Choosing between engine or drive systems to future-proof your car ownership costs continues to cause indecision in the minds of many car buyers. It is no longer just about petrol or diesel – there are now more options, including electric, hybrid, mild hybrid and plug-in hybrid drive systems. The reason for the indecision is that we do not know how governments will tax car usage based on engine choice in the future.

Toyota has dominated the self-charging hybrid market, with a car range that charges on the move and does not require plugging in for overnight charging. The Toyota petrol engine drives the car forward, while also charging the battery system.

This allows the car to opt in and out automatically from petrol engine power to battery power, on the move and as your driving style demands. It gives the car scope for some level of emission-free full-electric driving, with the confidence of a petrol engine backup.

The Toyota Prius is considered the original hybrid car. Toyota was the first mass producer of hybrid drives back in 1997 when it first launched the Prius. The current Toyota Prius is the fourth generation model and its hybrid technology has been merged into other models in the company’s range, as the Japanese brand opted out of diesel power in 2019.

I had the latest Prius on the road recently to compare its performance to some of the other hybrid models in the Toyota range. The Prius is one of a number of Toyota hybrid cars that I’ve driven in the last six months.

Toyota claims to have made big improvements to the 1.8l petrol engine used in the Prius hybrid to make it more efficient. The engine and automatic transmission system are very smooth, quiet and seamless in use, which makes it easy to drive.

Toyota’s system is called a full hybrid drive. This compares with the mild hybrid systems from some of the competition. Mild hybrid systems consist of conventional petrol or diesel engines with a low-voltage (48V) battery and an electric motor. This electric motor is typically used to power electric components, such as air conditioning and the radio, to supplement the engine at low engine speeds.

The mild hybrids can provide the engine with a small electric boost during acceleration. They are not full hybrid like the Toyota option, as they do not have an electric motor to power the car on its own, and they cannot drive in zero-emissions mode at any time.

The Prius has been designed and built from the ground up as a hybrid. The design style is different to other cars in the Toyota range, and from my experience, this allows it to achieve its full hybrid potential in a more complete way.

Toyota claims the new Prius has been significantly upgraded to improve its efficiency, reduce weight and give better performance. This model has the same 2.7m wheelbase as the previous Prius, but it is slightly longer and wider than before.

Its hybrid system’s components have been made lighter and smaller and were repositioned to allow the car to have a lower centre of gravity for better driving comfort and handling.

Toyota claims its latest 1.8l petrol engine is one of the most efficient petrol engines on the market.

For me, the measure of the car’s value performance is related to its fuel efficiency, as ownership is largely about economy. I drove the Prius almost totally in the Eco mode to achieve the best fuel economy figures.

As most of my driving is long-distance, I rarely opted for the full electric mode, and allowed the Prius systems to select the most efficient driving result for me. That process provided me with impressive driving comfort in a car that makes you feel relaxed after a lengthy drive.

When I began my test drive, the car’s system was reporting a driving range of 1,211km with a full 43l capacity petrol tank. After almost 800km, it was time for a refill in Carrick-on-Shannon so I returned a fuel economy of 19km/l, compared with the rated figure of 24km/l. That’s about 25% off the Toyota rated figure.

That’s still an impressive economy performance at 5.2l/100km, or 54mpg, in real terms. It makes the Prius hybrid comparable with diesel engine performance in economy terms, providing eco-style driving suits you. There is new competition in the shape of Volkswagen’s Passat hybrid, but even that will struggle to meet the Prius performance.

The latest Prius has a lower position for the car’s large storage battery, which provides improved driving and road handling. This is further enhanced by the use of more high-strength steel. The car also has a new double-wishbone rear suspension, which as well as giving greater comfort, gives more boot space. But not enough to include a spare wheel, which is on the extras listing.

The interior of the latest Prius is equally as modern as the exterior design. There is a new larger instrument section with a dual 4.2in full-colour screen and easy-to-read displays.

The top central screen presents vehicle speed and ancillary information such as fuel level, odometer, trip meter, driving range, average fuel consumption, outside temperature and drive mode. The background colour changes according to the drive mode selected: blue for Eco, grey for Normal and red for Power.

The second-largest screen provides information about the hybrid system and eco-driving tips and performance, together with infotainment and climate control system details and driver assistance alerts.

Other than blind spot monitoring or the rear cross alert system, the safety features including the Toyota Safety Sense system, are impressive.

The car comes with radar-governed adaptive cruise control, with full-speed range following function and a pedestrian recognition capability in the pre-collision safety system. This model has not received a Euro NCAP crash test rating from the five-star 2016 rating.

There are two specification levels for the Prius on the Irish market – the standard version and the luxury spec version. Entry prices start at €33,075 or £25,185 in Northern Ireland. You’ll need to add about €3,500 to the price if you’re opting for the luxury version, which has the latest Toyota Touch 2 with Go navigation system.