A quick glance at the government's green vehicle guide shows that there is a new star in the eco friendly car firmament – the third generation Toyota Prius. With an impressive 9 out of 10 greenhouse rating, the Prius showcases Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive technology, which combines both an electric motor and a conventional petrol engine, switching between them as required to give the best of both worlds.
At the core of this new hybrid car is the 3 driving modes – EV, Eco and Power – and how they interchange to give you improved fuel efficiency and thus, lower emissions:
EV Mode – If the battery is charged, you can cruise along at up to 50km/h for half a kilometer on the electric motor using no fuel and thus releasing zero emissions. This is green motoring as it should be and hopefully all hybrid cars will be able to do this for more sustained distances and durations as the technology improves.
Eco Mode – Move into Evo Mode and the 1.8L petrol engine kicks in to work in unison with the electric motor. However, both the accelerator and the air-con are controlled; a factor that Toyota claims could cut fuel consumption by as much as 15%.
Power Mode – This is for when you need to a little extra go, with the petrol engine firing up to increase the accelerator response and give the Prius a boost.
Beyond this, the Toyota Prius incorporates other clever initiatives to cut carbon emissions and make it one of the most environmentally friendly vehicles on our roads. For example, if the car is stationery, the petrol engine actually turns off, so there is no more wasteful fuel consumption happening whilst you're waiting in a traffic jam. Another innovation picks up on the regenerative braking technology being used in electric cars such as the Tesla Roadster, with the energy usually lost in braking being caught and stored as additional power for electric-powered driving later on.
So is this hybrid car truly a green vehicle champion? It's worth taking a look at the figures. The Prius' fuel consumption averages out at 3.9/100km, which puts it on a par with the MINI Cooper D. However, it's CO2 emissions are superior at only 89g/km, making it the only vehicle currently for sale in Australia with a rating under 100g. So the Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive with it's 3 driving modes seems to deliver fairly well. Beyond that, there are some rather cool additional features which further enhance the Prius' green car credentials, but we will discuss those some other time.
All up, the Toyota Prius shows hybrid cars are no longer a wonderful, if slightly impractical idea, but can actually have a place on our roads because they are good to drive as well as being eco-friendly. Hopefully, vehicle manufacturers such as Toyota will continue to pour money into developing hybrid and electric cars and the next generation of the Prius and her counterparts will continue to reduce our carbon footprint and make our planet a greener place for our children.