First drive: 2016 Toyota Prius
Toyota is the undisputed King of hybrids, having put more than eight million of them on the road. It all started in 1997 when the first Prius came to market in Japan.
Toyota has sold more than 3.5-million of them, so the arrival of the fourth-generation Prius for 2016 is big news.
It is a significant moment for this car, as Toyota attempts to make it less of a niche product and move it into the mainstream.
Based on an entirely new global platform that will form the basis of many future Toyotas, including the next Corolla, the 2016 Prius boasts a number of improvements that make it more fun to drive and provide greater interior space.
The 2016 Prius offers more mainstream items and will be the first Toyota available with a suite of safety features that will spread elsewhere in the Toyota line and will continue to be the most fuel-efficient non-rechargeable hybrid in the country.
With a distinctive new look and vastly-improved driving dynamics, it will come in three trim levels starting at $25,995, several hundred dollars less than the outgoing model, despite additional equipment.
There is nothing boring about the appearance of the new Prius. Sharp angles and creases abound, from the elongated dual beam LED headlights to the vertical hockey-stick-like LED tail lights, this is a new look.
Inside, the instrument panel is in the centre as has been the Prius practice from the outset. But this one gets a pair of 11-cm TFT screens side-by-each across the top of the big tablet-like infotainment screen.
The console is black plastic on the base model and a smokey white on the others, meant to look like bone china — a love it or not approach.
The beltline has been lowered, providing excellent visibility and the glass at the rear remains intersected by a spoiler.
The new Prius is 6.0 cm longer, 2.0 cm lower and 1.5 cm wider. It is the first Toyota produced on the lighter-weight , aluminum-intensive TNGA global architecture that uses more high-strength steel (19 per cent vs three per cent) and is 60 per cent more rigid than the outgoing model.
This also benefits noise reduction and crashworthiness.
Using lessons learned producing millions of hybrids, the development team has managed to upgrade the Prius while keeping costs in check.
One of the most significant of these is in the batteries used to provide the electric power component.
Upper trim levels and those with a technology package now use lithium-ion batteries, while the base model continues with nickel-metal-hydride units.
Both are smaller than those in the current Prius, enough so that packaging improvements result in the car now being classified as a mid-size model, up from the compact designation.
Not only has the repositioned battery, now under and behind the rear seat, meant more people and package space, it contributes to a 24 mm lower centre of gravity. So too do lower seats and an engine fitted lower in the chassis. All of this, combined with an entirely new rear suspension and revisions up front, and to the steering, has brought a whole new driving experience.
Where the outgoing Prius was the definition of boring to drive, the new one responds to steering inputs with a surprising degree of alacrity.
Run back-to-back over a slalom course, the two — old and new — provided a graphic reminder of how much the Prius has changed.
On a wide variety of roads around this costly city, where the least an 900-square-foot bungalow sells for more than $1 million, the new Prius provided a comfortable ride with the new rear suspension soaking up the worst road blemishes with aplomb.
The taxi drivers here are going to love the comfort and extra room — when they trade in their current Prius.
More than 90 per cent of the taxis here are Toyota hybrids with the vast majority having accumulated hundreds of thousands of kilometres.
The reason for their popularity is simple. The Prius and other Toyota hybrids are at their best in city traffic.
They are actually rated for better fuel economy in the city than on the highway — 4.2 litres/100 km in the city and 4.6 on the highway!
The new Prius uses a revised version of Toyota’s 1.8-litre 2ZR-FXE-Atkinson cycle engine. Due to a change in the ratings system used by Toyota going forward, it has lost three horsepower.
But redesigned intake ports, additional exhaust gas recirculation and dedicated heat exchangers allow it to go farther and do more on less fuel.
During laps around Stanley Park, I was actually able to get the fuel mileage under 3.0, while another scribe set the mark at 2.6, admittedly driving in a manner that would have those behind considering road rage, but keeping up with the 30 km/hr speed limit the entire 14-km route.
To further flame interest in this heavily revised automobile, Toyota has made a number of unique features available, including a temperature regulated steering wheel, charging pad on the console for your phone and a new airbag inside the front seat to properly position the occupant for maximum protection in a crash!
A technology package will add blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, full-colour heads up display, an intelligent parking and warning system with 12 sonar sensors positioned around the vehicle giving it the ability to parallel or perpendicular park with no hands on the wheel
The Toyota Safety Sense system will also be available on all but the base model: Pre-collision system, lane departure alert, automatic high beams, and dynamic radar cruise control.
The Toyota Prius has grown up, and in the process become a much more viable everyday vehicle.