Car Review: Toyota - Prius  Series (4 stars)

The Toyota Prius can finally be bought because it's a good car, not because Leo drives one.

Being kind to the environment has for a long time been quite square. The first two generations of Prius were entirely ugly, lifted only by the auspicious endorsement of a long line of Hollywood celebrities eager to save the environment. They were still unfortunate-looking though, even if Leonardo DiCaprio was behind the wheel.

The newest Prius is an entirely different affair though - it is visually the most interesting hybrid yet, and has managed to make a virtue of its hair-shirt aerodynamic styling and even manages to affect a sporty air from the front.

There are some high-tech fancy touches inside too, to keep in line with the space-age electric car theme - the 'flying buttress' centre console has a gear stick that looks like a computer mouse and upon starting the car up (to a series of beeps and whirrings that sound like R2D2 getting up to go to the toilet) you'll notice a head-up display appears in the windscreen.

There are neat touches elsewhere - a solar-powered roof that operates the air conditioning on a hot day to make the car cooler when you get back to it, for instance - and the bread and butter hybrid system still impresses on the move. The Prius will run silently in electric mode and the relaxed calm at traffic lights, when the engine cuts out, takes some getting used to.

Oddly, the engine in the latest Prius has been upgraded from a 1.5-litre unit to a 1.8-litre petrol engine, but Toyota says this is because the electric motor does the hard work where the engine would be at high revs and there's better fuel consumption to be had with a larger capacity engine running at fewer revs.

It all makes sense on the move, because using the Prius's nifty eco meter you can get regularly get well over 60mpg from sensible driving. And this is a family car, don't forget - able to accommodate four adults in comfort and with a decent-sized boot.

The Prius drives well too, maintaining a surprising turn of speed through a corner, if without any major excitement to be had. Understeer eventually ensues, but the car always feels assured on the move.

The Prius has finally moved in its third incarnation from being compelling only for its eco credentials to becoming a genuinely competitive car desirable for its low running costs and practical nature - saving the planet is a trifling bonus.

Toyota Prius StatisticsCar Reviews

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