6 days, 6 Toyota hybrids and some burnt tyres | The Daily Star6 days, 6 Toyota hybrids and some burnt tyres
12:00 AM, October 12, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:05 AM, October 24, 2016

6 days, 6 Toyota hybrids and some burnt tyres

That doesn't sound right, does it? Hyrbids and burning tyres may be an oxymoron, but Toyota isn't having it any more with the image that Hybrids can't be fun. At least I don't think they are having it. Because they provided the mostly South Asian journo team with cars that ended up being mostly fun. Maybe they meant for me to drive along gently with the happy murmur of content polar bears cooing in my head. Early September this year, Toyota invited us over to Japan's Fuji Speedway to understand and sample a range of their hybrid vehicles. They wanted us to know how serious they are about saving the world through continual tweaks. Here are six very different cars for possibly very different sets of people. And it rained. Question is, did I learn anything?

4th Gen Prius

This has always been a love-hate relationship. But now they have updated the electronics, lowered the centre of gravity by managing to place the battery lower and provided a punchy 1.8 litre engine similar to the last one. The engine develops 95 horsepower with the battery kicking in for a combined rating of about 121 horsepower. Now, Toyota has started focusing on fun-to-drive strategy but this Prius is still rooted in its eco-friendly mode. The torque is available low down making it surprisingly interesting on the twisty and bend-filled track. But I have also driven the previous two and the new one drives better, turns sharper and has lost some of that previous boat-in-the-sea motion. And that too while seating four well fed adults comfortably. 

 

Alphard

The 2016 Alphard is a massive full-size MPV big enough to lose people in. In fact, several of the attending journos haven't yet been found after they got lost inside an Alphard. The hybrid is powered by a 2.5 litre engine developing a surprisingly low 150bhp. Yet it doesn't feel sluggish but the ride is super soft and super comfortable. So I did what you should never do with a cruiser van like this: I took a tight left hander as hard and as fast as I dared in the drizzle. It leans further than the Titanic but with traction on, it remains in line. 

 

Crown Majesta

This 3.5 litre car is the sixth generation of the flagship full-size sedan from Toyota. Where these models previously preferred the V8, the modern tech manages to squeeze out way more power from a smaller capacity V6. A combined 338 bhp makes it far from a slouch. This was the car given to us for a demo along a couple of tracks with cones. One was drenched with water jets and the other naturally soaked by rain the next day. Without traction control, this car is more than happy to push its tail out. Turn it on and the TC tries hard to drag the car into line. While it is loaded with safety features, if you are silly enough to push it close to triple digits and then turn hard, the car will slide out as one of our fellow journalists found out in a spectacular spin. In the end, all safety features will be negated if the driver is as sensible as Trump. But despite the size and the remoteness of the steering, you can dial it back in even when the rear starts to slide. 

 

Axio/Corolla Fielder

I like wagons. Wagons can be cool most of the times. This Japan only Fielder is a minor refresh in terms of design. Head and tail lights are now elongated to create a more squinty appearance front and rear. Which is cool. The inside is a bit Spartan. The dashboard is hard, clonky plastic and the engine noise and the sound of water splashing about permeates into the cabin. The jewel is the 1.5 engine similar to the one on the Prius C and the battery pack gives a combined output of 100bhp. Which isn't much but in this segment power is less important than how it is delivered to average a claimed 33kmpl. What you really need is a whole bunch of these in Dhaka. Government needs to get rid of CNG for cars and encourage driving on hybrid power. 

 

Lexus RC 300h

Yep, petrolheads have probably skipped directly to this. The car looks striking. It has a lavishly leather clad interior with ridiculously tiny rear seats. It has a 2.5 litre turbo engine with an electric motor producing 220bhp. Which frankly isn't a lot because the car is heavy. But boy does it look good. The CVT manages to provide instant go that belies the weight. The steering is precise and super sharp but the handling is a little soft even when put into Sport. You can still comfortably exit tight corners leaving a trail of tire smoke in the rear view mirror. The car is averagely quick at 8.6 seconds to 100kmph but felt quicker each time I trailed back from the lead cars and then accelerated to reel them in.The gear-less CVT responds so much sharper than the typical 8-speed auto of the 200t models of this and the RX. It almost feels like sacrilege saying this hybrid is perhaps the best combo of a car: quick, fun and frugal.

Mirai

I didn't expect it, but this was more fun than it should have been. No one should have this much fun with an eco-car because then you're not really saving the planet. You're still killing it, albeit a little slowly. It is a hydrogen powered electric motor developing 152 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque. And all that torque comes in instantly, especially when I am exiting a gentle S bend and heading for a hairpin left turn. Those skinny wheels squeal and scream and slide on the damp track. Suffice to say, that torque is intoxicating. But if you really want to save the world, stop lighting up the traction control symbol. The car is smooth and silent when driven gently. 

So what did I learn? 

For one, hybrids aren't for puttering about only. Toyota seems to be recapturing some of their lost mojo. Whatever happened to the fun AE86, JX Chasers and mid-engined Lucida vans? For most of 2000, they have been building reliable transportation for covering A to B. Now they seem to be injecting some fun in varying doses into even their least performance oriented cars. So now you can have fun AND be a responsible earthling. And also, the Mirai can lightly smoke tyres. Surprise. 

Photos: Ehsanur Raza Ronny

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