The Prius has been the one people think of when they think of hybrids. Now, it’s the one with the most polarizing look.
What is it?
The Prius is the iconic Toyota hybrid that’s the go-to car for people wanting transportation that is thrifty, versatile and reliable. It was redesigned for 2016 with a lot of input from previous Prius owners, and its distinctive styling ensures that passersby know for sure that it’s a Prius.
The 2016 Prius is also the first to spawn from Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA), which among other advances gives the Prius a lower center of gravity than before.
New for 2017
The 2017 Prius makes Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) standard on all trims; the 2016 was selective with its availability. Price increases are nominal – less than $500 increases for all but the Touring trims, which go up a spare $15.
Pricing and trims
Base prices for Priuses range from $24,200 to $30,000. There are three basic Prius trims – Two, Three and Four – and each of those has a variation. The Two has the tested Eco sub-trim, which gets better mileage.
The Three and Four have Touring variants, which is $1,850 extra on the Three and $1,350 extra on the Four. The Touring brings premium items like aluminum wheels, active safety features and the availability of Safety Connect telematics. Luxury features like the Entune JBL premium audio system are reserved for the Four.
The tested Two Eco had only the $225 carpeted floor mat package to sticker at $25,760.
When properly equipped, the Prius tops the safety ratings.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates the 2016 Prius as high as it rates any vehicle, when it’s equipped with Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P), which includes such active safety items as a pre-collision system, lane departure warning, dynamic radar cruise control, and more.
2016: Toyota excludes the Prius Two and the tested Prius Two Eco from being equipped with TSS-P. You’d have to start with the $26,250 Prius Three and then add the $1,935 Advanced Technology Package. Then add the $835 destination charge, and Toyota sets the bar at $29,020 for the lowest amount you’d spend on a Prius to get those top safety ratings.
2017: TSS-P is standard on all trims.
The combined power rating of the hybrid battery and the 1.8-liter gas engine is 121 horsepower, and with Toyota pegging the Prius’s curb weight at just over 3,000 pounds, you’d be right in assuming that the Prius’s performance is mild.
There are three drive modes – Normal, Eco and Power, and I kept it in Power after sampling all three. Normal feels sleepy, and Eco feels like the Prius’s Ambien is kicking in, with a notably languid response to your commands. Power, on the other hand, spurs the Prius to get itself moving more quickly.
The Prius Two Eco has higher EPA fuel mileage ratings than other Priuses, which get 54 mpg city and 50 highway. The Eco does its brethren four better in the city and three better on highway. The trip computer showed us ratings in the mid- to high-forties, with San Francisco‘s hills doing their usual best to drag down a car’s fuel mileage.
The Prius has a CVT automatic transmission, and it’s a poster child for the rubbery responses these systems can exhibit. When you’re accelerating assertively in Power mode, the CVT jumps the revs up so that the engine sounds loudly active, and sometimes it doesn’t drop down the revs until after a geared transmission might have.
On the other hand, the CVT works innocuously if you’re moderate with the throttle, which most Prius drivers will likely be.
Ride and handling
Toyota has made a big deal of highlighting the advances in the 2016 Prius’s handling, and this reviewer can tell you that after putting many miles on every Prius Toyota has made, this newest one has the most road sense by far. Finally, it feels like you can dial a Prius into a turn, and no matter how lumpy or off-camber the curve is, the steering and brakes will give consistent and reassuring feedback throughout. The lower center of gravity is noted and appreciated as well.
The rubbery CVT and grabby energy-capturing hybrid brakes keep the Prius from feeling like a driver’s car, but there’s enough competence here to put the occasional smirk on your face.
These funky wheels are actually plastic hubcaps on 15-inch aluminum rims.
The Prius Two Eco’s seats were trimmed with three different colors of cloth, and they looked jazzy. The seats themselves were soft and comfortable.
Prius Twos have limited seat adjustability, just the basics here, so taller drivers might wish for a lower cushion that would tip up a bit more for thigh support. Countering that were the side bolsters that held you in place in curves.
The rear seat is roomy for two six-footers sitting behind six-footers, with head and legroom that befits a mid-sized sedan.
Versatility has long been a Prius strong point, and the hatchback’s ability to expand the cargo area is one big advantage it has over sedan hybrids. The Prius Two Eco has an impressive 27.4 cubic feet with all the seats up – the Camry Hybrid has just 13.1 cubic feet by comparison.
The cargo cover is a novel device, with a flexible frame that has loops that attach behind the rear seat on T-shaped hooks. The rear of the cover slides up and down on the ropes attached to the hatch.
It works well, until a bulky bit of cargo you slide in pops one of the loops from the T-hooks, and the cover angles up as a result and partially blocks the view out back. You’d probably learn to work around such situations, but it’s unexpected to encounter a cargo cover that has a learning curve.
The rear seats fold flat, though they introduce an elevation change to the cargo floor.
Toyota supplies a slot to pull down the hatch that makes lowering the hatch as easy as closing a backpack.
Infotainment and controls
Priuses have always had futuristic instrument panels, and this new one raises the bar with its own mix of soft shapes and hard-edged glossiness.
It’s a 6.1-inch screen in the Prius Two trim level, and there’s no Entune app capability or even the availability of navigation. It works well, with quick phone pairings and decent sound from the stereo, and the interface is straightforward.
Note the dust on the glossy surfaces. This Prius had been polished within an inch of its life before starting its week here, and it took only a few days before dust became evident. If this Prius were mine, I’d probably stash a microfiber cloth in the console for dustings while stuck in traffic.
The console has a bin long enough for the longest iPhone, though we’d search for a rubbery mat to keep the phone from sliding around on the smooth plastic surface.
The rear of the console has inputs for USB and AUX, as well a power point.
The console bin rises up high under your arm and thus is exceptionally deep and roomy, and it has a sliding tray on top for smaller items.
A nice luxury touch in this budget Prius Two trim is an automatic-down function for each of the four windows. The $50K Chrysler 300C Platinum that replaced this Prius Two has auto-down for only the front two windows, for instance.
On the whole, Prius owners are delighted with their cars, as well they should be. The current model highlights the pluses that keeps the Prius tops for a wide swath of buyers; it sips fuel, it’s been proven reliable, it’s roomy inside and, when you spend enough on one, you can own a car that maxes out the current safety ratings. In so many ways, the Prius is a winner.
With such a happy constituency, the challenge then becomes the conquest of previously un-engaged buyers. Dialing the up the Prius’s handling is a step toward that, and the radical styling puts an exclamation point on the car as a whole.
Will this be enough to attract others to the Prius when there are so many more hybrid competitors from which to choose?
This situation may actually prove the wisdom of Toyota sending the Prius so far out on a styling limb; there’s no questioning just exactly which car this is, and there are few hybrids – heck, few modern cars of any kind – about which you could say that. If that’s the criteria, then again, the Prius is a winner.
2016 Toyota Prius Two Eco
Base price: $24,700
Price as tested, including $835 destination charge: $25,760
Carpet floor mats/cargo mat: $225
- Exemplary safety ratings when properly equipped
- Nimble handling
- Roomy and versatile
- Polarizing stying
- Prius Two trim level is excluded from active safety package
- Ballooning CVT transmission response