The Prius gets a new look, better fuel economy, added safety, and improved handling.
Bill Fay, Toyota’s vice president and general manager did not begin his comments on the Prius by citing a new MPG number. Rather, he began with, “Prius set the global benchmark for hybrids, but now is breaking its own boundaries with more engaging style and fun-to-drive dynamics.” Indeed, the Prius’ 50 MPG fuel economy rating has held up over the years. Although the new Prius does get better fuel economy, the real news is its revised body, new suspension, and improved driving enjoyment.
Let’s get the fuel economy stuff out of the way. The new Prius line will improve about 10% across the board. That means the Prius will have a 55 MPG rating, up from 50 MPG. However, Toyota is bringing in a new trim called ECO that will go further. Without giving the exact number, the EPA likely has not had its say, Toyota says the Prius Eco goes beyond a 10% improvement. We still don’t know if it will hit 60 MPG. Be it 57 MPG or 60 MPG, with electricity costs going up and gasoline prices low and getting lower, the Prius Eco will still be more economical in key markets to drive per mile than electric cars.
The 2016 Prius grows 2.4 inches longer, is almost an inch lower to the ground and is a smidge wider. Toyota says that the new vehicle has a significantly lower center of gravity. Coupled with increased stiffness, and a new rear double-wishbone suspension, the car is more engaging according to Toyota. We’ll let you know when we drive it. Compared to its green-car peers from Nissan, Chevy and Ford the Prius already holds its own.
Toyota continues to push safety. Although the current Prius achieved the highest possible safety rating by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Top Safety Pick Plus, it only scored “Acceptable” in the small frontal overlap test. Look for a better score on the next test with the new chassis. Keeping that top IIHS rating depends on the Prius having optional advanced forward collision prevention. This and more will be part of the Toyota Safety Sense (TSS) package of active safety the company will offer on the new 2016 Prius. Toyota is in the process of rolling this out on all its models, and it is dramatically less expensive than other automakers’ systems.
The real proof of success will be sales numbers. Hybrid sales are down and this past month of sales were below 2013 levels for electric vehicles. If green cars have jumped the shark, nothing Toyota could do would matter for the Prius. However, if electricity cost continue to soar in many markets and gasoline prices return to their previous highs, Toyota has just put itself in the best position possible to continue to capture the bulk of the green car market.