Launched in 1997 as the world£€™s first mass-produced hybrid car, the Toyota Prius lived up to the Latin roots of its name by being ahead of its time.
It used electricity to drive an electric motor and so reduce, or replace, the actions of its petrol engine. Codenamed Project 21, the Prius reduced carbon dioxide exhaust emissions to 120g/km.
The new, fourth generation model, I have been driving in the Spanish city of Valencia can drop it to just 70g/km. It ran on electric only power for 66% of the time.
That£€™s good news for London taxi drivers wanting to avoid the congestion charge. The Prius was popular as a taxi in Valencia too. The new Prius has bags more showroom appeal than before with less basic styling and colours that escape from utilitarian white. The general feel is of better quality, better materials and more style, but the prices have risen and now start at £23,295.
Though there aren£€™t any big breakthroughs with battery technology, the pairing of the 97bhp 1798cc four-cylinder engine and 71bhp synchronous electric motor means the Prius is again the benchmark for hybrid technology.
Every area of the Prius has been subjected to minute analysis to improve its fuel efficiency and make it more pleasant to live with. You still wouldn£€™t consider the Prius a sporty car, but its cornering behaviour is less numb than before.
Its centre of gravity has been lowered by 25mm and there is now more sophisticated double wishbone rear suspension to improve ride and handling along with less intrusion into boot space.
You sit lower too, which also helps, yet the view through the windscreen is better as it dips lower and the windscreen pillars are much narrower which is stress reducing in city traffic.
Out of town we found there£€™s a little more driver involvement but the electrically assisted steering still feels rather remote. Acceleration now more normally matches that of a conventional car though the continuously variable transmission (CVT) remains. There isn£€™t as much gearbox whine as it tries to catch up with the engine.
Boosted by its electric motor, the Prius will hit 62mph from rest in a reasonable 10.6 seconds if you switch from eco mode to power mode. Eco mode is now the old normal mode so the new normal is welcomingly more lively.
The recuperative action of the brakes, converting kinetic energy into electricity to charge the on-board battery pack, can still catch you out with an inconsistent brake pedal as I discovered approaching a downhill bend.
Fortunately, the test car was fitted with a head-up speedometer display as Toyota persists in putting the speedo just under the windscreen in the centre. The had-up also shows battery charge and how efficiently you are driving.
The official fuel test shows 94.1mpg on the combined cycle with 15in wheels, 85.6mpg with the 17in wheels on the test car. With only a little use of the power setting on a twisty road our 67.2mpg town figure quickly tumbled to 52.7mpg.
Some colleagues managed to achieve 74.3mpg overall which shows what is possible. You can choose the usual black or a cool grey colour for the cabin.
Trim levels are Active, Business, Business Plus and Excel. Excel is expected to appeal most to private buyers, the others to companies. A Toyota engineer said he wanted people to £€˜fall in love£€™ with the new Prius.
That is putting things a bit strongly but with a fun car in the garage for weekends, the new Prius is much less frustrating to live with as a sensible daily driver.
Verdict Moves the game on. Better to drive and looks better too.