By Allen Penticoff
With the recent Super Bowl ads showing the new Toyota Prius being used as a getaway car, I was inspired to review this standard of hybrid technology again – now out in its fourth generation. When I recently drove the Prius at Anderson Toyota in Rockford, with assistance from sales rep Keith Montoya, I found that despite the cute advertising, the Prius would still not be a top choice for a getaway car. Using standard driving mode and punching it – the acceleration is good, more than adequate for everyday driving, but you ain’t gonna outrun no police car. It has a “power” mode that improves power and throttle response some, but the Prius is still no sports car. Still, the ads are fun to watch.
The first Priuses (Prii ?) rolled off the assembly line in 1997, but did not hit our shores until 2000. In that time the car has evolved substantially from one generation to the next. Each generation is very distinctive from its siblings. Five million of them have been built so far. I have recommended the Prius to many people over these years. Each who bought one has been happy with their purchase. They are especially good for folks with a long commute – substantially lowering the cost of getting to work.
The 2016 Prius is lower, longer and a bit wider, with a very stylish remodeling of its body panels to reflect the current vogue in aggressive appearance. LED headlights and taillights bring the Prius up to speed with other new cars and style. All this on top of Toyota’s new TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform using higher strength steel, greater rigidity and a new multi-link rear suspension. This and the relocation of the batteries from under the trunk – to under the rear seat and many other weight reduction points has lowered the center of gravity about an inch. The handling is crisp and the ride a bit stiff, but in the range one expects of a small car. Overall the handling is improved over generation three. Turning radius is tight – such that a circle can be made within two parking spaces end to end.
The interior has been redesigned as well. Done mostly in a soft-touch plastic in two-tone colors and accents, the dash is pleasant to look at and blends into the door panels. The usual touch screen is in the center with the real-time driving and performance information on a narrow screen centered at the base of the windshield. Despite its location it is not hard to reference. An optional heads-up display will put this information on the windshield before the driver. New HVAC controls were below the touchscreen and easy to use, but require looking at digital readouts to see what the settings are. The shifter has been relocated to the center console area from the dash. A charging pad for cellphones (very common on new cars now) is below the controls. Ports for electronics and a large armrest storage area keep everything at hand. I did find some knee clearance problems when driving the Prius, but that depends on how you sit in its comfortable seats. Rear seats are comfy with adequate legroom for adults. The steering wheel and its controls are excellent and adjustable to get a good driving position. Trunk area is increased by three cubic feet due to the lowered floor. Gone is the spare tire, replaced by an inflator kit (I don’t like this trend – a damaged tire will leave you stranded). A nice feature is the heater stayed on with the engine off while parked for several minutes.
While there is an EV mode with quarter-mile range, my experience with it was limited and not impressive. The Prius is not an electric/hybrid so moving along a little on battery power is not really its forte. Supposedly a new plug-in version is in the works that will have a more substantial 20-35 miles of EV range. That would be nice. As of right now there are six models of Prius, with the base “Two” starting at $24,200. A base “Two” will get 54 city/50 highway mpg. To get the touted 58 city/53 highway mpg, you’ll need to pay $500 more for the “ECO” model. All except the base “Two” now have lithium-ion batteries for lower weight. An optioned out “Four Touring” (base $30,000) will bring a MSRP of about $35,400. But with that you get much in the way of upgraded electronics, driving assistance, and safety electronics such as pre-collision sensing with pedestrian detection, lane keeping, blind-spot detection, auto high beams and radar cruise with automatic braking – and more.
It is always difficult to really review a vehicle thoroughly in such few words. But the new Prius definitely wins as being the most fuel-efficient non-plug in car in American today. So my recommendation to commuters still stands. The Prius is a solidly reliable transportation option, good for much more than around town driving. When gasoline prices rebound – you’ll be glad you’re driving a fuel sipping Prius.