2016 Toyota Prius: All-New Liftback

By Frank A. Aukofer, January 9th, 2016

The Candy Man "mixes it with love and makes the world taste good." The 2016 Toyota Prius mixes it with advanced technology and makes the world feel better.

As the most successful hybrid automobile ever, with 3.5 million sales worldwide, the Prius has been stingy with the planet's fossil fuel resources. It continues and improves with the redesigned fourth-generation 2016 model.

Though it retains the same fastback design with a rear hatch, which Toyota calls a liftback, the new Prius presents a more contemporary and streamlined look. The design results in a coefficient of drag of 0.24 -- a measurement of how slippery the car is through the wind -- which is among the lowest of any car.

The Prius also is slightly longer, lower, and wider than its predecessor and features a new independent rear suspension for better handling.

Overall, the improvements combine to give the Prius a personality more akin to a standard gasoline-engine car with quick throttle response and decent acceleration, though it is nowhere near a sports sedan or stoplight drag racer.

It can run silently for short distances on electricity but mostly uses a combination of its two electric motors and 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine for a combined horsepower rating of 121. Transitions between that and electric only running are nearly imperceptible.

All Prius versions except for the base model use a new lithium ion battery pack. The base car is equipped with the older nickel metal hydride unit, which has proven to be durable and long lasting.

Electric running requires a feather touch and the Prius scolds any driver who has a heavy foot. If you accelerate too quickly, the gasoline engine kicks in and the instruments light up with the message, "excessive acceleration." Or, if you get up to about 26 mph, the message again reprimands you with "excessive speed."

All of this, of course, is aimed at fuel economy. Among the six trim levels of the Prius is a lighter weight Eco model that promises city/highway/combined fuel consumption of 58/53/56 mpg. Others are estimated to deliver 54/50/52 mpg.

Tested for this review was a mid-level Prius Three, which exactly confirmed the combined number over a measured 30-mile test drive that included city streets, freeway, and a twisting suburban highway. The Prius Three carries a base price of $27,085 and, with an advanced technology package, had a bottom line sticker of $29,020.

The package included a pre-collision mitigation system that also detects pedestrians, lane departure warning and assist, automatic high beam headlights, adaptive radar cruise control, a color heads up display, and a motorized glass sunroof.

Standard equipment on the Three includes automatic climate control, backup camera, quality cloth upholstery, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, power windows and door locks, pushbutton starting, tilt and telescoping steering wheel with redundant audio controls, and wireless smart phone charging. The inductive charging dock on the console looks as if it can handle the biggest of the current smart phones.

The Three presents a jarring first look inside with shiny appliance-white trim on the console, shifter, cup holders, steering wheel, and charging dock. It is so bright in the otherwise black interior that it almost seems backlit.

On the road, the Prius cruises quietly with scant intrusion of mechanical, wind, or road noise. Handling around curves is capable and there's little body roll as long as you don't push too hard. The new suspension system provides a supple ride.

Inside, the smallish front seats are comfortable and supportive. In back, the outboard seats deliver adequate head and knee room for average sized adults. The center position, as is the case in most cars, is restricted by a large floor hump and an uncomfortable cushion.

On the downside, the sun visors up front do not slide on their support roads and are useless to block sunlight from the side unless you are a very short person with the seat way forward.

Also, rear vision is obstructed by big back seat headrests and a large window that is bisected by an opaque bar. With that, it's important to adjust outside mirrors to eliminate blind spots, although if you must have blind spot monitoring it's available with rear cross traffic alert on the higher priced Prius Four and Four Touring models.

Although many manufacturers now offer excellent hybrid models, the Prius should easily win the hearts and minds of hybrid enthusiasts, as well as newbies.

Specifications

Base price $27,085 (as tested: $29,020)
Curb weight 3,050 lbs.
Displacement 1.8-liter
Engine type 16-valve 4-cyl. + Electric Motor
Epa mileage rating 54 mpg city, 50 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 11.3 gal.
Horsepower (net) combined net at 121 rpm
Overall length 178.7 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 105 at 3600 rpm
Transmission CVT
Vehicle type 5-passenger FWD liftback
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