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2016 Toyota Prius

Frank Washington | 12/29/2015, 5:09 p.m.
Toyota’s Prius is almost as significant to the auto industry as the Model T. The Prius was the first mass ...

Toyota’s Prius is almost as significant to the auto industry as the Model T. The Prius was the first mass produced gasoline hybrid vehicle. And its popularity, some 3.5 million have been sold here since it was introduced almost 20-years ago, has virtually dragged other automakers into making hybrids of their own to compete.

For the fourth generation Prius, Toyota wants to expand the cars’ customer base to include more than environmentalists, trendsetters and techies. To do that, Toyota changed the Prius’ styling, upgraded its performance and loaded it up with even more technology. It is doubtful that any sheet metal or parts were carried over from the old Prius.

Designers moved the Prius’ roof peak forward by almost 7-inches to reduce drag. The hood was lowered, edged character lines beginning at the front fenders flowed to the rear with the lower one swept up to the rear fenders. Standard Bi-LED headlights dominated the front fascia. And the car was 2.4 inches longer, 0.6 inches wider and 0.8 inches lower that then model it replaces but it still rides on the same 106.3-inch wheelbase.

In a sense, gone is the Prius’ unique squat shape and it has been replaced by a car that looks more like a compact sedan. The new Prius sat on Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA). It enabled a high strength body structure, double wishbone rear suspension and low center of gravity.

New 17-inch wheels on the Touring models are 1.5 lbs. lighter than on previous models and the 15-inch wheels on other models are a half-inch wider and stronger, Toyota said, and that helped to reduce road noise. Aerodynamic wheel covers caught less air for better mileage and all Prius models have super low rolling resistance tires.

Powering the 2016 Toyota Prius was a 1.8-liter gasoline engine and two electric motors. The gear box was a continuously variable transmission (CVT). A lithium-ion battery replaces the nickel-metal hydride battery except for the Eco grade trim line on the Prius Two. The new battery is smaller, lighter and it is now under the rear seat instead of taking up cargo space in the trunk.

Shift by wire is now used and the driver can choose between normal and power driving modes. The transaxle and motor used a multi-shaft layout with higher motor speed range and a reduction gear mounted on a parallel shaft to reduce parasitic losses by 20 percent compared to the previous model.

The hybrid has an EPA rating of 54 mpg in the city, 50 mpg on the highway and 52 mpg combined. The Eco Prius Two model is rated at 58 mpg in the city, 53 mpg on the highway and 56 mpg combine. However, on our drive the car’s readout showed as much as 62 mpg and that was city driving. Others reported even better fuel consumption, according to the Prius’ instruments.

All of this translated into car that was easy to drive, quiet, responsive to driver input and it rode smoothly. Toyota had set up a slalom at the now closed El Toro Marine Air Station. The new Prius handled it well. But the old Prius could barely get through without skidding or losing the tail end.