The 2016 Toyota Prius made an official first appearance this past week—and with a new shape, more finely detailed design details, and a heightened driving experience, the fourth-generation Prius looks poised to stay relevant—and a leader in some respects, in a market where the Prius is no longer the green car.
And that's probably part of the motivation in making the Prius more than a mild evolution. While the current generation of the Prius has been the strongest-selling one ever, U.S. sales have dropped off somewhat since 2010, and with gasoline prices expected to be low and more competition from vehicles with a plug—like the upcoming 2016 Chevrolet Volt—the 2016 Prius will have some challenges from all directions.
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But it will, it appears, remain the fuel economy champ among vehicles without a charging port. Toyota points to smaller, lighter core hybrid-system components, as well as more energy density in the batteries. While the automaker hasn’t said anything about the size of the internal combustion engine—or even verified that it’s a four-cylinder—Toyota notes that it’s made “ground-breaking thermal efficiency” gains of more than 40 percent.
In all, Toyota boasts that it’s expecting a ten-percent improvement in EPA estimates over the outgoing model. With the current model returning 51 mpg city, 48 highway, for an EPA Combined rating of 50 mpg, that’s a strong hint that new Combined ratings for the next Prius will land at 55 mpg, with city mileage ratings possibly approaching 60 mpg.
There will also be an 'Eco' version of the Prius, Toyota revealed; although it hasn't yet said what that version will add or omit.
Handles less like a Prius
The outgoing Prius is a relatively comfortable-riding vehicle with a driving experience that’s woefully unengaging. Toyota claims to have changed the experience from the driver’s seat and injected a lot more excitement into the Prius this time around; with a new double-wishbone rear suspension arrangement, more rigid body structure, and hopefully some quite different tuning should make the 2016 Prius a better-driving car.
The Prius moves to an all-new TNGA platform that Toyota is using to build an entire new generation of front-wheel-drive-based vehicles on, ranging from the Prius and Yaris all the way up to the Camry and Avalon—as well as some crossovers.
It’s also one of the first models to feature the Toyota Safety Sense (TSS) system, which uses pre-collision braking, pedestrian detection, full-speed dynamic radar cruise control, and a lane departure alert system with steering assist to keep you in your lane when attention strays. Toyota has said that it will expand this suite to the entire brand lineup by the end of 2017.
Although the new Prius is only modestly larger than the outgoing model—2.4 inches longer, 0.8 inches wider, and 0.8 inches lower—Toyota does claim that there’s more passenger and cargo space. Seats are more supportive as well, and while the gauges are still at the center of the dash, they look aimed a little more toward the driver.
Appearance fashionably forward...from the inside if not the outside
Toyota boasts that the Prius has styling cues that are unique to the industry, and based on a first look, it appears more successful from the inside. With its mix of smoothly contoured surfaces and some dramatic edges—and the unusually upward kick of the center stack—that appears true. It also appears that the automaker it keeping the vegan set at bay, as it says that they’ve modeled the look of the lower cabin ornamentation after “fine bone china.”
Toyota has already carried over the Prius V wagon model—and its 42-mpg EPA Combined rating (44/40 city/highway)—to the 2016 model year. The compact, more affordable Prius C model is expected to carry over as well; and that model actually had a higher city rating (53 mpg) than the outgoing Prius Liftback.