I’m all for longevity. We all want something that’ll last: our job, relationship, careers, time on this earth, a never-ending pizza… or maybe that’s just me. Anyways, longevity in the auto industry is something of a moot point. Technology and designs are changing so rapidly that seeing something for more than a few years is a rarity.
Then there’s the Toyota Prius.
This particular hybrid is fast approaching its 20th birthday, and while it has managed to stay relevant as a viable hybrid vehicle in a rapidly changing and technologically advancing automotive world, I feel like it’s also going through growing pains in terms of design. Its brand new and edgy (quite literally) look might not be enough to keep it relevant in the world of Teslas and Bolts.
The king of hybrids
Let’s start with the positive, shall we? Toyota was the “first” to come up with a viable, convenient hybrid vehicle. I bunny-eared the word first because even those who claim to be first to market were often trumped by some lone engineer/scientist/designer who lived centuries before and somehow managed to invent an iPhone with hickory sticks, bee’s pollen, and opium. You know what I mean.
So, the Toyota Prius was and still is the granddaddy, the king, the bigwig of hybrids. And it well deserves that title. Toyota’s hybrid technology has been largely unmatched over the years, and it truthfully is a stellar system that’s seamless and super-effective.
As fuel-efficient vehicles, Toyota’s hybrids make perfect sense (and by association, so do Lexus hybrids). With Toyota recently hitting 9 million hybrid units sold (including 120,000 in Canada alone), it just drives home the logical-hybrid-choice point.
The look of a joker
Now, let’s address the elephant in the room: The new exterior design of the 2016 Toyota Prius is, um, extreme.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this observation, but really, the designers went a bit too far on this one I think. For starters, take a look at the headlights, which stretch almost the entire length of the hood. The. Entire. Length. Imagine getting into a minor accident either head-on or from the side. That’s your entire headlight/hood/side panel that needs correcting. I can’t fathom that would be very cheap to replace, especially not for a light that size.
Head around to the back and the angles are just so sharp and jagged. Again, it’s all just a bit too much. I get that Toyota wanted to make a statement and make the new Prius stand out, but I think they took it over the top this time.
Hybrid-only models and fully electric cars have this nasty habit of looking so different that they enter a realm of unattractiveness. Tesla has managed to avoid this conundrum, as well as Chevrolet more recently with the brand new Bolt and redesigned Volt (the latter is quite elegant and much better looking than the previous generation).
Inside the 2016 Toyota Prius, small updates and changes have made the cabin a much more pleasant environment. I find it interesting that as Chevy ditched their white-piano-plastic finish dash inserts, Toyota seems to have picked them up and applied them to the new Prius. While not all models feature this unorthodox design element, it does offer a dash of character… if that’s what you’re looking for, of course.
I’m not overly keen on the steering wheel button placement, either, or the white-piano inserts there. My thumbs often hit buttons I didn’t want while driving.
Toyota updated the gauge cluster to include dual 4.2” colour displays for speedo and trip info, as well as battery information and the like. A 6.1” colour screen (which grows to 7” if you opt for the Technology package) graces the centre stack. For a car that’s so technologically advanced in terms of engine and battery usage, I find it odd that Toyota has not included Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in the Prius.
The seats are comfortable enough, and there’s plenty of space in the rear for a child seat and/or bags and goodies. The trunk is also capacious, offering up 697 litres of cargo room. I could definitely live with the size and space of the 2016 Toyota Prius.
That hybrid drive
Toyota claims that this latest iteration of the Prius is much more dynamic to drive, much sportier, and generally more “fun” behind the wheel. While I don’t entirely agree, I will admit that the car feels much tighter and more responsive on the road.
Equipped with a 1.8L gasoline engine that’s paired with two electric motors, the 2016 Toyota Prius produces 121 horsepower, which is more than enough to get the little hatchback going. A CVT controls power distribution to the front wheels.
A complaint I had about the previous generation was the numbness in steering. Well, Toyota’s engineers have corrected that rather large problem and it’s immediately noticeable. In fact, it was almost shocking at first how direct the steering was. I was driving it as I would have the old model and ended up over-steering the first few turns. Kudos to Toyota for making a huge improvement there.
They also made the 2016 Toyota Prius 60% stiffer, which also lends itself to better steering and handling in corners. This is not a race car by any stretch of the imagination, but if you want to have a little fun with your Prius on the roundabout, now you can with confidence.
Perhaps that stiffness also caused the Prius to feel slightly uncomfortable and bang-y on pockmarked roads. I would have liked it to be a tad softer on said surfaces, but then that would have sacrificed a bit of the dynamism the Prius so desperately needed.
Now, the real reason one purchases a Toyota Prius is fuel economy. The automaker claims you can see ratings as low as 4.4L/100km. Truthfully, I managed in the 5L/100km range and I was not hypermiling, I can promise you that. Full EV mode can be maintained at speeds up to 80 km/h, but in general I cruised around my neighbourhood doing 40-50 km/h, which was perfect.
Still the hybrid ruler
Despite an overly designed exterior, the 2016 Toyota Prius is still, in my humble opinion, the big cheese of hybrids currently on the market. The marriage of gas and electric power is seamless and happens without so much as a shudder or hiccup while driving. Fuel efficiency is immediately noticeable, while the drive really is more dynamic. It has plenty of interior space, and is definitely a viable daily driver.
With a starting price of $27,950, the 2016 Toyota Prius makes perfect sense for someone in the market for a reliable, fuel-sipping vehicle that potentially could be driven in EV mode a majority of the time (if you live close to all things and never take long road trips). All hail the hybrid king.