Review: Toyota Prius isn’t just about gas savings anymore – USA TODAY
IRVINE, Calif. — A car that shouts practicality — not necessarily style — is suddenly becoming a little more heart-tugging for its next generation.
Does it look more like any other car? Yeah, but that basic shape still says it can be only one: the Toyota Prius.
For those who never wanted to be caught dead in America’s best-selling hybrid, take heart. Toyota has restyled the Prius to make its shape less odd, less of a car to love or hate. It’s not as jarring to the senses.
The new high-tech looks accompany a few other things to appreciate about the new Prius. The 2016 Prius is more rigid with less body roll in tight turns. It has more cargo space. Most of all, the new Prius will get better gas mileage, the whole reason for the model to exist in the first place.
In fact, at 54 miles per gallon in the city, 50 mpg on the highway and 52 mpg overall, Toyota says it will be better than any car without a plug. As if that’s not enough, a new “Eco” version of the Prius — strange as it may seem given that Prius comes billed as Toyota’s eco-wonder — adds 4 mpg more overall.
The changes are aimed at not only keeping the model’s frugal, environmentally inclined customers, who would buy a Prius no matter how it looked, but expanding the draw to people who just want a nice, fun, attractive car.
“We’ll be hoping to broaden our appeal a little bit,” says Bill Fay, a Toyota group vice president.
Making the car a little larger should help. Barely a midsize before, the five-door hatchback gains 2.4 inches in length and about half an inch in width. The center of gravity is about an inch lower, which helps stability on the road.
In a drive around Orange County, Calif., including some time running through cones on the runway of a retired Marine airfield, the new Prius proved to be thoroughly competent. The 60% increase in body rigidity and a new double-wishbone suspension was particularly on display when the car was cornered hard.
To give Prius even better gas mileage, the car was made slightly more aerodynamic with more extensive panels underneath the car to prevent wind from being trapped and causing drag. The 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine has slightly less horsepower when coupled with the electric motors, 121 vs. 134 in the outgoing generation. Since the Prius was never intended as a performance car, we didn’t miss the extra oomph. Though it won’t set speed records, the new Prius was not lacking in power when needed.
The lowest trim level of the new Prius sticks by the old nickel-metal hydride battery that has proved to be incredibly dependable. The higher trim levels go to lithium-ion for a smaller and lighter battery. It’s the same kind of battery chemistry used on most plug-ins. To the owner, it shouldn’t make much difference. The battery is underneath the passenger compartment, its size isn’t really an issue and both batteries do what they are supposed to do.
One option that the new Prius loses in this generation are the solar panels that could be ordered for the roof. Though the idea sounded interesting, the panels never actually did much. They didn’t generate enough juice to power the car.
Another thing the Prius boots is its crazy flying-buttress-style center console. We never liked it. The span was meant to be able to tuck items underneath, but it was just an oversized divider between the driver’s and passenger’s seat. The replacement has its own issue. In the higher trim levels, it’s a cheap plastic-looking piece that comes in blinding white, sure to get scuffed and dirty, and it will show every coffee spill. Toyota recognizes the issue, and it’s trying to design a black overlay piece to cover it up.
That is crazy. It’s a brand-new model. Someone should have spoken up during the design process.
The new Prius is priced at $24,200 to start, plus an $835 delivery charge, and runs up to $30,000 for the fanciest version.
What Stands Out
•Looks: More modern, high-tech.
•Gas Mileage: It’s even better.
•White plastic console: Yuk!
2016 Toyota Prius
•What? The nation’s best-selling five-door hybrid.
•When? Comes early next year.
•Where: Made in Japan.
•How much? $25,035, including shipping, to start.
•What makes it go? A 1.8 liter, four-cylinder engine combined with a battery and electric motors.
•How big? 14.9 feet long, 2.4 inches longer.
•How thirsty? 54 miles per gallon in the city, 50 mpg in the city and 52 overall. An Eco version gets 58 mpg city, 58 mpg highway for an average of 56.
•Overall: Roomier, better gas mileage and easier on the eyes.