2016 Prius Four is a smarter, sleeker version of Toyota’s aging hybrid – Los Angeles Times

Posted: Friday, February 05, 2016

Back in the dark days of automotive history, fuel was cheap and plentiful and Detroit dinosaurs ruled the Earth.

Then the Prius came along, offering the first practical hybrid solution, and became the bestselling car in California.

Almost a decade later, fuel is cheap and plentiful again, and a changed world awaits the latest iteration of the world’s most successful hybrid.

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Since the debut of the original, the road has become busy with nontraditional-powertrain vehicles. Almost every major manufacturer makes some kind of hybrid, which is now available in almost every kind of vehicle. And joining the hybrids are flocks of battery-electric Teslas, plug-in Leafs and Volts, and hydrogen fuel cell Mirais and Claritys.

The groundbreaking technology of 2007 is now passe. How can a simple, old-fashioned Prius compete?

The 2016 Prius Four is a smarter, sleeker version of the car some have dubbed the most boring vehicle in the world. No longer ugly, the new model looks more like a sensible sedan and less like a science experiment.

Powered by a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine supported by an electric motor and a lithium-ion battery, the Prius gets great mileage — an estimated combined city-highway 52 miles per gallon.

Unlike the power plants in earlier Priuses, the engine in the Four actually feels like an engine. Toyota says it puts out 95 horsepower and 105 pound-feet of torque. Zippy around town, it’s more fun to drive than earlier versions, and on the freeway will actually accelerate from 65 to 75 mph and pass another vehicle.

Also unlike its predecessors, the Four fits five comfortably. A really tall passenger might wish for more headroom, but the average adult should be fine. The 60-40 rear seat split also will allow cargo loading through the rear hatchback gate.

But like previous versions, the Prius drives a little heavier than its 3,080 pounds would suggest. That’s a few hundred pounds more than a Civic, a few hundred less than a Camry, but if feels stodgier than either of those two cars. Despite independent MacPherson front struts, the handling and cornering are somewhat sluggish.

It’s also little loud. At freeway speeds, the road noise may find you cranking up the volume on the radio or raising your voice to make the kids hear you say, “Don’t make me come back there.”

The Four also has some of the visibility issues that bothered owners of earlier models. Its high interior lines had me a little nervous on narrow streets, and its split rear window had me relying entirely on the backup camera in tight parking spaces.

This top-of-the-line model has amenities that help explain the price difference between the $24,000 Prius Two and the $30,000 Prius Four.

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