Migratory Species

Birdwatching – of a kind. The relevant authorities have been notified.

Stock photo – uncredited

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. 

Toyota Prius+ Image: Green Car Reports

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. 

Image: NADAguides

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.

Image: The author

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

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

17 thoughts on “Migratory Species”

  1. Good morning Andrew. I was vaguely aware of that version of the Prius, but have never seen one in the metal. Like the concurrent regular model, the overall form is not unpleasant, but the sheer bodyside (which is nice in itself) exacerbates the apparently diminutive size of the wheels. This is particularly evident in the rear three-quarters photo, where there is an acre of bodywork above the rear wheel and the car looks like it’s running around on castors.

    In contrast, the Legend still looks very nice and purposeful, relying on its strong, simple form for its appeal, rather than fussy applied ornamentation. The current generation of car designers should take note.

    1. Good morning Daniel
      I’m surprised you’ve seen so few Prius+s because they’re a common sight in Ireland, mainly it must be said amongst the taxi fraternity who doubtless find the extra space profitable. They tend I think mainly to be Japanese imports. They all seem to have that “privacy” glass at the back which makes it literally unclear whether they have a third row of seats.
      Also somewhat common is the Toyota Aqua, a JDM model that’s a bigger version of the Yaris and which manifests itself as a Prius in some markets. The attraction, in these dark and grim days of dieselphobia, is that both are hybrids and therefore still viable as imports, diesels being subjected to punitive taxation based on their NOx levels.

    2. Good morning DP. I have to confess its not the sort of car that would attract my attention, so I may well have ‘seen but not noticed’ numerous examples.

      On the subject of JDM imports to Ireland, does that business still continue? I remember back in the 1980’s seeing numerous oddly badged Japanese cars around Dublin. These were exported to Ireland at four years old, having been traded in by their owners rather than put them through the onerous Japanese equivalent of the MOT test. Obviously, there were a limited number of RHD markets where this was viable, but I don’t recall it ever being a significant business in the UK.

    3. Daniel, the JDM trade still exists although the days when all kind of back street vendors would have a collection of slightly odd looking white Corollas for sale are long gone. Now it’s hybrids only and there are only a few dealers left in the business. Typically they bring in the Honda Fit (Jazz here) hybrid and a few others. If you aim your internet at Great Island Motors in Cóbh you’ll find several.

    4. The UK JDM grey import trade is still around, but has moved on from the days of Mitsubishi FTOs, Nissan Stageae, and Honda Integra DC5s, to Bongo Friendees, Granvias, Alphards, and assorted Previa variations.

    5. Hi DP. Yes, I well remember rows of white Corolla’s lined up on Dublin docks (I wonder why they were almost all white?) They were instantly recognisable with their JDM-spec wing (as opposed to door) mirrors and chintzy badging.

      Robertas, the only JDM model that used to be seen around my part of the UK was the Mitsubishi Shogun. It was badged Pajero, with two-tone paint jobs, wind deflectors on the door windows, and unusual alloy wheels. I suspect they have all long since rusted away and been scrapped.

    6. DP, my son ‘imported’ a three year old 320D from Belfast in the last couple of weeks and said the NOx element of the duty was trivial.

    7. Mervyn, that was a nearly new car though! Not much NOx.
      If you import a car whose NOx levels haven’t been officially determined you pay a penal rate of tax.

  2. My only experience of either of these is a short ride in a Prius+ minicab. When the six of us arrived and got out a passer by was open-mouthed at how so many people could fit into such an outwardly small space, especially as it doesn’t look that different from the normal Prius to the untrained eye.
    While I’m here, many DtW articles have apparently random words italicised (“pleasing” and “sealed” in this one). Is there a reason for this? I’ve tried reading them to myself to see whether it makes sense to stress them, and at first thought maybe they were hyperlinks, but no.

  3. I just went for a walk. No unusual Japanese cars to report, but I did spot a red Kappa Coupé and a third generation Buick Regal coupe in the same shade. Alas, no pictures.

    1. The chances of seeing a Kappe coupé ought to be very low. It´s been about two years since I saw one. The last Regal coupé I saw was in Lugano, CH more than 8 years ago. I was in Dublin recently and enjoyed seeing the JDM cars there. The most frustraring thing is seeing one from a distance and not getting a look at the nameplate. A recent visit to Olso showed some interesting Japanophile tendencies and not the usual suspects. I saw an early Mazda 626 and a 70s Celica (along with a lot of Jaguar electric cars and also ICE ones too).

    2. You’re right, Richard. With production numbers that low, only 3,263 Kappa coupés were made, the chances of spotting one are slim. I consider myself lucky as this is the second Kappa coupé I spotted in about six weeks time. The first one was grey.

      I lived at my parents’ house during my dads final months. I went for a walk quite frequently and always walked passed a blue Kappa coupé. Not sure what happened to it, but it’s gone now. Just outside the village was a dark blue Thesis, also gone now.

      At one of my previous jobs on the long drive home I would notice a few cars of the people who, just like me, went home just before rush hour. I’d see a green Kappa SW almost every day. Also a rare sight, with only 9,208 ever made.

      As for the Regal, I think I’ve seen it before, so it’s probably local. I’ll see if I can spot it again and take a photo of it.

    3. Most of the Kappas I´ve seen have been metallic blue. I seem to live or spend time in the Lancia “zone” as I´ve seen enough of them for it not to be that unusual (unusual in my world is seeing a Bristol of any type). The return period for a K coupé is a little under 12 months. Regals? Nearly never.

    4. When I filter out the local cars, I’d say your return period matches mine more or less.

  4. I have just been out for a walk in between more rain showers. Spotted a Buzzard and a Red kite circling high on the “thermals” over North Kent. I think I might be a twitcher…

  5. The Prius+, called Prius V here in the US, illustrates the irony of parallel hybrids. As they carry, essentially, two separate powertrains, it makes most sense to use such a system in a large vehicle, where the extra weight will make less of a difference. Yet they perform most effectively at low speeds and stop-and-go traffic, such as one finds in congested urban areas, where a compact footprint makes the most sense. But then you end up with the Prius C, a subcompact that weighs about 300# more than the concurrent Yaris.

    That said, the V is the best looking of the Prius family.

  6. For me, the Prius+ is quite a common sight. When commuting by train (i.e. almost every day), I pass by the taxi queue at the station, usually with one or two of them included.

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