Taxi drivers are not known as airy-fairy followers of four-wheeled fashion.

Boot and cabin space, fuel efficiency and cost-efficient maintenance and upkeep are much higher up the list of cabbie essentials than the latest technological fad.

So when the original four-door Toyota Prius took to the roads in 1997 it was not initially destined for the taxi ranks. As the world’s first mass-produced, hybrid-powered car it glided on to the driveways of the rich, famous and those with deep enough pockets to indulge in a spot of environmentally-aware motoring.

How times have changed. Now the Prius is a staple of virtually every cab company in the country and hybrid technology has become Toyota’s key competitive advantage, with its hybrids making up more than half of all the alternative powertrain vehicles sold in Europe – more than all other hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles combined.

With growing awareness of environmental issues and legal changes to force carmakers to cut emissions, the Prius remains at the cutting edge.

The fourth-generation car remains Toyota’s technological flagship with systems that raise levels of safety, convenience, performance and comfort.

The car driven here packed everything from radar-operated adaptive cruise control to a system that can detect pedestrians, not to mention lane departure alert, automatic high beam, road sign display, blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert.

Powered by a new generation of Toyota’s self-charging hybrid electric powertrain, the latest 1.8-litre Prius is quieter, more economical and more responsive. There is also more boot space, thanks to a smaller hybrid battery mounted beneath the rear seats and a new rear suspension.

The car is built on a new platform using so-called Toyota New Global Architecture giving it a low-slung stance and sleeker looks.

The front seats are snugger and more comfortable and the Prius cabin is lighter, brighter and more spectacular than ever, with a long, thin instrument cluster made up of colour LCD screens stretching across the dashboard combined with a tablet-like, seven-inch central touchscreen panel.

It looks daunting when it first glows into view but all the information you need, and some you don’t, is there at a glance and it’s backed up by a colour head-up display that projects information and alerts on to the windscreen.

The nearest screen displays speed, fuel level, odometer and 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 screen provides information about the hybrid system and eco-driving tips and performance, together with multimedia and climate control system details and driver assistance alerts.

The top of the range test model also comes with leather upholstery, rain-sensing wipers and a ten-speaker sound system.

When the original Prius was launched it came with the marketing slogan “just in time for the

21st  century”, but I doubt even Toyota’s 20th century clairvoyants expected hybrid technology to take off in quite the way it has.

The sales figures alone speak volumes about how prescient those words were, with Toyota selling more than eight million hybrid vehicles worldwide since 1997, including more than 3.5 million Prius and quite a few cabs.

Auto facts

Model: Toyota Prius Excel

Price: £27,950

Insurance group: 14E (1-50)

Fuel consumption (combined): 78.5mpg

Top speed: 112mph

Length: 454cm/178.2in

Width: 176cm/69.1in

Luggage capacity: 16.1 cu ft

Fuel tank capacity: 9.4 gallons/43 litres

CO2 emissions: 82g/km

Warranty: Five years/ 100,000 miles