is another five-door hatchback that’s often overlooked in a crowded segment. Buy a Kia and you tend to get far more for your money, while enjoying the company’s famous seven-year warranty.
The Cee’d ‘2’ 1.6-litre CRDi emits 99g/km CO2 and costs £19,095. Order the car today and you’ll pay nothing for the duration of the warranty. Register the same car in April and you’ll have paid £960 by the time the warranty has expired. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Fiat Panda Easy 0.9 TwinAir: 99g/km
The lovable Panda is set to be refreshed in 2017, so the chances are you’ll be able to negotiate a good deal at your local Fiat dealer. Prices start from £6,995, but we’d recommend spending £11,245 for the Easy trim level and excellent 0.9 TwinAir petrol engine.
While you won’t get anything close to the claimed economy figures, the 99gkm CO2 means you’ll pay nothing in car tax. For now…
Volkswagen Polo Match Edition 1.4 TDI: 97g/km
Ordinarily, we’d recommend the SEAT Ibiza and Skoda Fabia as cost-effective alternatives to the Volkswagen Polo, but in the case of the new Match Edition we’re prepared to make an exception. In terms of kit, Volkswagen is chucking the proverbial kitchen sink at this special edition.
Tick the box marked ‘1.4 TDI BlueMotion’ and you’ll pay nothing in road tax. Just be sure you register the car before the end of March to avoid being out of pocket. Remember, the new tax rules apply to cars registered on or after April 1, 2017.
Tesla Model S: 0g/km
With prices starting from £55,000, we’d hesitate before classing the Tesla Model S as ‘great value’, but it remains a truly outstanding electric car. We’re including it in our round-up of cars to bag before April, because it’s a victim of the new ‘premium’ tax, which applies to all cars above £40,000.
While it’s tax exempt in year one, from the second year you’ll pay a £310 annual supplement for five years. Total cost: £1,550. Our advice: make sure you register your new Tesla before April.
In the history of this planet, not one person has ever bought a Prius for its entertainment value. The hybrid from Toyota has been an earnest do-gooder, piling on the miles with the minimal of nasty emissions from its tailpipe and minimal input from its drivers. If you liked motoring with your hat on, the Prius was for you.
Looking back, it’s even hard to image how anyone bought the original 1997 Prius. It looked like the front, the middle and the back were designed by three people working in parallel universes. It gradually got less, well, ugly, and the third generation was actually OK.
Now we enter a brave new world for Toyota, for it’s launching the fourth generation Prius as a stylish, fun-to-drive machine that even someone like me might buy. The design certainly stands out, and in a good way: lower, longer, sleeker, with lots of new technology included as part of the basic package. Prices start at £23,295, a £1,200 hike, but still looking like good value.
On the road
Mechanically it sounds the same as before, a 1.8-litre petrol engine with battery assistance. Yet everything has either been redesigned or completely re-engineered, with a new compact battery that’s been moved to beneath the rear seat, freeing up extra boot space.
The power output still sounds measly – 97hp – but the battery can bring this up to 121hp. Still, whatever Toyota’s claimed intentions, this was never going to be transformed into a performance machine. So it proves on the road.
That transmission is the true arbiter of whether you’ll enjoy the new Prius, whether you will actually find it fun to drive. It’s a CVT, a very particular type of automatic gearbox that does a remarkably good job of being highly efficient but can, still, seem like you are inflicting sustained high-revving pain on the engine if you drive it beyond its comfort zone.
And driving a Prius is now, as always, about staying in its comfort zone. Most Prius drivers are economy fanatics, and so drive gently and courteously. In the new car, that gets the same results as ever – serenely quiet, relaxed motoring – but now on an even higher plane than ever.
More enthusiastic drivers will like the enhanced steering that’s now very precise, and the improved suspension that adds ride comfort and more agility on winding roads. The driving position is better too (lower and slightly more sports car like) but none of this really counts when the engine starts to thrash away as that CVT transmission flexes its muscles to try to get the most out of the four cylinders.
On the inside
The big change for 2016 is the sleeker body, which results in a lower roofline, dropped seating position and, arguably, a Prius that isn’t quite as easy to access. With ever-increasing buyer enthusiasm for high-seated crossovers and SUVs, the fact Toyota has gone in the opposite direction is somewhat bewildering.
Yet the lower bonnet and deeper windscreen means the forward visibility is notably better than in the past, and there’s plenty of space for four, even five adults. The front seats have a layer of softness followed up with strong support, while those in the rear are a bit flat but OK. Luggage space is up by over 10% as long as you accept the tyre inflator instead of the spare wheel (which is a free option with 15-inch wheels).
The interior is really rather fine, purposely stand-out different – because the Prius still does seem left-field – but generally more solid and substantial than before. You can still use the top of the dashboard as a drum, but otherwise the TFT displays running across the top of the facia, and the large media station in the centre, are as good as they get in a sub-£30k car.
The safety package is an excellent one, and helped because Toyota has included the important features all the way down the range. So all Prius get Toyota Safety Sense – radar adaptive cruise control, pre-collision automatic braking, lane departure alert, automatic high beam and road sign recognition. Semi-automatic parking is also available on the top Excel version. There is no EuroNCAP crash test result yet.
This is the raison d’etre of the Prius and the new model is better than ever. CO2 is down from 86g/km to 70g/km, as long as you choose a model with 15 inch rather than 17 inch wheels. So significant is getting below the 75g/km point for business drivers, and those who want to avoid the London Congestion Charge, that you can specify any Prius with the smaller wheels, even if it normally comes with the bigger ones as standard.
The combined economy figures are 94.1/85.6mpg, dependent on wheel size. While the discredited testing system that produces these numbers is a load of tosh, they are a massive 30% better than the outgoing Prius.
Toyota has expanded its UK Prius range to four models, Active, Business, Business Plus and Excel. It’s hard to argue against simply buying the best. The Excel has all the equipment and ability you can dream of, including leather, sat nav and premium JBL audio for £27,450.
That’s £4,155 more than the cheapest Active, which seems good value given all the extra kit you get. That said, even the Active comes with dual zone climate control, keyless entry, push-button start, LED headlights and all those safety features.
Sometimes overlooked is the fact that the Prius has always had automatic transmission as part of its package, rather than asking buyers to pay extra for it as an option.
Do you want one? Has Toyota’s revitalised fourth generation Prius tickled your fancy enough to make the move into this hybrid for the first time? If you want a car that’s easy to live with, reliable, clean and cheap to run, the Prius makes a better case for itself than ever. In my eyes it look good too.
None of this will matter a jot to committed Prius owners, who will have had their money down at the local dealer for months already. They are unlikely to be disappointed, although if that roofline really is too low, the forthcoming Prius Plus will be the answer.
As for me, no, it’s still not fun to drive, at least in a way that I understand, so I’ll pass.
Toyota has revealed the all-new Prius hybrid ahead of its public debut at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show next week. The new Toyota Prius will establish new benchmarks for fuel economy and emissions, says the firm.
The first Toyota based on the firm’s New Generation Architecture – TNGA for short – it has a lower centre of gravity for better handling, and a more space-efficient (and expensive) double wishbone rear suspension.
The full hybrid powertrain is new and Toyota says it’s smoother, quieter, more responsive and, significantly, “has a more linear feel that is better aligned to engine speed”.
No more ‘slipping clutch’ sound effects?
The firm isn’t disclosing any economy details just yet, but does say the engine has more than 40 per cent thermal efficiency, setting a new world record for a petrol engine.
There’s a new, smaller and more energy-dense, nickel-metal hybrid battery (lithium ion has been eschewed by the firm).
New Toyota Prius styling
Visually, the new Prius marks a big evolution over its two predecessors. It now sports more of a saloon look, despite retaining the rear hatch: this closely aligns it with Toyota’s new hydrogen fuel cell Mirai which recently begun deliveries in the UK.
The rear has an extended deck and a sharply cut off tail, an extreme example of aerodynamic efficiency, and the rear C-pillars are now dark-finish to extend the roofline by creating a floating-roof effect.
Inside, it’s a modernised version of the current car’s look, with a central touchscreen, centrally-mounted instruments and an open-plan feel.
Toyota has sold its 100,000th hybrid model in Britain, 14 years after launching the first one at the 2000 British Motor Show. Read more
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