By Steve & Tamami Laser
Sixteen years is an eternity in the automotive business. Yet that’s how long it’s been since we drove a prototype of the first Toyota Prius hybrid for the U.S. market. The small sedan with unusual styling turned plenty of heads. We remember the odd sensation starting out in electric mode and the gas engine shutting off at a stoplight. The back seat didn’t fold down, making it tough to carry long objects inside the car. Yet we were surprised when it came time to fill up the tank and we scored close to 40 mpg.
The second-generation Prius gained improved utility with a hatchback body style. With more than 3.5-million sold worldwide, Toyota has introduced the fourth generation Prius for 2016. It rides on a new platform, gains completely new styling, and offers more advanced technologies and safety systems. It’s also larger than its predecessors, provides more cargo space, delivers a smoother ride, and – of course – the promise of improved fuel economy.
Let’s go for a ride in the new 2016 Toyota Prius in our test drive video (above) as we check out the new model on our favorite roads. A lower center of gravity and more responsive suspension make it more fun to drive.
We really like the new futuristic styling that Toyota says generates the feeling of “forward motion.” The car is 2.4-inches longer, 0.6-inches wider, and 0.8 inches lower, while riding on the same 106.3-inch wheelbase.
Toyota’s New Global Architecture includes a double-wishbone independent rear suspension that improves ride quality and packaging compared to the previous torsion beam. That, and the switch to more compact lithium-ion batteries (for most models) packaged under the rear seat (instead of under the cargo floor) provides more cargo space.
Our Walkaround video (above) offers a closer look at the exterior, interior, cargo area, and under the hood of our 2016 Prius test car.
Prius looks dramatically different at the front with a lower hoodline. Toyota says that the front badge (above the license plate) is positioned at the same height as the automaker’s new 86 sport coupe (the renamed Scion FR-S).
The peak of the roofline has been moved forward 6.7 inches resulting in an improved coefficient of drag (Cd) of just 0.24, among the lowest of the current crop of passenger cars. An automatic grille shutter closes when airflow to the radiator isn’t needed. All models feature low-profile Bi-LED headlights with automatic leveling.
A character line that runs along the side of the car splits into two sections towards the rear forming a unique recessed look that makes the taillights appear to “float.” The signature lighting is especially attractive at nighttime.
Forward visibility is improved thanks to the lower cowl, revised roof pillar positions, and larger quarter glass. The full-width glass panel in the liftgate below the spoiler is a useful design that continues from the second- and third-generation models.
Under the hood is a revised version of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive that combines a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder gas engine with two motor-generators and an electronically controlled CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission). In addition to the smaller battery pack, transaxle size has also been reduced.
The gas engine puts out 95 horsepower, with combined hybrid net output at 121 hp and 105 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s good for improved EPA fuel economy estimates of 54 city/50 highway and 52 combined. A new Prius Eco model is rated at 58/53/56. As we mentioned in our test-drive video, the powertrain is smooth, refined, and flexible with new Drive Modes.
Toyota offers several Prius models for 2016. Our Prius “Three” test car featured very comfortable, form-fitting fabric-trimmed seats with 6-way adjustment for the driver and 4-way for the front passenger.
The air conditioning system gains a quieter compressor and Smart-flow mode that focuses airflow more precisely on areas where passengers are seated, helping to conserve energy.
The rear seats have a 60/40-split design and are easy to fold by pulling up levers on the setbacks. While driving the new Prius, we noticed the cabin is quieter than before thanks to tricks like a thicker floor silencer pad, urethane-based headliner, and laminated windshield and front-door glass.
With the rear seats folded, Prius can swallow long and oversize cargo with ease. The relocated batteries and new rear suspension contribute to 3.0 cu. ft. more cargo space, for a total of 24.6 cu. ft. in the Prius Three.
The new interior has a wrap-around dash design and a wide upper instrument panel. Centrally mounted gauges continue to make it easy to view information at a glance. Our tester was also equipped with the new optional Head-Up Display that projects information onto the lower left corner of the windshield.
Background color for the new 4.2-inch TFT (Thin Film Transistor) display changes when the driver selects Eco, Normal, or Power (above) modes. As we discussed in our video, we really felt a difference in the way the car responded to accelerator input in each mode.
A cool Eco Score display grades the driver’s efficiency performance. Eco Wallet displays the total gasoline cost and savings for a trip, Eco Diary records and displays driving history, and Eco Accelerator Guidance (above) helps coach the driver to drive in a more fuel-efficient manner. (Perhaps we need an audio reminder too, like a “virtual backseat driver” to tell us, “Hey, don’t press the gas pedal so hard!”)
New shift-by-wire technology is controlled via a joystick in the lower dash. A separate “P” button (above left) operates the electronically controlled parking brake. In addition to the Drive Mode button (right), there’s a separate EV button (far right) that allows the Prius to run at low speeds in pure electric mode for a short distance when starting out.
Below the shifter is a new wireless charger for Qi-compatible devices like smartphones. Toyota says the driver or passenger can place the device in the area and it will charge without plugging in. (Our iPhones are not Qi compatible so we couldn’t test it.)
Our tester was fitted with a bright, easy-to-use 7-inch center display including a premium audio system with navigation, Toyota Entune App Suite®, backup camera, HD Radio, Siri® Eyes Free, SiriusXM All Access Radio (3-month free trial), and Bluetooth.
The App Suite includes Destination Search, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable®, Pandora®, Facebook Places, Yelp™ and Slacker Radio, plus real-time access to weather, fuel prices, sports and stocks. (Entune services are subscription free.)
A regenerative braking system switches the motor into a generator to recover kinetic energy and store it in the hybrid battery. The brake pedal on our tester had a more linear feel, although feedback still felt different compared to a non-hybrid car.
We drove the Prius for a week on all types of roads including freeways, steep hills, country lanes and in the city. After 200 miles we averaged 50 mpg. The past record (above) of other drivers showed that it’s possible to do better. (Driving from sea level to our home at 1,200 feet consumes lots of energy.)
Toyota says the new Prius is one of its first models to offer the new Safety Sense P, a package of driver assist technologies. Our tester included the Advanced Technology Package featuring a Pre-Collision System (PCS) with Pedestrian Detection (PD), Lane Departure Alert (LDA) with Steering Assist (SA), Full-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (it works in stop-and-go traffic to a full stop), and Auto High Beams.
The PCS-PD system uses new millimeter-wave radar and a monocular camera sensor to detect pedestrians, vehicles, and lane markers, and can, under certain conditions, automatically apply braking if necessary to help avoid collisions.
Pricing for our Prius Three test car started with an MSRP of $26,250, adding the Tech Package with moonroof, “Hypersonic Red” paint, and destination for a bottom line of $29,415. Prices for the 2016 Prius start at $24,200 for the Prius Two model.
After a week-long test drive, we’ve come to the conclusion that this is the best Prius yet. In addition to all the high-tech goodies and dramatically improved styling, it’s a fuel-miser that’s actually fun to drive.
Toyota is planning to introduce a next-generation Plug-in Prius shortly, with a name change to Prius “Prime.” Along with unique styling elements, an 11.6-inch tablet-style display, and a manufacturer-estimated 120 MPGe (miles-per-gallon equivalent), Toyota is targeting an electric-only driving range of 22 miles. As we post this story, prices for Prius Prime have not been released.
Prius press fleet vehicle provided by Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. (Prices and vehicle information applies to models sold in the U.S. at the time of publication. Prices, features and specifications are subject to change without notice by the automaker.)
Story, photos and videos © 2016 CarNichiWa.com