Fourth-gen model seeks to improve on original formula while making it more fun
The current Toyota Prius has been with us since 2009, which in iPhone years is several geological ages ago, when the glaciers were still covering much of Acadia (if you believe in receding glaciers, that is).
A lot has changed since then in the hybrid, PHEV, and EV universe, and in a few short months the fourth-generation Prius will go on sale — Toyota is hoping before gas prices really start partying like it’s 1999 and everyone goes back to driving Hummers. Six long years of development means there will be plenty of new tech, some of which you’ll be able to see and some of which you won’t.
Here’s what hybrid fans will have to look forward to without having to form a line around the dealership the night before the release date:
2016 Toyota Prius rear quarter
1. It will offer greater fuel economy
Fuel economy is one of the reasons people buy the Prius, and in light of advances in diesel and transmission technology the new model will have to perform better than the model it is replacing. Toyota isn’t sharing the concrete figures just yet — the hatch has to go through EPA testing to confirm the sticker numbers — but lighter hybrid powertrain components, a more efficient internal combustion engine and higher-density batteries will yield a significant bump in efficiency.
“With an expected ten percent improvement in EPA estimated MPG on core models, Prius will offer best-in-class fuel economy among vehicles without a plug,” Toyota indicated in a statement accompanying the new Prius’ preview to the media. “A soon-to-be unveiled Eco model will achieve an even greater improvement, strengthening Toyota’s leadership in hybrid fuel efficiency.”
2016 Toyota Prius rear view
2. It will handle better
Granted, the bar was not set very high with the outgoing model, with a plodding setup that was fine for finely polished highways and not much more. Ye olde Prius tended to get distacted by potholes, loved turning into a train and following deep ruts in the road and didn’t like corners too much. The new Prius promises a sportier front strut setup, double-wishbone rear suspension and a lower center of gravity. Toyota also claims to have engineered a more rigid body, which will hopefully reduce body lean in the corners. We’re not expecting it to be a B-road blaster (and Toyota isn’t promising this either) so the only way to go is up.
2016 Toyota Prius interior
3. It’s larger
The new Prius is 2.4 inches longer, about 0.6 inches wider, and 0.8 inches lower than the outgoing model. Toyota’s goal for messing with the dimensions was to squeeze a little more passenger room out of the hatchback without turning it into a station wagon, adding space where it counts rather than where it does not.
The outgoing model, despite being a fairly sizeable wedge, did not make the rear bench very inviting and rear headroom was on the skimpy side as the roofline started tapering off too early.
2016 Toyota Prius dash
4. It’s loaded with safety tech
The outgoing Prius could seem like a budget car from the 1990s on the inside, with acres of plastic and a few buttons scattered here and there. It didn’t create the impression of a high tech car despite the hybrid powertrain, and aside from a few standard systems it didn’t really stretch itself to help out the driver when needed. The new Prius will feature Toyota’s Safety Sense (TSS) suite of safety and convenience technologies, which will include an automated pre-collision braking system with pedestrian detection, a lane departure warning system with steering assist and a radar cruise control system. And, of course, automatic high beams. The Prius will be one of the first vehicles to receive this suite of systems, which will trickle down to other Toyota models — not the other way around.
2016 Toyota Prius rear fascia
5. The design will be more exciting
As with handling, there is only one direction for interior and exterior design to go, and Toyota appeared to have chosen the right direction. The new Prius looks less like a slab-sided wooden block and a little more like a coupe. There are slightly irate-looking LED headlights up front, adventurously-styled taillights in the rear, actual character lines along side sides (instead of nothing) and a C-pillar with some style. The rear fascia no longer looks like it was designed by a clever computer program, with some delicate surface details to be contemplated at least in the red exterior color. On the inside, there is a greater visual variety with the possibility of contrasting colors and a larger center stack with an infotainment screen.