The Iconic Car That Started the MPG Revolution Has Been Redesigned With Thoughtful Touches and New Innovations.
Toyota’s designers and engineers had their work cut out for them when it came to designing the 4th generation Prius: How do you improve one of the most popular and iconic cars on the road?
Building on a strategy that put 1.7 million Priuses in millions of driveways over the last 15 years, Toyota brings some new finesse to the 2016 models. We recently got to spend some time with the new line and found a lot to love. Here’s a look at what we found intriguing:
1. 6 new Prius models that range from basic to eco-focused to top-of-the-line
Toyota’s designers started with the sedan’s look on the outside and feel on the inside, creating a sleeker, more stylish silhouette and a more streamlined interior with more storage and polished finishes. From the Prius Two to the Four Touring edition, all six new models have this same sleek new look inside and out. From there, Toyota has added safety, technology and luxury in a features in various levels and price points so there’s a Prius for every driver, from the super-thrifty to the luxury customer.
2. Improving the already amazing MPG
It’s the holy grail in the eco-car world and you might wonder, still being a gas-fueled car, how can Prius increase MPG? Especially without making the car significantly smaller or less powerful (the 2016 models are more powerful, in fact).
But Toyota did, increasing the Prius’s MPG to an estimated 54 MPG in the city; the Prius Two Eco model pushes the MPG even further, to an estimated 58 in the city.
This is accomplished through several things; first, a smaller, more efficient battery that generates, recaptures, stores and uses energy that the car creates through driving and braking. Then, through systems like a “smart climate control” that senses how many people are in the car and maintains air flow and temperature to maximize efficiency (because more A/C or heat burns up more gas). Also, things like heated seats and a heated steering wheel also reduce drag on the engine and maximize fuel efficiency.
3. The sweet little Prius Secret: “estimated” MPG is just the start
But that’s not the whole story. Conscientious drivers who really focus on getting the best fuel economy can do much better. A whole lot better, in fact. On our test drive we rode on the highway in the right lane, merging at a reasonable speed (not slow, but not aggressively fast), drove the speed limit and got 71.1 MPG. Drivers who focus on strategies to maximize fuel efficiency regularly get performance like this.
4. A newly sculpted body that is ‘bad-boy’ and more aerodynamic
The Prius has long had an iconic look and shape, somewhat like a bullet, but not known for driving like one. Toyota in recent years has upped its game in auto design, bringing things to its ‘design language’ like sculptured front ends and tail lights that pop off the back of the car, making its models immediately recognizable by more than just the logo. Prius takes these ideas to heart and what you’ll see is a new design that has a modern edge to it.
5. Better power and handling for a more responsive drive experience
Handling and power have been at the bottom of the Prius ‘must have’ list until now. As part of our test drive, Toyota set up a track for us to test out the 2016 Prius for acceleration, handling and cornering. Not a NASCAR type track, but a short course outlined by orange cones. On the short straightaway we got up to about 40MPH before slowing to take a sharp turn, which we did at about 25MPH. The Prius held tight to the turns without feeling wobbly or as if it might slide right off the road. Further down the track we came across a short slalom designed to let us feel how the Prius handled short zippy turns to the left and right; it did just fine.
Here’s a short video that shoes what the drive experience is like:
6. The Prius parks itself. It really does.
We tried parallel parking, back-in parking and even let the Prius pull out of a parallel spot. Our experience was pretty good. Here’s a video that shows how that worked.
7. Top safety features are standard
How’s this for a priceless gift: Toyota’s safety feature package is standard on every model, including traction control, braking stability control, brake assist that starts to brake if the system sees danger ahead and smart stop technology that brings the car to a full stop if the system senses something in its way or a pedestrian about to cross your path.
We tried these safety systems out on the course, too and were impressed. The Prius came to a full stop without any assistance from me. The only caveat is that once the system takes over, I found I had to put my foot on the brake to keep the car stopped; after a few seconds the auto braking system turns off and the car can creep forward again.
8. A redesign that keeps the things you love, improves where it can
Probably the most flattering part of the Prius redesign is that it’s clear that Toyota loves the Prius as much as its drivers do, so the mission of the redesign was to evolve, not reinvent. Toyota has a history of evolving its models, including the recently redesigned RAV4 and its luxury crossover, the Lexus RX. In this, Prius owners will love the improvements, which evolve this smart little car’s game-changing DNA, and upgrades and refinements that take it to the next level of game-changing.
Disclosure: I was Toyota’s guest for the preview of the 2016 Prius, and travel and accommodations were provided. All opinions are my own.