The Toyota Prius hasn’t really been on the radar of auto enthusiasts. Oh sure, it’s been technically interesting – and with hybrid powertrains showing up in many supercars these days, you have to give a tip of the hat to Toyota for spearheading the effort.
Of course, if you’re a diesel fan, you might not feel so warm and tingly. Where the Europeans have long felt that diesel was the way to get performance with miserly fuel economy, Americans bought into Hybrids in a big way. So big, in fact, that it forced many of the Europeans to develop both Hybrid and Diesel powertrains, stretching development dollars might thin in the process.
Still, it’s not the Prius’ fault. And what started out as a purely agrarian little sedan has grown into a family of models, with each generation become better and more interesting. But frankly, Prius has been sleepy drive most of its lifetime.
So is the all-new 2016 Prius enough to wake us out of our slumber, or just hit the snooze button and wait to see what the next generation brings?
The looks will certainly give you a jolt. Toyota went out on a limb a bit with the design of the new model, and it is a bit polarizing. It’s a little longer and just a smidge lower and wider than the outgoing model, with sharper lines, and a few cues that remind us of the slightly bizzaro Murai Hydrogen car. We like that. And we were surprised that in person and in our tester’s Classic Silver Metallic, we really liked it.
But really, you don’t buy a Prius for looks. That said, the interior feels more special than any model that came before it – it really feels like you’re driving the car of the future. You sit a little lower now, which gives an airier feel to the cabin, which is spacious to begin with.
The large center infotainment display features cool blue lighting but earns us huge points for remembering to provide tuning knobs for volume and tuning.
Above the center stack is the eyebrow shaped display that again will be familiar to Prius fans, with handy items like speedo, energy flow, and key safety and convenience features.
Underneath is a simple to understand climate control panel that anyone who’s driven a car in the last 15 years will instantly understand. The future is friendly.
Beneath sprouts a stubby shift lever that’s within easy reach and looks like it was cribbed from the Prius V. Surrounding the shift lever, on the steering wheel and part of the center console the Prius captures the eye with white plastic trim that really pops out.
How well white plastics will hold up in the real world is a good question, but the overall effect looks like an interior designed by Apple, and it’s simple, modern and very cool.
Seating in back is comfortable – good news for the throngs of Uber and Lyft drivers – and we found the rear hatch easier to load, giving access to a notably larger cargo area – up a couple cubic feet with seats up and a very spacious 66 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. If you were thinking you need the larger Prius V, check this one out first – it may have all the space you need.
With snarky good looks and an interior that should come with a kid in a Genius polo shirt, all the Prius would have to do is provide miserly fuel economy and Toyota should have another car to please the faithful.
And okay, no big surprise here, we averaged around 50 mpg in our time with our tester. What was a surprise is that it’s a really good drive. Now I wouldn’t go to your friendly Toyota dealer and expect to find them knee-deep in GTI’s and EVO’s traded in, but if you had something like a Hellcat or a Z06 sitting in the garage as your weekend toy, you wouldn’t feel awful offsetting that with a Prius as your daily.
For one thing, the power delivery is much improved in the new model. Where the hp numbers are actually down from the previous, it’s powertrain is lighter, more compact and more efficient.
It’s also noticeably quieter, and it just happily glides along in daily use, without the noise and effort we’ve noticed in earlier models. And while it’s no quicker than last year’s model, the lack of commotion makes it feel so.
More good news comes from the introduction of a multi-link rear suspension, which is more compliant over bumps, and enhances handling feel. Retuned power steering loads up nicely in the turns and has notably good feel for an electric system. We also found the braking feel to be linear and progressive – an achievement for a regenerative braking system.
So even though you’re driving on fuel-sipping designed tires, this Prius is enjoyable to drive on a twisty road. It’s not a sports car, but you zip along, easily arcing your turns, moving quickly and effortlessly. No penalty box here.
And should you not care about tossing the little Toyota around – your loss – there’s lots of techno-joy to be found elsewhere. We found the available JBL audio system sounded great and the navigation system easy to use.
You can also feel good that the Prius is looking out for you. Our Prius Four Touring featured Toyota’s Safety Sense P (no it’s not a Rap artist) that’s standard on every model and includes Pre-collision system with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist Automatic High Beams and Full-Speed Dynamic Rader Cruise Control which will even bring the vehicle to a complete stop.
Blind Spot warning and Rear Cross Traffic Alert are also standard.
Our tester was also equipped with the Premium Convenience Package, which along with the sweet sounding JBL premium audio system, includes Intelligent Parking Assist. It’s probably going to be a necessity when cars become fully autonomous, but for now you might use it once – just to see it do its stuff – and then park like everyone else after that.
Buying into the car of the future is pretty easy with a choice of 6 models. The Prius Two starts at $24,685 and builds from there. Our cushy top-of-the-line Prius Four Touring started at 30,015. Optioned out, ours came in at $32,585.
We come away pretty darn impressed with the new Prius. It’s still gets great fuel economy, but now there’s fun to be had in the drive. The styling is sharp, the interior inviting, and it gives you plenty to be enthusiastic about – even if you’re an enthusiast.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.