Official Photos and Info
The Toyota Prius has long been a polarizing, slow, un-fun instrument of soul-sucking, reputation-ruining, appliance-grade fuel efficiency. And its perpetual nerdiness has made it the whipping boy of the car-enthusiast community. But like it or not, with 3.5 million sold to date around the globe and deity status in California and other green municipalities like Ann Arbor, the Prius is one of the most important automobiles in history. That makes the release of the all-new 2016 model A Very Big Deal.
Not only is the 2016 Prius all-new from the ground up (versus one of those extensive-but-not-complete redesigns of which Toyota is so fond), the new car is the first Toyota built on the company’s much ballyhooed, lighter-weight TNGA global architecture. Toyota says that the TNGA platform gives the 2016 Prius a more rigid body and improved crashworthiness. And while we’re talking safety, the new Prius will offer Toyota Safety Sense features including pre-collision warning with pedestrian avoidance, lane-departure alert with steering assist, radar cruise control, and automatic high-beams. Moreover, Toyota promises that the Prius will be more fun to drive than ever (not that previous Pruises set a terribly high bar) thanks to its lower center of gravity and new control-arm rear suspension in place of the outgoing car’s torsion-beam setup.
To say that there’s a lot going on with the new Prius’s design is like saying that Donald Trump has a wee penchant for attention. We won’t try to convince you that it is attractive (we’re sure you’ll have plenty to say in the Backfires comments), but like the Trumpster himself, it will certainly attract a lot of eyeballs, so here are some design details that we find particularly, um, interesting. We’ll start with its front end, which can be described as having a melted version of the current car’s face; it’s defined by sliverlike grilles and boomerang-shaped LED headlamps, with vertical fog lights dripping from their outer edges. Hood creases trail back from the badge, which Toyota proudly points out is positioned at the same low height as the Scion badge on the FR-S sports car. (This does not mean, however, that it will match that car’s ultralow center of gravity.) Speaking of sporty-sounding things, the Prius will be available in a new Hypersonic Red hue and will offer a set of five-spoke wheels, seen here with white inserts.
Farther back, the roof peak has been moved forward, and the roof itself appears flatter before arcing down into the rear window. A clever, partially blacked-out C-pillar treatment similar to that of the Jaguar XJ exaggerates the roof break at the top of the rear window (it’s actually quite flush), and it helps to lengthen and lighten the car’s visuals while contributing to a look that’s more sedanlike than before. Also contributing to its sedan-ish aesthetic is the shelflike body contour that emerges from the rear door and rises and flattens into a spoiler that bisects the rear window. Interestingly, the vertical section of the rear window is tucked in quite far below the spoiler. Closer to the ground is a diffuser that may or may not help fuel economy but does serve to visually break up the bluff rear end. Clearly, the styling evokes the futuristic hot mess that is the hydrogen-powered Mirai, although it’s not nearly as hideous. Say what you will about the overall design, but those taillights are pretty amazing. Welcome back, tailfins!
The design curiosities continue inside the cabin, which Toyota says offers more room for people and cargo than the outgoing model. The gauges remain center-mounted and set near the base of the windshield, but they get niftier graphics. The center stack and air vents are now housed in a tall tab that rises from the dashboard like Darth Vader’s tombstone. The gear selector has been moved from its current position next to the center-stack controls to a housing below them. Optional white trim on the lower dash is, for reasons not immediately obvious, meant to resemble fine bone china. Toyota has yet to release full specs, so specific dimensional changes and the roster of standard and optional equipment remain a mystery. We do know, however, that length grows by 2.4 inches, width increases by 0.6 inch, and the car is 0.8 inch shorter.
Interestingly, Toyota also declined to talk about the thing that gives the Prius its raison d’être, its hybrid powertrains. It did say that the car would be 10 percent more efficient than its predecessor, which would raise the fuel economy to 55 mpg—impressive but not the leap to 60 mpg that was widely expected—and we don’t know to what extent those gains can be credited to the new platform and/or superior aerodynamics. Toyota did say, however, that an even more efficient “Eco” model will be unveiled soon.
We have reported previously that the Prius will have more power (up to 150 horsepower) and will continue to offer a four-cylinder-engine/CVT combo as its primary source of propulsion, with the nickel-metal-hydride (base) and lithium-ion (upgrade) battery packs providing energy storage. All-wheel drive may be a possibility as well, but none of that is confirmed at this point.
More information is expected to emerge in the coming weeks and months, including pricing, so stay tuned.