As part of my day job I was sent on assignment to interview people for the The Star's opinion page.
I was stationed outside Westfield Riccarton and I asked one of the taxi drivers, who was waiting for a fare, his thoughts on a particular subject. After the interview I asked if his taxi had been reliable and how many kilometres it had travelled.
The car was a Toyota Prius hybrid and he answered by saying that other than normal maintenance it hadn't missed a beat over 350,000km. I was particularly keen to know that the batteries were still original and that was the case, the driver had owned the car since new.
The cabbie also said that other drivers he knew all reported a similar Prius experience, there were no horror stories.
That doesn't really surprise me, whatever Toyota do they do with quality and longevity in mind, and there's no doubt the Prius concept has been a global success.
The Prius needs little introduction, it is a medium-to-large car which uses an electric motor and a petrol engine linked together with fuel saving measures and fewer emissions in mind.
Toyota has just given the Prius a major makeover, the changes go a long way to keeping the model fresh. The Prius has also been extended so that now it forms part of a comprehensive range, an entry-level model has also been included, it sits at $49,990. An i-Tech variant is priced according to specification and is on special offer through a Toyota website internet promotion.
The test car was the base version and would certainly be my pick with its cloth trim, I particularly liked the steel wheels and plastic wheel covers, although the wheels themselves are a new design, they are well disguised to look like alloys.
Inside, the Prius has had a major refresh, although it is still functional as well as futuristic. The dash and console area are new-age and even though the Prius is a complex car the controls are intuitive and easy to locate.
I particularly liked the storage area under the centre console and for safety the new Prius gets heads-up display viewed on the windscreen.
The dash panel graphics are wide- ranging, there are readouts for different applications depending on driver's preference, some which display the inner workings of the hybrid operation are my favourite.
The hybrid operation is complex process the engine and electric motor work in unison seamlessly and efficiently, drive is sent to the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission.
The benefits make a lot of sense when you take into account the fuel usage readouts. Between a long highway drive and a bit of suburban running around the test car recorded a 5.2-litre per 100km (54mpg) average. That against Toyota's claims of 3.9l/100km (72mpg) on a combined cycle average, which isn't that far distant in comparison to driving styles.
Since its introduction in 1997, Toyota have been working away on the Prius concept so that you know it drives much the way you would expect from a modern car, it drives 'normally,' although in eco mode there is always the feeling that it is hiding performance, there is a little bit of lethargy and, I guess, that has to be expected. Not so in power mode where the 1.8-litre engine works to promote immediate acceleration and response to throttle request when needed.
The Prius isn't fast with a 0-100km/h time of 11sec but it is designed for another role and that is to keep fuel usage to a minimum. EV mode which cuts out petrol power is good for a very short journey at slow speed.
Monitoring fuel usage is a complex trip computer. It can be programmed to relay monetary savings as well as functions which make the driver constantly conscious of the Prius' concept.
In terms of handling, the Prius has positive body balance in a corner and realistic steering feel. The low rolling resistance Bridgestone Ecopia tyres (195/65 x 15in) have satisfactory grip and do their best to relay positive information to the driver.
I took the test car on an inland route heavily affected by June's early snow, the roads were still a little icy in places, and snow drifts on the side of the road meant slow speeds and care was constantly needed. However, the Prius adapted well to the conditions and felt stable, there was never a point where it felt uncomfortable. And that is part of the Prius ideology, it promotes large car comfort in a package that is easy to understand and relate to.
I've been slow to convert to the Prius concept, that after driving several since its introduction; however, in its latest iteration I felt more at ease with the car than I ever have before, especially in eco mode where it extols the concept. Nevertheless, if I was a hybrid buyer I'd be looking at Prius c, its compact shape and trendy design appeals to me.
That aside, what Toyota have done is produce a hybrid for all tastes and desires, and you can guarantee that all have been built with customer satisfaction in mind.