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.