A petrol-electric hybrid powerplant, ‘love it, or leave it’ styling and enough graphs, graphics and self-gratification in the cabin to keep a green tech-head entertained for hours.
“Prius” is among the most recognised badges on the planet; a metaphor, the butt of jokes even, but with an unchallenged global status and sales success.
And, like Tesla, the Prius is now more than just a symbol for greener motoring. So what is the new fourth-generation Toyota Prius like?
Vehicle Style: Small hatch
Price: Prius $34,990, Prius i-Tech $42,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 72kW/142Nm 1.8 litre 4cyl petrol engine plus 53kW/163Nm electric motor. Combined output is 90kW | 1sp CVT automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 3.4 l/100km | tested: 4.7 l/100km (i-Tech)
The 2016 Toyota Prius continues with the same model range as its predecessor, with an entry-level ‘Prius’ and the feature-stuffed i-Tech.
The price-gap between the pair is sizable at $8000 – this gap despite a $1000 price-cut to the I-Tech and an increase of $2500 to the standard Prius’ list price.
Both variants are powered by the same 1.8 litre petrol-electric hybrid set-up matched with a single-speed CVT automatic driving the front wheels.
For 2016, interior space and boot space are up, fuel use is down, new safety features are now standard. The ride and handling has come in for particular attention by Toyota.
- Standard equipment: Climate control, seven-inch touchscreen, 10-speaker sound system, twin-screen TFT instrument display, head-up display, wireless mobile phone charging, radar cruise control, lane-departure warning, bi-LED headlamps, pre-collision system, reversing camera, smart entry and start, hill-start assist and more.
- i-Tech adds: leather seats, heated front seats with power adjustment for the driver, satellite navigation, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring and more.
- Cargo area volume: 457 litres (502 litres in i-Tech)
To keep the tech fans happy, Toyota has kept much of the previous model’s interior flair.
The ‘joystick’ shifter for the single-speed CVT automatic, push-button start, digital displays for everything and the centrally-located instrument layout all carry-over from the previous model.
Except all of them have been redesigned and the level of geekiness has been wound up to ’11’.
There’s page after page of information displays on both the seven-inch touchscreen and the twin-screen TFT instrument display.
Everything from the now-familiar (to Prius) energy graphic, battery-charging information, driving percentages (such as time spent driving without the petrol engine) and even an ‘eco score’ out of 100 are all accessible to the driver.
Enter the current fuel price, and a ‘savings’ measure can be expressed in dollars.
Toyota says the Prius is supposed to be all about the ‘high tech’ experience, and an example of this is a new wireless mobile phone charger which is standard in every 2016 model. There’s also an auxiliary audio input, USB port, voice recognition and Bluetooth connectivity.
While standard in the i-Tech, the entry-level Prius misses out on standard satellite navigation but each model scores the new colour head-up display and a reversing camera.
Left to its own devices, the air-conditioning system features a new sensory system to detect which seats are being occupied combined with the current interior and exterior temperature to maximise efficiency. The system is up to 2.4 percent more efficient than the one it replaces.
A new electric air-con compressor has been fitted for 2016 (replacing a compressor which was also electric) and it boasts quieter performance with faster cooling.
Even the infotainment system has been ordered to tighten its belt, with energy efficiency being one of its key features.
The driving position has certainly improved over the old model, with Toyota having reduced the angle of the steering column from 24 to 21 degrees.
The front seats are comfortable, and visibility remains a Prius highlight; particularly with the split, twin rear window.
Interior storage space is perhaps a touch limited. The door pockets are short but each contains a bottle holder, and owners using the new wireless mobile phone charging pad (requiring the phone to be placed centrally and flat) will effectively ‘lose’ this section as a storage bin.
Also, the centre console bin opens only towards the driver.
The boot is a different story. A new, smaller battery pack allows fitment to shift from the boot floor to underneath the rear seat, which also lowers the centre of gravity.
As a result, cargo space has risen to 457 litres in the standard model with its space-saver spare wheel, and 502 litres in the i-Tech which carries a tyre repair kit.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 72kW/142Nm 1.8 litre 4cyl petrol engine plus 53kW/163Nm electric motor. Combined output is 90kW
- 1sp CVT automatic
- Brakes: Discs – 255mm vented front, 259mm solid rear
- Suspension: MacPherson struts front, double wishbone rear
Toyota refers to its all-new model as the “fun” Prius; the carmaker keen to emphasise that handling was a key consideration during its development.
This effort does not go unnoticed. Put simply, the 2016 Prius is tighter and more agile than its predecessor.
Torsional rigidity has improved by 60 percent, thanks mainly to Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA), the 2016 Prius being the first model to be built on this new platform.
The centre of gravity is 24mm lower and overall weight has dropped by 30kg. Part of this improvement is can be attributed to the new smaller battery pack.
The suspension – double wishbone rear and MacPherson struts up front – has been heavily revised for flatter performance and cornering agility.
The wider use of high-strength steel and ‘laser screw welding’ also assists the handling balance thanks to the increased body rigidity. The revised electric power-steering system is also notably better than in the previous model, with better feel and responsiveness.
So, a long list of improvements, however the list comes with a “but…”
While the Prius has certainly improved, it’s no hot hatch, and it still weighs 1775kg. Those looking for a sportier Prius will be pleased with the changes, while those looking for a ‘sports’ Prius will have to search elsewhere.
But get into the right mindset, and you can really enjoy driving this car as a worthy high-tech alternative to ‘conventional’ motoring.
Settle at the wheel, and you’ll find three selectable driving modes – eco, normal, or power.
In power mode, the car ‘learns’ the preferred style of the driver, and sharpens up the responsiveness of the drivetrain and steering response. In this mode, it has no trouble keeping with the traffic or overtaking on the highway (provided you’ve got a sensible gap).
The ‘flaring’ common to CVT automatic transmissions is noticeable under hard acceleration, but barely there during normal driving. It is however now well-supressed and vastly better than the old model.
However, while the the handling is improved and the computers may adapt to your driving style, the tyres will not.
It’s a Prius, so the aim of the game is maximum efficiency and the Bridgestone tyres on our test cars were chosen for minimal rolling resistance rather than maximum grip (as buyers would expect).
Those tyres on the entry-level Prius are wrapped around 15-inch alloy wheels wearing wheel-covers, while the i-Tech gets 17-inch alloy wheels (each being 0.7kg lighter than the 15-inch wheels).
Of course, if you’re more inclined to pursue maximum fuel economy, there will be no complaints about the tyres and you will find the eco driving modes very much to your liking.
Apply gentle throttle in ‘EV mode’, and the electric motor alone can take you a reasonable distance on a near-full charge. But as with the old Prius, anything beyond around 40km/h and the petrol engine chimes in to assist.
When it does assist, it’s much less noticeable than in the old model – the new Prius is a whole lot quieter in every respect. The engine is also phenomenally efficient – boasting a thermal efficiency rating of 40 percent.
The petrol engine is also required less-often in the new model, thanks to a new EV ‘coasting’ feature which works all the way up to 105km/h.
Pretty much any time the car descends a hill when the throttle is not required, the petrol engine shuts off to save every last drop.
Braking has always been a Prius strong point, and the new model continues as such. A new friction-brake system controls the balance between regenerative braking to recharge the battery pack and friction braking by the ‘traditional’ means.
Front rotors are 255mm in diameter and vented, while the rear gets solid 259mm units.
The Prius also comes with a capped-price servicing program, with services capped at $140 each for up to six services, covering the first three years or 60,000km (whichever comes first). The eight-year warranty for the battery pack continues from the previous model.
ANCAP rating: The 2016 Toyota Prius is yet to be assessed by ANCAP. The previous model was rated at 5-stars, scoring 35.24 out of 37 possible points when it was tested in 2009.
Safety features: Pre-Collision Safety System, Lane Departure Alert with steering input, Automatic High-Beam, all-range Active Cruise Control, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, seven airbags, reversing camera.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Does the Prius have any rivals? Buyers may choose to cross-shop against frugal European diesels, a plug-in hybrid or even an all-electric vehicle, but its closest hybrid rivals come from within the Toyota showroom
Want more room and a little more go? Get the Camry Hybrid. Don’t need as much room? Check out the Prius C. Both are cheaper than the standard Prius but both carry many of Prius’ hybrid traits, including economy, of course.
For those willing to spend a little more, there’s the Leaf EV from Nissan or Lexus’ CT 200h.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The 2016 Toyota Prius is what it is – a statement in green motoring with unapologetic styling and enviable brand recognition.
And to that end, this new model is more of the same but improved on its predecessor in nearly every way: new technologies, a long feature list, improved economy, a comfortable ride and better drivability.
The Prius is also outstanding at being ‘just a car’, and is up there with the very best when asked to play the role of the small, family city car.
To the faithful, this is the original – the Toyota Prius. It still deserves all of the attention it gets.