The Toyota Prius+ is an easy car to explain: as the name implies, it's a Prius plus a bit extra – in this case, two more seats and a load more practicality.
Measuring an extra 135mm from nose to tail, and with an 80mm longer wheelbase, the seven-seat Prius+ is Toyota's first full-hybrid MPV.
It uses the same basic drivetrain as the existing Prius hatchback, but features a new lithium-ion battery pack that's smaller and lighter than the hatch's nickel–metal hydride batteries.
The Prius+ is on sale now and comes with a choice of two trims: T4 and T Spirit. Prices start from £26,195, which makes it an expensive choice, even taking into account the generous standard equipment.
Still, there is some consolation in the sub-100g/km CO2 emissions (on T4-trimmed cars; T Spirit cars emit 101g/km) and average fuel economy of up to 68.9mpg.
This is our first test of the car on UK roads.
What's the 2012 Toyota Prius+ like inside?
The Prius+ doesn't have the high seating position of more traditional MPVs, so front and rear passengers sit quite low down. In this sense the Prius+ is more like a seven-seat estate car rather than an MPV.
The interior isn't the most sparkling to look at, but is perfectly practical.
What's disappointing is that the dashboard, with its wide expanse of grey plastic and occasionally cheap-looking details, doesn't have the air of quality you'd expect in a car that can cost the best part of £30,000.
Cabin doesn't feel like a £30,000 car's should
However, there's little to fault in terms of its practicality, with plenty of room for the driver and front-seat passenger, as well as decent room in the middle row. Getting in and out of the car is helped by the low sill.
Each of the three middle seats slides and folds individually, giving the car a wide range of seating permutations, while the large doors make access easy.
With the middle row of seats slid right back, legroom is excellent, and only passengers well over six foot tall will wish they had more headroom, even under the standard panoramic glass sunroof. The only slight irritation is that if you want to have a passenger in the central seat, you need to pull out the seatbelt from the roof, where it is housed when not in use.
The rearmost seats are comfortable for small adults and children, but most grown-ups will find it cramped. These rear seats fold flat – and level with the sill – when not needed; and even when they're upright, there's still more than 200 litres of boot space.
Rearmost seats are really only for children, but at least all seats fold flat
Drop all five rear seats and you have 1750 litres to play with – as much as in a Ford Grand C-Max, although well short of what you'll find in the similarly priced Seat Alhambra. It's a pity the rear wheelarches restrict the width of the boot, though.
Roomy enough for those in the middle row of seats
What's the 2012 Toyota Prius+ like to drive?
At the most basic level, the Prius+ is a very easy car to drive. Thanks to its CVT automatic transmission, there are just two pedals – one to go and one to stop – and around town, first impressions are good.
Easy car to drive around town
The light steering makes manoeuvring easy and the hybrid drivetrain responds smoothly and keenly, offering electric-only, zero-emission running whenever possible.
Out of town, though, things aren't quite as impressive, and the transmission in particular is frustrating. If you want anything more than moderate performance, it sends the engine revs soaring, and that creates too much noise.
Admittedly, as long as you maintain a steady pace, it's fine. However, if you want to overtake or accelerate quickly, the noise is distinctly unpleasant. A diesel-engined rival would respond more keenly and need fewer revs to do so.
Similarly, when the Prius+ is loaded up it struggles to pick up the pace when in the default Eco driving mode. You will find yourself reaching for the Power mode button, which sharpens the throttle response and improves acceleration, but harms fuel economy.
Refinement is also disappointing, with a lot of wind noise generated at typical motorway cruising speeds, while the ride feels very stiff over poor surfaces.
At least the car copes well when the road turns twisty, offering predictable and stable handling.
The regenerative brakes send power back into the batteries when you push the brake pedal. However, there's little progression in the brakes – they feel either off or on – so your passengers might be flung forward and then back into their seats as you get used to applying the brakes smoothly.
The Prius+ doesn't ride well enough on poor surfaces
Should I buy one?
The high price is a big stumbling block for private buyers. Throw in the shortcomings of the hybrid drivetrain, along with the fact that you can buy a larger MPV for much the same money, and we feel that one of the Prius+'s diesel-engined rivals will be a more sensible buy for most people.
It should be economical, though. In our real-world True MPG fuel economy tests, the Prius+ achieved an average of 54.6mpg, which is pretty good compared with its official average of 68.9mpg.
The Prius+ makes an awful lot of sense for company drivers, however. Its low CO2 emissions will make for low tax bills, especially because any rivals with similarly low emissions are diesel-engined and therefore incur a 3% tax surcharge.
Our reviews are based on hard data and thorough testing in the real world.
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