The Toyota Prius is now four generations and almost 20 years old. Which is enough to make most of us feel pretty elderly ourselves; but old enough to actually drive one? Not quite, I dare say.
In recognition of the image problem that the Prius has been nurturing for the last two decades, and in an attempt to make the car a little more normal, Toyota has taken a far-reaching approach to redesigning and re-engineering its automotive climate champion. A brand new global model platform underpins the car, which has allowed the Japanese firm to stiffen the body structure and lower the seat. New suspension and steering systems feature, as well as a widely overhauled hybrid petrol-electric engine.
What’s the 2016 Toyota Prius like inside?
The cabin looks modern and feels well screwed together. As in the previous versions, it has an instrument binnacle offset towards the centre of the fascia, with a digital speedometer and a slightly confusing power consumption gauge where the rev-counter might otherwise be. Both seem a little curious to begin with but work reasonably well once you’re used to them.
Toyota’s choice of materials is unusual, with a lot of high-gloss plastic used on the steering wheel, around the centre console, and on the dashboard. It all feels quite solid to the touch but is prone to dirty smudges and fingermarks. Elsewhere, the plastics and leathers look respectable enough, but the leather on the steering wheel feels slightly rough, and some of the plastics are disappointingly hard.
You have to go for range-topping Excel trim to get the high-end ‘Touch 2 with Go Plus’ infotainment and sat-nav system seen here as standard, which works adequately but isn’t as neatly rendered or feature-rich as equivalents from Audi or BMW. Its touch-sensitive shortcut buttons look and feel relatively cheap, too.
All models get a touchscreen, though, so going for one of the cheaper mid-spec Business Edition models – which still get a broad array of comforts including a reversing camera and cruise control – are more recommendable.
Those sitting in the back will have plenty of leg room although the car’s curving roofline limits head room for taller occupants. The car’s boot is very big, and both usefully long and wide.
What’s the Toyota Prius like to drive?
Although it’s got a slightly lower manufacturer claim for peak power than the outgoing version, the new Prius accelerates from low speed with more assurance than the previous car thanks to a more generous spread of low down torque.
You still need to plunge the accelerator all the way to the floor in order to urge the car into a hurry, and when you do the 1.8-litre petrol engine revs away as frenetically as ever. However, the car’s outright performance level is acceptable – albeit noticeably short of how fast a like-for-like turbocharged petrol would feel. At all other times, the Prius is fairly hushed; the suspension can be a little noisy over coarse surfaces, but wind rustle and engine noise are generally low.
The Prius handles moderately keenly by class standards and feels quite a long way from the soggy, unwilling prospect it once was. The steering is fairly heavy and direct, and although it fails to weight up much in cornering, it still feels precise enough on the road. Body control is decent and the car’s ride, although fidgety over uneven surfaces, is generally quiet and fairly supple.
Should I buy one?
Toyota’s major success with this car is in making it more normal to drive than any of its predecessors. Without the soft, spongey handling of the last car, and more accessible response from the engine, the new Prius has a surprisingly rounded driving experience and asks fewer compromises than before.
Our long-standing reservation about pricing remains in place, though. With the biggest-selling versions of the Prius both priced around £25,000, many will need to budget for sizeable savings on fuel or tax spend in order to justify one. Those who can’t would probably be well advised to spend their premium hatchback money on a proper premium-branded hatchback.
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