Steering Column 16.01.09

Perked up Prius

I remember one motoring hack I know, asking a group of fellow motoring journalists how long they thought it would take Toyota to make the Prius look like a real car.

The responding gales of laughter suggested I wasn’t alone in my view that despite it being beyond reproach for its environmental credentials, it was dog ugly.

Imagine my excitement as I found, among the latest press announcements from the Detroit motor show, a paper announcing the launch of the new, third generation Prius.

The words described its advanced design, engineering and technology that would deliver better fuel economy and performance with sharper styling and more interior space and comfort. Sadly, the pictures that accompanied them spelled it out clearly – it’s still no looker.

Okay, the cabin is a bit sleeker and the lights are a bit slittier, but it still has that high, slab-sided look along the rear with those massive, ugly light lenses either side of the high tail.

But look, it’s still going to get into America on its green card and the rest of the world too. It’s still a full hybrid car that can run on petrol or electricity or a combination of both depending on the demands put on it by the driver. The engine size has gone up from 1.5 to 1.8-litre capacity but thanks to changes to the drive system it’s smaller and lighter which helps improve fuel consumption.

Actual performance and specification details on UK and European models won’t be announced until March and the car won’t be available to buy until the summer, but Toyota says it will not only be greener, it will also be better handling.

Glimpse of the future?

Volkswagen has whipped the wraps off a tasty looking little two-seat, open-topped roadster that it’s calling the Concept BlueSport.

The elegant little sports-car is powered by a two-litre turbodiesel engine that pumps out 180PS in power and 258lb ft of torque and yet can, we’re told, run 65 miles on a gallon of diesel.

It is a genuine rear-wheel-drive sportster that can clip to 62mph in just 6.6 seconds and go on to a top speed of 140mph, yet it’s also equip­ped with an “Eco” mode setting that will give you even better economy and reduce gas emissions.

Sadly we’re told it’s only a design study and that VW has “no immediate plans for production”, but the use of the word “immediate” suggests there is hope. I’d be right at the front of the queue for it.

The pictures show an elegant little car that’s perhaps half way between the Audi TT and the Porsche Boxster but sporting the frowning front-end expression of VW’s new Scirocco.

I see no reason why it couldn’t be built, and with last week’s news that Porsche now has just over 50 per cent ownership of VW, surely there would be enough in-house savvy to slip Boxster mechanicals under the body and build on the road and track expertise of the company.

Porsche performance with VW economy – what an intoxicating mix that would be.

Mike Grundon


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