First Drive

2015 Toyota Prius+ review

Until now the Seat Alhambra and Citroen Grand C4 Picasso have been our favourite seven-seat MPVs. Has a mid-life refresh edged the Toyota Prius+ closer to the class best?

Words ByJohn Howell

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Toyota has established itself as a leading light in terms of hybrid petrol-electric vehicles, thanks mainly to the Prius hybrid it launched 15 years ago. In 2012, the range was extended to include the seven-seat Prius+, which was the world’s first hybrid MPV.

Three years down the line and the Prius+ has been given a facelift. This includes a revised grille with a more prominent Toyota badge and LED headlights at the front. At the rear, the revamp encompasses new LED tail-lights and a diffuser integrated into the rear bumper.

The hybrid drivetrain remains the same as before, as do the two trim levels of Icon and Excel, although Toyota has added a new top-spec version called Excel Plus.

The question is, has the Prius+ improved enough to trouble our favourite large MPVs, the Seat Alhambra and Citroen Grand C4 Picasso?

What’s the 2015 Toyota Prius+ like inside?

Visually it’s not too dissimilar to the previous version. There’s a new range of cloth upholstery options, as well as a revised centre console with a gloss black finish. This surrounds a new infotainment system, which features a 4.2in touchscreen and runs the latest Toyota Touch 2 software. It's a big improvement over the previous system and works well once you get used to the menus.

Elsewhere there are new dark-sliver trims on the steering wheel, doors and centre console, plus a colour TFT screen incorporated into the central instrument panel. It all comes together to improve the overall look of the cabin, but it stills feels a little underwhelming for a car costing upwards of Β£27,000. The Seat Alhambra feels better finished inside while the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso is far more stylish.

That said, it is functional. The driving position is excellent with plenty of adjustment from seat and steering wheel, and it’s easy to operate everything thanks to the ergonomic layout.

Forward and side vision are both excellent due to the large glass area, although the wide rear C-pillars hinder your view when it comes to reverse parking. However, it wins back points for having a standard rear-parking camera.

Space remains one of the Prius+’s strong points – at least in part. The front and middle row seats are all big enough for six-footers, with acres of head and leg room.

The middle bench seat is wide enough to fit three adults abreast in relative comfort and there’s a flat floor so the passenger in the middle isn’t compromised for foot space. All three seats on this second row slide, fold and recline individually, which gives you the choice to prioritise passenger comfort and space, or luggage room, as required.

It’s a little more cramped for the two third-row passengers, which makes these seats better suited to children. The Grand C4 Picasso offers more space here, but the Alhambra is bigger still, which makes carrying up to seven adults feasible.

In seven-seat mode, the Prius+ has 232 litres of boot space (measured up to the roofline). Move to a five-seat configuration and this increases to 784 litres, and in full-on Sunday tip-run spec, with just the two front seats left, you get a 1750-litre load bay.

By comparison, the bigger Alhambra will manage 267 litres (with all seven seats up), 1167 litres (five seats) and 2297 litres (two seats).

The Prius+ we drove was in entry Icon trim. This still came with 16in alloys, auto lights and wipers, Bluetooth, DAB radio, keyless entry and start, rear privacy glass, cruise control and heated front seats, all as standard.

Moving up to Excel trim adds sat-nav and online connectivity, 17in alloys, a pre-crash safety system (including brake assist), adaptive cruise control and parking assist.

If you go for the top-spec Excel Plus model this adds leather seats and a rear DVD system with two rear screens.

What’s the 2015 Toyota Prius+ like to drive?

Town driving is where the Prius+ works best, because stop-start traffic makes most use of the electric half of the powertrain. In this mode, it is at its quietest and most fuel efficient.

However, if you often use motorways or B-roads, the regular diesel engines used by the competition make more sense and will almost certainly return better economy figures.

This is because at speed the petrol engine is nearly always in use, and if you need to build speed or overtake, the CVT automatic gearbox causes the engine to spin at high revs – which takes its toll on the fuel economy. Even then it still won’t match the diesel rivals' pace, and the constant revving makes it feel unrefined, too.

The ride is also a little fidgety, even on the 16in wheels of our test car. It’s never particularly crashy, but unless the road surface is billiard-table smooth, the body rarely settles.

It is a very easy car to drive, though. The light steering is effortless to use around town but remains accurate enough at speed, and despite a reasonable degree of body lean in the bends, there’s plenty of grip. On our test route, the Prius+ felt stable and sure-footed - if a little uninvolving – even when challenged on faster roads.

Should I buy one?

There is a case to be made for the Prius+ if you are a company car user. This is because the low emissions (96g/km of CO2 with 16in alloys fitted) means your tax bill will be considerably lower than for an Alhambra. The Grand C4 Picasso is closer thanks to its decent efficiency and lower list price, but the Prius+ still edges it. The Toyota also qualifies for zero road tax as an extra sweetener.

However, if company car tax isn’t your priority, then the Prius+ is too expensive relative to the competition, with a starting price of Β£26,995.

On top of that the Citroen and the Seat make more sense as seven-seat vehicles while their diesel engines make them better to drive on longer journeys.

While the Prius+ is a reasonable car in isolation, these shortcomings mean that it remains off the pace of our two favourite seven-seat MPVs: put simply, they offer a lot more for less money.

What Car? says...

The rivals:

Seat Alhambra

Citroen Grand C4 Picasso

Toyota Prius+ Icon

Engine size 1.8-litre petrol

Price from Β£26,995

Power 134bhp (combined)

Torque 257lb ft (combined)

0-62mph 11.3 seconds

Top speed 103mph

Fuel economy 68.9mpg

CO2 96g/km