Regular readers will know how, a couple of weeks back, we came to be at a private racetrack in Leicestershire, looking at the first third-generation Prius in the country.
We’d been told we might get a chance to actually drive the car, but as it was all a bit last-minute and hush-hush I probably would have been happy if we’d just got our exclusive photos. As it was, being taken for a few laps by test driver Rob gave us plenty to enjoy, as you can see in our video.
As it turned out, our chance to drive the car came there and then, when Rob pulled over and offered me a turn behind the wheel. He didn’t need to ask twice.
Starting the next Prius is much like getting the current car underway. With your foot on the brake, you pull the automatic box’s gear lever into drive and look for the ‘ready’ signal. When you’ve got it, you release the footbrake and you’re off… to eerie quiet.
When we first started driving, there wasn’t too much charge stored in the Prius’ batteries, so the car wouldn’t let us use its fully-electric EV mode. Instead we moved away in the new ECO driving mode, which subtly dampens the car’s response to the throttle, making it easier to make gentle inputs and harder to accelerate too briskly. It works, with even my ham-footed inputs making for smooth progress and, doubtless, lower fuel consumption.
As I began to learn the track and get a feel for the car, Rob switched us to Power mode, in which you can feel an added crispness to the throttle and more urgency in the response. The car’s extra power was obvious, the new engine sounding throatier as it piled on the speed through the circuit’s uphill back straight.
Although it’s not much wider than the current Prius, the next-generation car immediately feels more sporty on the road, remaining nicely planted through corners – and more resistant to body roll when I started to gain confidence and build up more speed. Despite the day’s bright sunlight, the head-up display made it easy for me to keep track of our speed without taking my eyes far off the road.
With Jo our filmmaker set up on one of the bends, we started making some slower passes for the camera, at which point I begun to realise just how seamlessly the new car’s petrol engine cuts in and out. Owners of the current Prius will know that it’s hard to spot exactly when the engine is or isn’t running – the Hybrid Synergy Drive just serving up the power you need when you ask for it. The third-generation car’s smoother powertrain makes it near-impossible to tell.
With a crew of people keen to lock the cars away ready for the following day’s event, we only managed five or six laps in the car before it was time to call it a day, and drive another 200 miles home. We didn’t get a chance to test our fuel consumption, have a proper play with the Touch Tracer controls or to take any photos of the inside – alas.
As for heading out onto the roads, that was strictly out of the question. But we hope to get a more extensive test drive just as soon as the first production-spec cars arrive in the country.