While few people would look at a Prius and see it as a high-performance vehicle, the truth is that they are every bit as rigorously engineered as a Porsche or BMW. Toyota's designers maintain a ruthless pursuit of fuel economy, improving whenever and wherever they can.
For 2017, four variations of the Prius are available, intended to appeal to the variety of hybrid car buyers who have different requirements. The Prius, the standard on which all the others are based, is a 4-door compact hatch. Two other variants offer more flexibility and a greater price range. The "Prius c" is a bit smaller, but still offers 4-door access for five occupants and a cargo space of 17 cubic feet. The "Prius v" is the largest of the standard cars. Passenger volume is a capacious 97 cubic feet and it offers 34 cubic-feet of cargo space. Meanwhile, the Prius Prime also comes with four doors, though it's a 2+2, with seating for four.
All three standard Prius models are powered by a 1.8L 4-cylinder engine connected to Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive electric motor. The only transmission choice remains a continuously variable transmission (CVT) which, rather than have distinct "gears" is able to choose whatever ratio is perfect for the job. The Prime, too, utilizes the fuel-sipping 1.8-liter engine and CVT, but pairs them with an 8.8 kWh battery pack. The car can run on battery power alone for up to 22 miles, perfect for the daily commute, while total range in hybrid mode is about 600 miles.
The interior of the Prius is big and airy, offering an open feel and a good view of the road ahead, with improved headroom over previous generations. Two 4.2-inch multi-information displays are housed within the instrument panel. Basic information such as speed and fuel level are displayed on the right. The left display, on the other hand, is programmable, allowing the driver to choose what information he or she wants to see at any time. A heads up display projects onto the windshield and serves to further keep the driver in the know without ever having to look away from the road. The Prime benefits from an 11.6-inch touchscreen display that is centrally mounted vertically, similar to that found in the Tesla, and it is controlled through simple tap/swipe gestures, much like a tablet.
Basic features on the Prius include 15-inch alloy wheels, low rolling resistance tires and four-wheel disc brakes. Higher trim levels include a navigation system, 17-inch alloys and synthetic leather seating surfaces. A suite of safety options include a pedestrian detection system and a pre-collision warning system, as well as a radar-controlled dynamic cruise control system.
Options include a premium JBL sound system and a full parking assistance system, which will make parallel parking much easier with the help of ultrasonic sensors.
"It's hideous! What was Toyota thinking?!" "Kill it with fire." "I wouldn't be caught dead driving something that looks like that." "It's not so ba--oh, wait, yes it is." This is a very brief selection of reactions I encountered during my week with the new 2016 Toyota Prius. I get it. The new Prius is ugly, but it's also better. Trust me.
Between the new squinty face and too busy rear end is a revised version of one of the most fuel efficient self-contained powertrains on the road, a more aerodynamic version of one of the slipperiest production car bodies to ever grace a wind tunnel and handling that's remarkably good... for a Prius. The new Prius is more spacious and more comfortable than ever and it's packing a loadout of premium tech and driver aid features.
Beneath the Prius' hood is a mostly familiar version of Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) powertrain. The system pairs a 1.8-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine with a 53 kW electric motor. The gasoline engine supplies 95 horsepower and 105 pound-feet of torque and the electric motor adds 71 horsepower and 120 pound-feet of torque to the mix. Peak system power is stated at 121 horsepower, because hybrid math is never as simple as addition; total system torque is not stated.
The Good The Toyota Prius exceeded its already impressive EPA estimates for fuel economy, delivering 59 mpg combined over 500-plus miles of testing. The new rear suspension boost comfort and driveability. The available suite of driver aid technologies includes automatic parallel parking and a well sorted adaptive cruise control system.
The Bad Toyota's Entune system dumps nearly every function under the "apps" bucket and could use a rethink and redesign. We couldn't get the automatic perpendicular parking to work consistently. The exterior design is... polarizing.
The Bottom Line The 2016 Toyota Prius is the most fuel efficient car without a plug, but it's also surprisingly easy to live with thanks to its spacious comfortable cabin and an assortment of smart tech amenities.
Step into a Highlander Hybrid for $39,320.
If you want a four-door sedan with Toyota reliability but are turned off by more-mainstream Camrys, check out the TRD model. Thanks to chassis and appearance enhancements it looks and feels like a different car entirely.
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