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Toyota Prius 2016 review

2016 Toyota Prius
EXPERT RATING
7
After two hours behind the wheel of the new Toyota Prius on public roads, we came away impressed -- but also found a serious shortcoming.

When Toyota proudly announced the badge on the nose of the new Prius hybrid was the exact same height as the badge on the Toyota 86 sports car, I thought they were having a laugh.

Actually, I thought they were having two laughs.

Firstly, how on earth could they compare the Prius with a fun-to-drive coupe?

And secondly, perhaps the position of the badge explains why the Prius looks like it has a pinched face, as if someone swiped a touchscreen mid-way through the design of the car -- and then the image froze.

But the laugh is on me. The fourth-generation Prius is the biggest step-change yet in the 18-year history of the nameplate -- not because of the technology under its aerodynamic skin, but the way it drives.

We got to slip behind the wheel on public roads ahead of the Australian arrival in February 2016.

On a two-hour hour test drive through LA freeway traffic and, eventually, into the winding mountain roads through the national park beyond Pasadena, the new Prius drove like no other before it.

A pity then it doesn’t have the drivetrain to match.
 
The 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine has had a major overhaul to make it more efficient but it also has much less power (73kW v 100kW previously). And the electric motor also has less urge (53kW v 73kW).
 
US and Japan versions get a lithium-ion battery pack, saving 15kg, but Australian models make do with the carry-over item.
 
The footprint of the new car is the same as the predecessor, but the body is slightly longer, wider and lower – and the drivetrain is nestled lower in the car’s structure to create a more secure, sporting feel.

On the winding mountain pass the Prius was actually fun to drive

The seating and steering positions are also more like a sports-car than a commuter vehicle, making it easier to find the most comfortable posture. That said, you can raise the driver's seat if you prefer a more commanding view.

The steering wheel and driver's seat also have bulges in all the right places, to help you feel the car through your fingertips -- and the seat of your pants.

On the concrete freeways of LA, the Prius is relatively quiet; the tyres only get noisy on grooved sections.

On bitumen similar to that found in Australia, the tyres were quieter than we remember them to be on the current car.

Prius customers have long complained about tyre noise (Toyota doesn't fit much sound deadening because it adds weight) but Toyota appears to have listened to the feedback.

The only time the tyres get noisy is when the car is pushed hard in corners. At that point, the "eco" tyres (translated: low friction) start to lose their grip a little sooner than regular tyres would.

  • 2016 Toyota Prius 2016 Toyota Prius
  • 2016 Toyota Prius 2016 Toyota Prius
  • 2016 Toyota Prius 2016 Toyota Prius
  • 2016 Toyota Prius 2016 Toyota Prius

But providing you are not trying to set a lap record, of course the standard tyres are fine.

On the winding mountain pass the Prius was actually fun to drive, due to the way it responded to bumps and camber changes in the road. The steering had a precise feel.

Another pleasant surprise: the sudden and sharp feel of the brake pedal (long a trait of cars with electric motors) has been blunted and now has a more conventional feel.

There were only two drawbacks to the driving experience. The long, thick and oblique windscreen can block the view of oncoming cars in tight turns. I had to lean my head across, left and right, to be sure of the direction of the tight winding road and to spot approaching traffic.
 
The second drawback: the new Prius feels slower than the one it replaces. Hybrid buyers are looking for fuel economy rather than performance, but it would have been nice to find a little extra squirt to go with the other improvements.

The interior is a step up in quality and design, with ample storage cubbies and a clean layout. The US model tested had a wireless mobile phone charger in the centre console; it's yet to be confirmed for Australia. And the back seat and boot space are ample, as before.

Verdict

The new Toyota Prius finally brings some sporting flavor to the world's biggest-selling hybrid. But the windscreen pillars may not only obscure the driver's view, they could blind it from becoming an award-winner. I wonder if the media preview test drives in Australia will be done on mostly straight roads, to hide this serious shortcoming.

Does the new Prius bring enough tech to deserve your hard-earned? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

 

Pricing Guides

$27,888
Based on 8 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$24,990
Highest Price
$27,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Hybrid 1.8L, Hyb/PULP, CVT AUTO $24,990 – 27,990 2016 Toyota Prius 2016 Hybrid Pricing and Specs
i-Tech Hybrid 1.8L, Hyb/PULP, CVT AUTO $23,650 – 29,150 2016 Toyota Prius 2016 i-Tech Hybrid Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7