So there I was, sitting in our long-term test Toyota Prius outside a restaurant in Covent Garden in London, waiting for some friends to join me after our meal. Then I was attacked. Without warning, the passenger door opened and a young man poked his head in. And the assault - a verbal assault but none the less shocking for that - began. I'm still a little traumatised, and my memory of it is a little shaky, but it went something like this:

Young man (YM): "Oi, mate, get yerself a new car!"

Me: "What?"

YM: "Get yerself a new car. It's nice and economical, like, but it's ugly."

Me: "It's good on fuel..."

YM: "Get yerself a decent car, mate."

Me: "It's not that bad..."

YM: "Get yerself a new car, mate. Get rid of it!"

With that, he sauntered off. Rude or what? In all my years, nothing like that has ever happened to me before. I've driven some bad cars, hideous cars, even-their-mother-wouldn't-love-'em cars, but I've never had a complete stranger actually go to the trouble of "advising" me to replace a car on the grounds that it was just so offensive to his eye that he couldn't continue down the street without making some kind of protest.

As it happens, I have "got rid of it", but only because my test period with the Toyota has expired. OK, it isn't everyone's idea of a sculpted beauty, but I never took it to be that bad. In any case, who am I to talk? Perhaps, in the parallel universe where cars talk to each other about their respective drivers, my Prius found itself being told by Jags, Fords and Peugeots at every traffic light what a shame it was that a nice clever car like it had such an ugly owner. "Look, it must be a face - it's got ears!" they might have cackled.

I digress. You'll be wanting to know whether the Toyota Prius is any good. It's claim to fame, of course, is that it can save the planet. That must be why some Hollywood stars have adopted it. Well, it delivered pretty impressive fuel consumption, for a car of its size, in the summer, approaching 55mpg, but the winter saw that drop to 40mpg. Not so good, and worse than some small diesels. However, its emissions are extremely low, and it is much cleaner in stop-start town traffic.

It could have been better equipped even than it was. It isn't easy to park, so I would have appreciated some rear parking sensors (or even Toyota's wonderful rear parking camera, but that might be asking too much...). The steering wheel was adjustable for rake but not reach. Although improvements are being made, at £17,000, the Prius is still expensive. But then, what price the Earth?

sogrady@independent.co.uk

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