2016 Toyota Prius Three Touring
Compared to most other hybrids that merely integrate electrified powertrains within a popular model, like Toyota’s own Camry Hybrid, the Prius has always been designed to stand out from the crowd, and to that effect the new version achieves its aim dramatically, as there’s nothing even remotely like it on the road. It’s a sharp looking car, quite literally, with more pointy angles around its multifaceted headlamps and lower front fascia than I care to count, this particular Three Touring trimmed version made even more expressive by a triangular set of fog lamps that look like a saber tooth tiger’s fangs. The car has a wide-open greenhouse along with a sloped roofline that rakes rearward in a familiar hatchback line, although the latest Prius hides its functional capability within a slightly more sedan-like shape thanks to a tiny trunk lid ledge at back. Then again, from rear view it would be difficult to decide what body style it is without getting up close and personal to view its cutlines. The taillights continue the saber tooth tiger look, although these ones appear to have enjoyed a recent kill as the otherwise clear lenses are dripping with red. A glass panel spans the two rear lamps, adding yet more uniqueness to the design while providing excellent rearward visibility, while a matte black diffuser style bumper cap finishes off the rear end. Lastly, my tester featured an attractive set of 17-inch silver and gloss-black five-spoke alloys on 215/45R17 Bridgestone Ecopia rubber. Whether you love the new Prius for its expressive styling or find it too extroverted, nobody can call it a wallflower anymore.
Inside, the new Prius gets some nice detailing I’ve never previously seen in this model before, such as premium-like fabric-wrapped A-pillars and much more soft-touch surfacing, particularly across the frontal portion of the dash top, wrapping right overtop the instrument panel, as well as along the front door uppers, and of course the armrests side and central, which are nicely padded with leatherette as well, while the upper dash top just below the front window and the door inserts gets an attractive soft painted harder plastic that you’ll find difficult to distinguish from the pliable stuff due to an identical graining and matte finish. For this reason and the soft surfaces just noted the Prius comes across very upscale, absorbing sound better while looking and feeling much nicer than cars that merely use glossy or hard plastics.
And I’m not talking about the piano black lacquered plastic finishing off the Prius Three Touring’s infotainment interface, the car’s beautiful touchscreen or the auto HVAC controls, which are almost perfectly flush in their seamless integration, that inky black surfacing seeming to stretch and then narrow from that central position outward towards each door, where it’s visually met by yet more shiny black plastic trim surrounding the power lock, window and mirror controls.
Toyota has taken a different tact when it comes to the steering wheel spokes, lower center stack and lower console mind you, the latter looking like a large open bin, while all three are accentuated due to cream white lacquered coloring. I wouldn’t have anything negative to say about this glossy white theme (most of my living room is done in white lacquer, so how can I protest?) if it weren’t already the design theme for the previous generation Chevrolet Volt, a car that’s been on the road for six years. Why Toyota would want to emulate the Volt is anyone’s guess, not that there’s anything wrong with the bowtie brand’s extended-range EV, but Toyota hardly needs to imitate any competitor when it comes to the iconic Prius, the world’s bestselling hybrid. If it were my choice I’d opt for a different interior color combination for that reason alone. A nice glossy gray would work better, or possibly body-color, or how about a carbon fiber look, celebrating all things light and efficient?
The lower center stack just noted includes a cluster of driving controls featuring an electronic Park button, a button for EV mode and one for the Prius’ various Drive Mode settings, which include a default normal mode, a Power mode and of course an Eco mode, plus the shift lever that still gets my favorite Prius design element, a translucent motherboard-patterned electric blue top.
Enough about style, let’s talk about how everything works. If you were at all worried the sleeker new car would somehow be lacking in space, take a deep breath, release slowly and relax as the latest Prius gives up nothing to the old one. First off, the new model is 2.4 inches longer than the car it replaces, plus 0.6 inches wider and 0.8 inches lower, although its 106.3-inch wheelbase is identical to the old model. This means that those up front and behind will continue to enjoy a lot of space, with rear shoulder and hip room benefiting most. There was absolutely nothing needed with respect to the old car’s legroom and I certainly didn’t notice any lack of headroom in this new model despite its slightly lower roofline.
Behind its rear seatbacks the latest Prius is even more expansive than the outgoing model at 24.6 cubic feet, or larger still at 27.4 cubic feet if you forget the spare tire and opt for the tire repair kit; last year’s Prius only had 21.6 cubic feet of gear toting space behind its 60/40 split-folding rear seats. It’s more difficult to quantify growth when those seats are folded flat, however, as Toyota advertised just 39.6 cubic feet for the old car and now touts a shocking 65.5 cubic feet for the new model (in its printed brochure no less), and while its slimmer battery pack is now situated under the rear passenger’s seat instead of below the cargo floor in order to optimized luggage space, there’s no way it’s now 65 percent larger. If we choose to believe Toyota’s numbers, the new Prius’ maximum cargo capacity is just 1.8 cubic feet smaller than the much more commodious Prius V, so let’s just leave it at that and feel confident that based on its cargo capacity behind the rear seats it’s also slightly larger overall than the last one, while the load floor also remains mostly flat when folded.
Speaking of remaining mostly flat, that would be the new Prius through curves. Remaining might not be the best choice of participles however, being that the previous Prius wasn’t exactly a canyon carver, but in this case yesterday’s complaint has become today’s good news. Along with recalibrating the steering for more precise turn-in, the Prius’ engineering team saw fit to replace the old torsion beam rear suspension with a much more controllable independent double wishbone setup as part of its adaption to updated underpinnings dubbed Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), so along with the aforementioned underseat placement of the battery resulting in a lower center of gravity and a stiffer overall body structure it now it takes to corners with a level of poise never before possible. The new suspension also makes for a more compliant car over rougher pavement, especially for rear passengers, although I was never put off by the previous Prius’ comfort quotient, nor was I by its interior decibel levels although these have been reduced substantially just the same, the new Prius delivering a quieter, more premium experience.
I’ve been known to yawn a bit during takeoff in the old model, however, something that won’t be an issue anymore. The latest Prius really felt quicker off the line and seemed to pull better on the highway too, which actually makes no sense at all when you compare the specs. Power is down considerably for 2016, the 2015 model rated at 134 net system horsepower compared to 121 now, and with respect to the new car’s seat-of-the-pants performance improvement it’s not like I can point to any change in gearing due to both models’ single-cog continuously variable transmissions. There’s a new four-cylinder internal combustion engine (ICE) under the hood, but it still displaces 1.8 liters, continues in its less powerful albeit more efficient Atkinson-cycle, and once again utilizes Toyota’s variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i). Depending on operating conditions the new ICE is now capable of 40-percent greater thermal efficiency, plus Toyota has reworked each and every component of its Hybrid Synergy Drive system in order to improve efficiency while reducing weight and cost. So why the 13 horsepower deficiency in net output? According to Toyota it’s all about changes to the Japanese rating system, which is good news as I was worried I might be losing my overall perception of accelerative forced. It appears the performance gains are real.
Both examples I’ve driven so far (there’s a Prius Four review coming) featured the upgraded 0.75-kilowatt per hour lithium-ion motive battery, the base model coming standard with a now classic 1.2-kW/h nickel-metal hydride unit (slightly smaller than the outgoing model’s 1.3-kW/h NiMH battery). This marks the first time the regular Prius has offered the choice between two distinct battery types, let alone a more advanced L-ion option (the Prius Plug-in incorporated a higher-capacity 4.4-kW/h L-ion battery), Toyota sticking with its cheaper and well-proven NiMH unit to keep the price down on the base model, yet reaping the benefits of L-ion for marketing purposes. The end result is a Prius with the best fuel economy of any plug-less hybrid, the numbers reading 54 mpg city, 50 mpg highway and 52 combined (or 58 city, 53 highway and 56 combined with in Prius Two “Eco” trim) compared to the 2015 model that only achieved 51 city, 48 highway and 50 combined. Ok that’s not outrageously improved mileage, but we’re talking about a larger, more accommodating car that’s much more fun to drive and, as tested, considerably more feature filled than the base model.
My Three Touring tester included 17-inch alloy wheels, active grille shutters, Bi-LED projector low- and high-beam headlamps with LED accents and auto/off, LED DRLs, LED tail lamps (all the LEDs are actually grandfathered up from base as are many of the features that follow), a sport suspension, leather-like Softex upholstery, heatable powered side mirrors, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition, and a 4.2-inch color dual multi-information display with driver configurable screens for monitoring energy use, the flow of ICE and hybrid system energy, plus your Eco score, while also providing driver support systems, audio info, navigation info, etcetera. A high-resolution color seven-inch infotainment touchscreen with a split display sits just below on the center stack, filled with features like a rearview camera, navigation, advanced voice recognition, Toyota’s App Suite, six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio with aux and USB ports, Bluetooth hands-free with phonebook access and streaming audio, not to mention a Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charger featuring a charge indicator light located in that gloss white lower console noted earlier. A highly efficient Smart-Flow single-zone auto HVAC system rests in between, the layout easy to operate like everything else in the Prius’ well-organized interior.
While most should be well pleased with the Prius’ new cabin, all should be elated that everyone seated inside will be as safely protected as can be. Along with Toyota’s usual Star Safety System that features ABS-enhanced four-wheel disc brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, Smart Stop Technology, traction and stability control plus a bevy of standard airbags including a knee blocker for the driver and a front passenger seat cushion airbag, as well as front seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters, active front headrests with whiplash protection, and the list goes on, all trims below this Three Touring don’t get the advantages of the Toyota Safety Sense bundle (although it’s optional with regular Three trim) that includes a pre-collision system and lane departure alert, plus the convenience of auto high beams and dynamic radar cruise control. Oddly, however, despite all of these impressive active safety upgrades my Three Touring model can’t be had with blind spot monitoring or rear cross-traffic alert, a feature that’s normally the most basic of active safety upgrades. Instead they’re only available with the Four and top-line Four Touring, so buck up if you want ultimate safety, not to mention a few more convenience goodies. Therefore it’s difficult to know if the Three Touring model I tested qualifies for the Prius’ otherwise impressive IIHS Top Safety Pick + rating given to models “with optional front crash prevention”, although it should fare well being that the omitted features deal with side and rear avoidance issues.
Additional standard or optional features with the Prius Four include rain-sensing wipers, a head-up display unit, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a universal garage door opener, an eight-way powered driver’s seat with powered lumbar support, heatable front seats, front clearance and back-up parking sensors, Toyota’s Intelligent Parking Assist (self-parking), laminated side glass (for sound deadening), and the previously noted tire repair kit.
Of note, both Prius Three Touring and Four models also boast standard pedestrian detection as part of their “Safety Sense” system, a feature that uses millimeter-wave radar within the windshield-mounted camera’s recognition data, while the headlamps get near-infrared-ray projectors to help detect pedestrians at night.
It appears Toyota hasn’t spared any expense in making the 2016 Prius one of the most advanced cars on the planet, which will certainly go far to maintain its unchallenged lead on the sales charts while providing a new level of driving enjoyment along with even better fuel economy and utility. For me, the new Prius is a positive move forward in every respect.
*Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Trevor Hofmann and Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press *