Birdwatching – of a kind. The relevant authorities have been notified.
Pity the poor swallow, flying several thousand miles from a baking African continent to settle on these shores for the summer – and the weather turns, even for our country, wintry. The marble sized hailstones play havoc with the birds’ food supply as little flies in such conditions. But these hardy souls return year on year to grace our skies with their aerial displays and high pitched screams, or perched atop a telegraph wire in comedic looking gatherings.
These are common visitors, observed from bucolic scenes to city landscapes. What of those lesser frequenting species, maybe sent off course or whose inner sat-nav has maybe blown a fuse?
Just as bird watchers (or twitchers) squeal with delight on hearing (emphasis on seeing) that something rare has come to town, we car enthusiasts are not so different. For recently, within yards of each other, your author found not one but two such examples of cars on no account previously heard of or seen. With trusty (and in this case metaphorical) binoculars, flask, bobble hat and recording device, one began to twitch.
We first deal with rare breed, possessing the UK scientific name of Prius+. Other regions offer alternative nomenclature such as the Asian Alpha, the Belgian Grand Prius+, for the Netherlands the Wagon and Scandinavian spotters may yet witness a Prius+ Seven.
This is a seven seat mini-van derivation of the Prius liftback, designed by Kousuke Kubo along with Mineo Impaiida – Japanese variants have yet more monikers – the Prius V for Versatile whilst Daihatsu also retail the licensed Mebious. Offered to the Asian world from 2011, the Japanese have taken more than the lion’s share of sales, fluttering around half a million after five years on sale. The migratory species remains seldom spotted, the UK only available new from 2012-2017.
Our shores had two – hard to distinguish be in full flight or perched, plumages – the £26,000 T4 and the T Spirit. The former enjoyed London Congestion Charge exemption courtesy of its sub 100g/km emissions. However, the more expensive Spirit (£29,495) being one solitary gram over that tax threshold ruffled feathers in more ways than its emitting exhaust.
For while Prius+ went a long way in smoothening out its siblings somewhat outré stance, by this time the UK had already found, then owned a more game bird in the shape of the Sports Utility. Add in Toyota’s own plumped up Verso Corolla and the microscopic Prius+ sales against such in-vogue in-house rivals. Bodywork styling led to a cd of 0.29 with the Plus subscribing to different grilles and headlights. Wind cheating, the car’s rump improved the overall effect in the looks department but for the entire European Union only thirty eight thousand were sold up to 2016.
Utilising the liftback’s powertrain, Plus benefited from pitch and bounce refinements courtesy of its longer shape. Designed to cancel out longitudinal suspension oscillation, the ride was defined as ‘pleasing’ by several magazine tests when driven over the car’s natural habitat of pockmarked sealed surfaces.
American breeds were audibly different from their brethren. The US Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 enforced the fitting of external speakers to vehicles regarded as quieter than most at speeds up to and around 15mph. The Versatile would emit a pitched tone that altered accordingly should one be hurtling towards, or with luck, decelerating. “Sounding like a deranged spaceship,” was Green Car Report’s thinking yet that didn’t stop them making V their 2012 CoTY. To clarify, other species retain their electric whine whereas pedestrians may shriek as a startled pheasant at seeing such a rare bird.
The ICUN Red List states that many thousands of animal species are on the verge of extinction and our next protagonist could well be on that list for reasons more than one. The saloon car remains endangered yet that didn’t prevent Honda from rearing a fourth generation (KB1/2) Legend from 2004 to 2012.
DTW’s own Richard Herriott wrote about the fourth-generation Legend some six years ago, a piece I referenced for this rare vision. The model your author witnessed was of course the slightly cringeworthy SH-AWD (Super Handling All Wheel Drive) but also the turdus turdus blend, the Black Series, minus the yellow beak.
A heavy rain shower had made the cars lustrous black plumage shine more impressively for a thirteen year old bird. The owner(s) had obviously looked after this one handsomely. A brief glance within showed the dark interior to be also pleasingly unfettered by modern detritus along with it being a doyen of early 21st century electronics. By no means is that faint praise; the four spoke wheel, arched bridge binnacle and physical buttons a delight to compare with today’s finger-printed opaque slabs and cloisonné-d steering devices.
Lingering for all of thirty seconds should perhaps the owner return, the weather voted for me; I would not hear the 300bhp V6’s engine call today. Shame.
Launched in Britain in the summer of 2006 with a starting price around £35,000, the Legend’s chief enemies were a formidable flock – larger engined and principally fawned-over German wares, invective Japanese predators, the home grown eternal bird chaser from Coventry and one perhaps just as rare, France’s enigmatically plumaged Citroën C6.
European president, Shigeru Takagi opined to Autocar in October 2005 that his happiness levels would peak at around 600 sales per year – a figure itself but one third of what Citroën was hoping to shift – and both falling short of predictions. But this car could plump its bonnet by pyrotechnics to soften the blow of those gormless enough to avert its flight path. With such controlled power, only the brave or foolhardy would attempt shaking this car’s tail feathers. Substance with style and sadly, probably the wrong badge for most.
This Legend continues to look expensive today, whereas the Prius+ flies in a formation that never happily roosted amid European roads. Both cars received a tick in the book and rightful applause for the initial owners along with those intrepid types who keep both birds in fine fettle.
A skyward murmuration of starlings is a sight to behold – as are uncommon car types from distant places.
A twelve minute video showing the SH-AWD system in operation and testing