We got a warm, cozy feeling after learning more about the 2016 Toyota Prius—warm like the car’s improved exhaust-heat-recirculation system and steering wheel with a heat-absorbing synthetic fabric. Or was it the cup of coffee we just drank?
For starters, the 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder carries over its output ratings of 98 horsepower and 105 lb-ft of torque, although Toyota says it has completely re-engineered the engine. Among the improvements: A higher-capacity exhaust-gas-recirculation system, new intake ports, redesigned coolant passages, and lower-friction piston skirts, and it also now uses a lower-viscosity oil.
The electric drive motor is smaller to save weight and to fit within a smaller transmission case, but it also loses a few ponies and pound-feet. It’s now rated at 71 horsepower and 120 lb-ft, compared to the current model’s 80 horsepower and 153 lb-ft. As we heard last year, this motor will be supplemented by one of two battery packs: a nickel-metal-hydride unit in entry-level models and a more-powerful, more-energy-dense lithium-ion pack for top trims. Toyota shifted the battery from the cargo floor to beneath the rear seats, opening up two additional cubic feet of storage in the hatch. Moving the battery also allowed Toyota to offer the Prius with optional all-wheel drive, called E-Four, that uses a second electric drive motor to spin the rear axle. With only 71 hp and 41 lb-ft to offer, E-Four’s second motor is more of the “bad weather peace of mind” type than, say, something Ludicrous.
The familiar body shape, now punctuated with all manner of Mirai-style slits and creases, is said to be more more slippery, at 0.24 coefficient of drag versus 0.25. Torsional rigidity is up 60 percent thanks to a new ring-shaped frame-rail design, reinforced roof bars, and lower B-pillars, and a “laser screw welding” technique that essentially plugs the gaps between spot welds for a tighter panel fit. Toyota says this should help make the 2016 Prius ride quieter and smoother. High-strength steel now comprises 19 percent of the Prius shell, up from three percent. A new control-arm rear suspension and revised front shocks promise to make the most of the standard 15-inch low rolling-resistance tires. Overall, the new Prius is 2.4 inches longer, 0.6 inch wider, and 0.8 inch lower. The wheelbase remains the same, but the driver now sits 2.3 inches lower and enjoys another 0.8 inch of headroom.
Toyota is talking to those drivers, too. In Power mode, the powertrain monitors for aggressive throttle inputs and higher lateral g’s; if detected, it then will “implement a sportier acceleration and deceleration.” Engineers tuned the ECU software to deliver greater low-rpm kick, and thought it worthy to address brake feel—long a weak point of regenerative hybrid systems—with a new hydraulic booster.
While we don’t yet have details on battery capacity, electric range, curb weight, price, or fuel economy, we blessedly now know that the climate control will automatically direct air only to seated passengers and that that steering wheel is intended to warm up quickly on ice-cold winter days. Stay tuned, as we’ll turn the heat up on the 2016 Prius soon enough.