2015 Toyota Prius+ 7-Seat Hybrid Icon 1.8 CVT review – Surprisingly Refined Green MPV

2015 Toyota Prius+ Icon

Toyota Prius+

Building on the massively popular original Prius, Toyota have given the Prius seven seats to make it into the environmentally-friendly car that’ll suit a larger family. I really didn’t think I’d like a week with the Prius+ Icon, but I did. Why? Read on to find out…

Exterior. Butt-ugly or beauty?

With an update in 2015, the Prius+ was made to look more dynamic and sharper than its predecessor. However, let’s be honest, the Prius+ isn’t exactly a stunner eh. Okay, I admit the front end looks okay, and there are some slightly interesting features, such as the angular, angry-looking lights, which form the basis of an almost robotic face, as between them sits the large Toyota emblem which pokes out like a nose.

2015 Toyota Prius+ Icon front

The claw-like upright grooves  in the sides of the front bumper house the LED running lights are neat, and from side-on, I like that the entire front bumper juts far out, giving the front end a strangely tough appearance. Again, I think it’s rather evocative of something from Transformers.

2015 Toyota Prius+ Icon front

From there though, things get really rather dull with the Toyota. It’s not exactly the coolest 7-seat MPV around (are there any?), and you won’t be winning many style points from the mini-petrolheads at the school gates. The Icon version I was sent had 16 inch alloys, and even with fat tyre walls they still seemed too small for the rest of the body. However, smaller wheels with fat tyres do make for less road noise, so there’s a benefit to them.

2015 Toyota Prius+ Icon running lights

The back end is frankly quite ugly, with big overhangs behind the rear wheels, and oversized light clusters that look as randomly styled as can be. A roof spoiler adds a little to the styling and also aids with air flow, and on that point, the Prius+ was designed to be aerodynamic in order give as good economy as possible, with a drag coefficient of 0.28.

2015 Toyota Prius+ Icon rear

Over the week I had the Prius+, the car really grew on me (as I’ll talk about further down), but the exterior design really didn’t. It’s not a thing to stare at lustfully, or look cool in, but I guess people won’t buy it for either of those things. If you did, a visit to the opticians is in order.

Interior. Neat or nothing special?

Quite unexpectedly, I liked the cabin of the Prius+ almost from the very second I sat in the driver’s seat, and closed the door. Why? Well, it’s not an especially exciting place to be, with grey, black and silver tones dominating slightly underwhelming trim and seat pattern styling.

2015 Toyota Prius+ Icon front seats

However, there was a distinct air of Lexus quality about the Toyota’s cabin. While there are a few plasticky trim parts about, such as the lower door panels, overall the fit and finish is very good, and the interior has clearly been well thought out and designed.

Going back to the colours scheme, yes it could be construed as drab but I found it restful on the eyes, and quite a relaxing place to be. Because it’s a petrol-electric hybrid, when using the batteries only, any even slight noise is much more obvious than it’d be on the average combustion-engined car, so generally more effort is put into making sure these have been well and truly eliminated in the development stages, and in the case of the Toyota this is certainly true.

2015 Toyota Prius+ Icon centre console and dash

The front seats are wide and thoroughly comfortable, to the point of being able to be well settled on long journeys, and they also heat up the fastest of any car I’ve tested yet. Zero to a warm ass in about 15 seconds.

While I’m on those though, the controls for them are stupidly placed, being situated down in the depths of the well in front of the centre armrest. They are small, barely visible, hard to reach and the passenger has to lean right across to get to it. It’s almost as if they were a panicked afterthought. “Hang on lads. We forgot to put the heated seat controls in!“. “Just stick them anywhere and get the car out proto!

2015 Toyota Prius+ heated seats

Apart from that concern though, the Prius+’ dash is neatly executed, and ergonomically designed. The appearance and switchgear is fully contemporary, with a touchscreen system that features easy-to-use menus, slick full-colour graphics and plenty of useful information on fuel economy history and stats.

The heating/cooling control took a little getting used to, as you use a single dial to scroll and select fan speed, temperature and air direction, but it’s not quite as straightforward as it seems at first. Once familiar with it though, it actually makes good sense to use, and allows for less controls.

2015 Toyota Prius+ centre console

Another thing that messes slightly with you head at first is lack of instrument binnacle in the usual place. Instead, everything is in the centre console, and there’s a distinct lack of traditional dials, replaced instead with a fully-digital layout.

I like the way this is laid out actually, with the important things like speed, gear selection and fuel gauge all displayed easily readable, and a 4.2″ TFT screen allowing you to display what’s on the bigger screen below (either at the same time, or with different information on each).

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You’ll have noticed from the images that there’s no traditional gear shifter on the centre console. Instead, there’s an alien-looking, weirdly bulbous little selector for the CVT automatic transmission. I laughed at it at first, but after a few journeys I realised just how superbly situated it is.

The Prius+ is obviously a hybrid, and the selector has a ‘B’ mode on, which you can select slow the car down rather than use the brakes in certain situations, which helps to recharge the battery faster. Because of this, you’ll find yourself using the selector a little more than a traditional type, so the way it’s been situated is perfect as it falls naturally to hand (or finger/thumb at least) whilst you’re using the wide central arm rest. Perfect, and it’s absolutely one of the lightest and easiest selectors on any car.

It’s obviously a family orientated car, and as such it’s really very practical, which things like two large glove boxes, a neatly integrated pop-out cup holder in the dash for the front passenger, as well as two large drinks holders in the front of the centre console as well as one in the rear of it, a storage box (with USB & AUX ports) under the front armrest, plus big storage pockets in the front and rear doors.

2015 Toyota Prius+ drinks holder

More practicality includes the three proper and comfortable seats for the middle row, which can be reclined and slid back and forth. There are also two seats in the boot, which pop up easily and quickly. These are for kids really, but could be used occasionally for short journeys by adults if needed, as long as the middle row slid their seats forwards.

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An issue I found with the third row seating was the lack of air vents, which I think are a necessity to avoid the slight feeling of claustrophobia, as well as kids getting car sick. Surely it can’t cost that much to place some piping and vents in the roof lining?

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The boot is sizeable, as you’d expect, with a total of 1,750 litres of space available with the middle row seats folded flat. Room behind the uprighted second row is 784 litres, and a respectable 232 litres behind the third row of seats when they’re in place. There’s even a decently large 60 litre storage space hidden below the boot floor, which Toyota reckon can hold a baby buggy vertically. Handy if you have a young family.

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Finally, safety equipment includes driver/passenger front and side airbags, a driver knee bag plus curtain airbags. If you’re a parent, the Prius+ sports ISOFIX mounts.

Engine, hybrid system & transmission

The 2015 Prius+ was the first non-plug-in Toyota full hybrid (as opposed to a ‘mild’ hybrid) to use lithium-ion battery. These means a weight saving of eight kilograms over the nickel-metal hydride battery pack in the standard Prius (which was 42 kgs), and they’re also more compact too, fitting inside the centre console between the front seats. Pretty incredible.

Let’s take the engine first though; this is a 1.8 litre, 4-cylinder naturally-aspirated petrol, which uses an Atkinson cycle rather that the traditional Otto cycle, in order to be more frugal. For a technical explanation of how that works, check out this Toyota blog link.

2015 Toyota Prius+ engine & hybrid system

The 1.8 litre petrol unit puts out 97 bhp at 5,200 rpm, and 105 lb ft (142Nm) of torque at 4,000 rpm. Combining the electric motor with the petrol engine gives a maximum of 134bhp/100kW.

Interestingly, in order to improve fuel economy Toyota got rid of the water pump and drive belt to save mechanical losses, replacing it with an electric unit. Helping warm up the engine coolant faster is an exhaust heat recirculation system (33% lighter & 27% more efficient than in the standard Prius) which, alongside the electric water pump, helps to heat the water faster, which allows for the cabin heat to get up to temperature much quicker and improve fuel economy overall.

Being a hybrid, there’s also a permanent magnet, synchronous 60kW electric motor/generator which produces up to 153 lb ft (207Nm) of torque. This works in tandem with the petrol engine to boost acceleration when required, or to power the driven wheels on its own when Prius+ is operating in EV mode.

0 – 62 mph is done in 11.3 seconds, and the Prius+ will go on to a 103 mph top speed. No exactly face-stretching stuff, but you don’t buy the Prius+ for that.

The transmission is an Electronic Continuously Variable Transmission (E-CVT). It works completely seamlessly, but I don’t like the CVT system really. I’ll explain why in the drive section.

Official fuel economy returns on the Icon with 16″ wheels is (in UK mpg); urban: 89, extra urban: 95, combined: 96. Option the other models with the 17″ alloys, and the stats read an extra 5 – 7 mpg above those.

In real-world conditions, I easily managed 52 mpg over a 140 mile journey which took in some country road driving, city and town stop-start traffic before accelerating quickly up to motorway speeds and maintaining it for the bulk of the journey.

Although 52 mpg was an average, over the course of ten miles on various roads, my average readout per mile would jump way above that figure. In fact, 7 out of 10 miles per readout was well above the 75 mpg line on the display!

Ready to roll? Let’s drive!

The Prius+ doesn’t fire into life when you first push the starter, and that’s because each journey will begin with the car in electric mode. So, it’s still a little surreal, even after having friend a fair amount of hybrids in the past. It’s a good feeling though, as the Prius+ glides forward with the electric motor doing the work.

This is a particularly relaxing way to start and finish the average commute to work, as the refined way it sets off seems to ease the mind far more than say, a clattery diesel would.

2015 Toyota Prius+ drive

 

If I’m completely honest, I wasn’t really enthralled at the thought of a week with the Prius+. Family MPVs aren’t exactly an exciting prospect, and a hybrid with a plod-like zero to sixty time, even less so. However, after driving it for a while, an inner struggle began, for the hybrid Toyota started to grow on me rather more than I’d expected.

The reason being that the Toyota Prius+ is, in actual fact, quite a pleasant drive. With a few chilly days during the time I had the car, it was nice to be able to get in and enjoy warm air in a ridiculously quick time (before I’d left the end of the street), and a warm butt thanks to quick-heating seats.

It’s also surprisingly quiet on the move, and at least around town and at lower speeds the road and wind noise is barely audible. With only the electric motor pulling the car along in near silence, and me sat in comfortable seats surrounded by a relaxing cabin, it dawned on me that the Prius+ genuinely felt refined. Okay, I’m not talking quite the same type as you’d get in a Bentley or expensive exec car, but it was still palpable.

2015 Toyota Prius+ drive

Toyota state that the bodyshell rigidity has been increased by 15% over the standard Prius, and this allows for a softer spring to be used, which gives a more supple ride while retaining good stability. Indeed, the ride is good, and I liked the fairly supple suspension setup. Even on shaper corners at speed, the Prius+’ handling isn’t bad at all considering this is an MPV, but at the same time this isn’t some super-sharp tool with a penchant for track days, so don’t expect it to be.

Once the batter power has diminished, or you start to speed up, the petrol engine then kicks in to help both drive the wheels and charge the battery pack. This is also done when braking and during deceleration, capturing the kinetic energy that’d normally be lost.

2015 Toyota Prius+ energy display

The battery pack fills rather more quickly than I expected, and within around four to five miles it can be back up to full, should you get a bit of a run out from heavy traffic. Four drive modes are available on the Prius+: Normal, EV, Eco and Power. These are pretty self-explanatory, but basically the car starts out in Normal (and begins each journey on electric only), EV is full electric, Eco smoothes out harsh throttle inputs and reduces the air conditioning performance to save around 10% of the fuel consumption overall, while Power mode adds a 25% boost to the throttle response.

Actually though, you can’t select a Normal mode on the Prius+, as such. The car just starts off using it, and it will stay like that until another of the modes is selected, or you re-press one of the mode buttons again to turn it back to Normal.

2015 Toyota Prius+ gear selector

Strangely, I found usually you can only get to around 22 miles per hour in full EV mode, before the engine cuts in, whereas in Normal or Eco mode you can achieve thirty mph easily using only battery power, and when really feathering the throttle on slight downhill sections, I hit 40 mph with just the electric motor powering the front wheels, saving a load in fuel costs.

On a regular round trip I do of around ten miles in urban environments, it was really, really satisfying driving around knowing that I was using mostly battery power to get about, with the engine cutting in only occasionally and even then being helped along by the electric motor to improve fuel economy hugely.

Something else I like about the Prius+ being a full hybrid is that when you pull up to a set of lights and the petrol engine has been running, it immediately cuts out, and the uses the battery pack to power the air conditioning and heated seats etc, which I would think saves a load in fuel costs over a year.

Something to mention about the handling is about the ‘pitch and bounce control’ that Toyota has incorporated. As a brief explanation, the system uses wheel speed sensor information to establish when the vehicle’s nose is lifting or dipping. When the nose lifts, the Hybrid Synergy Drive system’s ECU momentarily reduces motor torque to compensate; when it dips, torque is added to compensate in a similar fashion, giving the perception of a flatter ride.

2015 Toyota Prius+ drive

Another thing I have to point out is that on motorway journeys at speeds of around 70 to 80 miles per hour, the Prius+ isn’t as quiet as I’d have liked, with the wind and road noise more apparent than expected. The six-speaker stereo system doesn’t help either, as the speakers aren’t very powerful, and while they sound good at lower speeds, they’re fairly drowned out once you’re at cruising speed.

I’m not saying the Prius+ is really noisy at the above-mentioned speeds, but I was surprised it the outside sound was as intrusive as it was. Not bad, but there’s certainly room for improvement.

I mentioned earlier that I don’t like CVT transmissions, and that’s certainly true with the Prius+ as well. The Lexus NX 300h uses one, and it really spoils the whole quiet hybrid experience, as when put your foot down instead of that nice flow of torque and power you feel with a normal gearbox as it changes down, the CVT means the petrol engine kicks in, revs ridiculously highly and noisily. Annoying.

2015 Toyota Prius+ Hybrid Synergy Drive

Acceleration from zero to sixty isn’t mind blowing, but the rolling acceleration is actually okay really, considering there’s not a huge amount of power and torque.

Safety tech on the Prius+ Icon I was sent includes ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and brake assist, vehicle stability control (VSC) and traction control, plus hill-start assist. Higher models get Toyota’s Pre-Crash Safety System and adaptive cruise control.

Price

(Figures correct Dec. 2015) There are three spec levels for the Prius+; Icon at £26,995, Excel at £29,245, Excel Plus at £31,245. You get a good amount of equipment, and the build quality is very good too, plus there’s the five year, 100,000 mile warranty to keep in mind.

Hybrids are generally more expensive than their full fossil-burning counterparts, so that’s to be expected. Bear in mind that whilst there are a ton of seven seat family cars to choose from out there, there aren’t many hybrid ones currently.

Toyota Prius+ 7-Seat Hybrid Icon 1.8 CVT verdict & score

The slight dread I had of driving around in a seven seater family hybrid MPV for a week was quickly alleviated, after realising that the Prius+ is actually a nice car.

Sure, the exterior is boring, and I really don’t like the way the engine revs jump high because of the CVT gearbox the moment you want to get anywhere a bit quicker, and the wind and road noise at higher speeds still need damping down.

However, the Prius+ is very well built, the cabin has been thoughtfully designed and it feels of good quality overall. Certainly, it is contemporary, and there’s a decent amount of tech on board, especially on the higher models. The full hybrid system works well, and because of this it’s a frugal car, especially if you’re doing a lot of urban journeys.

I was surprised by how much I like the Prius+, and I reckon you will be too, especially once you see the benefits of the hybrid system.

Do you own a 2015 Toyota Prius+, or have questions about it? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below! Read more of our Toyota reviews here.

Exterior  6
Interior  7
Engine  7
Hybrid system  8
Price  8
Handling  6.5
Drive & Ride  8
Overall Score  7.0 / 10 

Specs

Model (as tested) 2015 Toyota Prius+ 7-Seat Hybrid Icon 1.8 CVT
Spec includes  16″ alloy wheels, LED running lights. smart entry & start, head-up display, heated front seats, rain sensing wipers, 6-speaker sound system with DAB, Bluetooth, USB & AUX-in ports, rear view camera, heated & power folding mirrors, tinted rear windows. Safety: drive/passenger front & side airbags, driver knee airbag, curtain airbags, ABS, EBD, brake assist, VSC, TCS, hill-start assist.  See website for more detail
Options you should spec  Toyota Touch 2 with Go with say nav, advanced Bluetooth & connected services: £750.00
The Competition  N/A
Price  (Dec. ’15) £26,995 (as tested) – £31,245
Engine & hybrid   Engine:  1.8 litre petrol, 4-cylinder inline, naturally aspirated | Elec. motor: permanent magnet, synchronous 60kW electric motor/generator with 201.6 volt Lithium-Ion battery
Power, Torque  Engine: Power: 97 bhp @ 5,200 rpm | Torque: 105 lb ft (142Nm) @ 4,000 rpm | Elec. motor: 153 lb ft (207Nm) torque | Combined power: 134bhp/100kW
Drive, Transmission (as tested)  Front wheel drive | CVT (Continuous Variable Transmission)
Boot capacity  (VDA litres) Behind 3rd row: 232 | Behind 2nd row: 784 litre | Behind front seats: 1,750
Top Speed, 0 – 60 mph, Euro NCAP  Max speed: 103 mph | 0 – 62 mph: 11.3 seconds | Euro NCAP rating: Not as yet tested (Prius gets 5/5 stars)
Fuel economy (UK mpg), CO2  Urban: 74.3, Extra urban: 67.3, Combined: 68.9 | CO2: 96 g/km
Weight (kerb)  1,495 – 1,565 kilos (3,296 – 3,450 lbs)
Websites  Toyota UK, Toyota USA, Toyota global

Words: Chris Davies | Photography: Chris Davies, Matthew Davies

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