Day one of the international media launch for new Prius and we have our first extended driving opportunity in the new car. A pristine collection of more than 20 pearl-white Prius are lined up ready and waiting outside Arlanda Airport, with pre-programmed routes in and around Stockholm, designed to demonstrate the hybrid’s technical and handling abilities. Sadly it isn’t great cruising weather: a fairly damp and grey June day with low cloud cover, but our film makers say the light’s good for them.
Heading down the E4 dual carriageway south to the city, the speed limit’s a Scandanavian-sober 110km/h, but it’s not long before Tom’s motoring in the clean and quiet EV mode as progress slows to the kind of crawl we’re more used to witnessing around the M25.
Soon we’re right in the heart of the capital and realising that this is a town that’s fully embraced Toyota’s hybrid. Second-generation Prius is the taxi of choice in these parts, finished in a bumble-bee black and yellow paint job, and we see plenty of privately registered models, too, including a pristine original that obviously has a very proud owner.
First stop was the Museum of Modern Art and Architecture on one of the many little islands that make up Stockholm. Thanks to a navigation system that could not cope with some strategic roadworks just by the only bridge on to the island, Tom and Jo saw a lot more of the city than they had bargained for, but reunited alongside some giant and gaudy Alexander Calder artworks, we were able to reflect on just what an easy and relaxing car new Prius is to drive.
An eco challenge
The last part of the route was designed as an Eco Challenge, where the aim was to achieve the best fuel economy. The 25-minute haul was typical “combined” cycle driving: a mix of slow-moving commuter traffic along the edge of the “Gamla Stan” before picking up an open dual carriageway to our base at Hasseluden, just east of the city.
It’s clear the British press loves a challenge and the results of the test showed that around half had managed better than 80mpg, while the top performer cracked the 88mpg mark. Tom’s result was, shall we say, more modest, but in truth our filming requirements had to take precedence over economy. We’ll keep a closer eye on the Eco Drive Monitor during Day Two’s driving.
Toyota’s base for the event is the Yasuragi hotel which presents itself as “en litet bit av Japan”, which you might guess is Swedish for “a little bit of Japan.” More than just a Japanese-styled hotel, complete with traditional spa, futon beds and guests wandering the corridors in kimono dressing gowns, Yasuragi chimes strongly with the Prius ethos, being committed to its own climate policy. Using renewable energy (geothermal heating!) and recycled materials and minimising its impact on the environment are central to the business here.
The evening’s press conference provided a deeper insight into Prius’ design from chief engineer Akihiko Otsuka (with whom we had a short interview on Thursday morning). Talking about the solar roof, he said it was Toyota’s intention to develop a system in the future by which solar panels could be used to help recharge the hybrid battery. We hope to quiz him further on that one. More in-depth explanation was provided of how the new Hybrid Synergy Drive system squares the circle by being more powerful, yet at the same time more fuel efficient and cleaner than before.
Questions, ladies and gentlemen? Just a couple from the floor, as the journalists save for their one-to-one interviews. First up was a query on the wheels: described as 15-inch alloys, but clearly fitted with plastic wheelcovers. The answer was, the wheels are alloy and probably the lightest of their size in the world, but they are designed for weight and efficiency, not for looks, hence the use of covers. A brief query about Toyota’s choice to stick with a nickel-metal hydride battery rather than lithium ion revealed that Toyota is looking beyond lithium ion for the future, but has stuck with nickel-metal on the basis of reliability and cost-effectiveness with new Prius.
Once the formalities were complete, we managed to catch a few minutes with Toyota GB Managing Director Miguel Fonseca, who told us more about his vision for Prius in the UK. We’ll be bringing you that interview here in due course.