2016 Toyota Prius
by John Davis
When it comes to hybrid gasoline-electric cars, there is only one model to credit for starting this modern trend, the Toyota Prius. Despite most other volume brands also having jumped on the hybrid bandwagon, the compact Prius remains the gold standard for efficiency and durability. Now, that standard is getting a new shine with the 4th generation, 2016 Prius.
Not only is this an all-new Toyota Prius, but it’s built on Toyota’s New Global Architecture that will carry a wide variety of new models in years to come. It’s also a much stiffer platform that is supposed to deliver a more rewarding driving experience, not a past Prius strong suit. Is this the fun to drive Prius we’ve been waiting for?
Well, a first-time double wishbone independent rear suspension is certainly an upgrade over the former torsion beam. It provides both a smoother reaction to bumps, and better grip in corners. Furthermore, the new Prius has gotten quieter with visibility improved all around.
The new Prius is longer than before, by over 2-inches. It is also wider and lower. The look is still mostly familiar, but a taller front grille area, and a flatter, more defined hood, alters the traditional Prius triangular profile significantly. It is actually now a bit aggressive in stance. Lighting is a big contributor to that theme too, from the standard, menacing slim LED headlights, to the form-following signature tails.
New looks and improved driving capabilities are great, but Government Fuel Economy Ratings are far more important to the Prius buyer. While not yet finalized, Toyota estimates 54-City, 50-Highway, and 52-Combined. That’s overall, 2 more than last year.
There will also be an Eco model with lighter weight and enhanced aerodynamics that will push the numbers even higher, to 58-City, 53-Highway, and 56-Combined.
As for the hybrid gasoline-electric powertrain behind those gains, it has gotten lighter and more compact. Most models will use a new Lithium-Ion battery pack.
The gas-fed internal combustion part remains a 1.8-liter I4; but it’s been redesigned top to bottom. And while fuel efficiency is up, power is down. Total output now comes in at 121-horsepower. The Prius transmission remains a CVT.
The powertrain space saving translates to more space for people and cargo inside. It was already a pleasant, if not super comfortable environment, but now it’s been upgraded to be a bit more mainstream and perhaps more inviting, but there is still plenty of that “Prius feel” remaining to keep it unique.
The instrument panel now has a hint of a wraparound treatment to it, and controls are more in-line with the rest of the Toyota car family. Yet, the wide and very comprehensive full-color TFT gauge cluster remains in a centrally located dash top bubble. Front seat comfort is somewhat improved, while overall the cockpit feels wide and airy. The rear seat is also more comfy even as the space retains its coziness. Cargo capacity is up slightly as well, thanks to that smaller battery pack now located completely under the rear seat. A full symphony of advance safety features including Radar Cruise Control is available.
For our exclusive test of the 2016 Toyota Prius, be sure to catch MotorWeek episode #3515 that begins airing on December 19, 2015. For a complete listing of the public television stations that broadcast MotorWeek, go to motorweek.org and click the “About The Show” tab at the top. MotorWeek is also seen Tuesday evenings on the Velocity cable network.
It remains highly unlikely that the all-new Toyota Prius will be a breakout driver’s car. Much more likely is that the Prius will continue to do what it has done for years, expand the hybrid profile to more and more households, and be the gasoline-electric-benchmark for others to follow.