Stick Shift: 2016 Toyota Prius

The Toyota Prius is back with a fourth generation, totally redesigned model for 2016. With so many positive changes, it continues to define its niche in the hybrid world, and solidify its place on top as the most fuel efficient car in the U.S. that doesn’t need to be plugged in. As I said, most of the new changes are good, some not so much. Where I think many will be left scratching their heads is when first seeing what Toyota has done to the exterior. This new styling direction is… radical. So much so that it may scare aware some potential buyers.

Anyone who’s already seen the new 2016 Toyota Prius on the road may have had a reaction similar to mine, a sort of subconscious wincing, the same small punch to the gut that I felt with the last generation Honda Civic. Though unmistakably still a Prius, with the same drooping roof line and chopped back end, this newest model takes on a much more angular shape. The sleek nose is lower, the windshield more sharply raked, and the tail is set higher, giving the Prius a posture like an Olympic sprinter crouched over his starting block. A sprinter that isn’t actually very fast though.
LED headlamp units are smaller, with sharply angled chevron shapes that run back over the front fenders and spread to three points across the Toyotas face. At the rear, the tail lamps are even more out of control, extending so far down as to almost land in the road. Maybe this new design just needs time to settle. Perhaps we’ll get used to it, learn to like it. Maybe not.
Inside though, the changes go from extreme, maybe in the wrong direction, to improved in all the right ones. The front seats are newly designed to be “form-hugging.” They’re fabric-trimmed, 6-way adjustable and comfortably sculpted. Leg room and head room abound up front as well, though can be a little lacking in the back, partially due to the sleek shape of the rear window. A commanding 6.1” responsive touch-screen display sits front and center, featuring Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity. There’s Siri Eyes, voice recognition, a backup camera and other pertinent audio and vehicle controls as well. This vivid display is flanked with additional touch controls for climate adjusting. Everything is fitted to an attractive floating panel.

Image via Toyota.

Image via Toyota.

Above you’ll find dual 4.2” driver infotainment screens, positioned in the middle instead of directly over the steering wheel, a design choice I still can’t get used too. These screens display your mpg efficiency score and a bright, digital graphic that shows when you’re charging the battery while driving, drawing from it, or if you’ve fully switched to the gas engine when you need to accelerate. It became almost game-like, trying to achieve the best mpg and keeping engine use to a bare minimum. Just shy of 55 mpg was my personal top score! Overall, the New 2016 Prius has improved its interior space greatly, offering a spacious, airy cabin, a little extra leg room, rear seats that fold down to provide an impressive 66 cubic feet of cargo capacity, and a seating position that feels more natural to daily driving.
In the performance arena, Toyota took the Prius back to the drawing board and changed more than just the valve timing and air/fuel mapping. Built on a new set of underpinnings called TNGA, short for Toyota New Generation Architecture, the new Prius now features double-wishbone rear suspension. Similar to what you’d see in sporty sedans and compacts, this more sophisticated suspension set-up, combined with a lower center of gravity, allows for a much more engaging driving experience. Unlike the numb and dispassionate Prius of the past, this newest entry holds the road better, absorbs bumps more fully, corners more flat and turns in with more confidence. Even the steering has more heft, which is reassuring, but doesn’t necessarily mean better in communicating whats happening under the four narrow tires. It isn’t. Still, I’m happy to report that in the driving department, the Prius is finally behaving more like a car and less like a lab experiment.
My 2016 Toyota Prius Two Eco was powered by a whisper quiet 1.8L DOHC 4-cylinder engine, and used a 0.75-kwh lithium-ion battery pack, relocated to just under the rear seats. This hybrid combination is virtually soundless unless straining under hard acceleration on a highway on-ramp somewhere. The electric motor has decent midrange torque, making getting around slower traffic around town easy enough.
The latest Toyota Prius may not be winning any beauty pageants, but in nearly every other way, it’s easily the best Prius yet. Still, it’s easy to identify small compact cars I’d enjoy driving much more. The VW Golf, Mazda 3 and new Honda Civic come to mind to name just a few. Sure, they won’t deliver even close to the same mpg’s, but they are much more enjoyable to drive on the day to day, and cost thousands of dollars less. Now, I understand that the appeal of the Prius has always been more about its small carbon footprint over the high price tag; but with a growing market for plug-in all electrics, and the Tesla Model-3 coming into the scene, will that still be enough of a reason to get one for much longer? Maybe the whole hybrid category will slowly be replaced with vehicle options that have no carbon footprint at all? Time will tell, but until then, 2016 has ushered in enough positive change to broaden our Eco-Toyota’s customer base. If the new styling doesn’t scare them all off first.

Price as tested: $25,535.00

By: Brandon Randall 

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