“The Prius family is renowned for being a petrol-electric trailblazer in the latter 1990s and its name became synonymous with hybrid motoring throughout four generations. Today, over half of Toyota’s passenger cars sold in Oz are hybrids.
While the second-generation ‘XW20’ (2003-2009) is arguably the most iconic Prius, its XW30 successor, debuting globally in January 2009 at the Detroit Motor Show, built upon the mould effectively set by its predecessor. It launched locally in July that year.
And while its driving nature and frugality is largely mirrored in today’s Corolla hatchback, this third generation is a neat way to get into hybrid mobility on budget while still wearing your eco-sensibilities loudly and proudly on your proverbial sleeves. Further, its eco-credibility flaunts by way of its aerodynamically slippery form and that a good many of its components are derived from plant-based plastics and foam.
The heroic stats for “Australia’s greenest car,” as Toyota called the XW30 at the time, was its claimed 3.9L/100km frugality combined with a low 89 grams of CO2 per-kilometre emissions, improving on its forebear’s 4.4-litre and 109-gram figures.
Despite improved economy, the Prius swapped the old version’s 1.5-litre petrol engine for a larger Atkinson cycle 1.8-litre unit with 73kW and 142Nm. Toyota Australia quote electric motor power as 60kW (with 207Nm), though total system power for its Hybrid Synergy Drive was advertised as 100kW, or 20 percent up on gen two. But with 0-100km/h prowess of a leisurely 10.4 seconds, it’s hardly what you’d call quick.
This hybrid system is series/parallel closed-circuit (non-plug-in) format Toyota still adopts in mass production. Sitting on then-new front-wheel drive platform, the third-gen Prius features a CVT transmission. This was first Prius where drivers could select individual drive modes – EV, Eco and Power – and force its electric drive motor to do all the heavy lifting at speeds of up to 50km/h. EV range? Well, that depends, though Toyota originally quoted “one to two kilometres”.
Unlike plug-in hybrids, that typical fit more powerful lithium ion batteries, the regular Prius’s 27kW nickel metal hydride (NiMH) is recharged, via regenerative braking and surplus combustion power, largely at the vehicle’s whim. The benefits presenting themselves in low-speed EV propulsion and favourable fuel economy across balanced driving.
While its strut and torsion beam suspension is quite conventional, the Prius brought brake-by-wire technology, which was a first for Toyota at the time of this generation’s launch.
The rest of the five-door hatchback package? Its head-up only display and ‘Touch Tracer’ system, duplicating the read-out on the instrument panel, and “flying buttress” with central cluster brought a novel ‘space age’ point of difference for a small-segment-sized cabin that can fit five adults at a squeeze.
Two versions were initially offered in 2009: the base Prius, starting at $39,990, and high-grade Prius i-Tech, way up at $53,500. Pricing would tumbled in its lifecycle: by 2015, you could slip into the new base Prius for under $33k and the i-Tech would eventually list as low as a tenner under $44k.
While the former was ostensibly pitched as a fleet special, the nicer latter variant brought niceties such as leather accented trim, sat-nav, LED low-beam headlights, active cruise control, forward collision warning and automatic parking smarts. The i-Tech also adds solar cells on the roof to help power its remote controllable aircon system, enabling it to discharge hot cabin air while the Prius is switched off. A $5k cost-optional pack could add sat-nav, a rear-view camera and intelligent parking assist to the base versions.
Seven air-bags are standard while boot space is rated at a handy 446 litres.
The XW30 was less than seven years young when it was replaced by the fourth-generation XW50 that launched in Australia in March 2016. By that time the nameplate had expanded to include the pint-sized Prius C compact hatch and family-oriented seven-seat Prius V, while plus-in-hybrid (PHEV) versions of the regular ‘small’ Prius were offering in some global markets.
One thing to consider is that many XW30 Priuses – or ‘Prii’ as Toyota eventually coined it – exist today beyond the surety of the eight-year/160,000km battery warranty offered when new. “