There are many places and all types of roads in which a 2016 Toyota Prius is bound to roam. But a coned-off road course; did we book tickets to the wrong press trip?

It’s true, Toyota U.S.A. not only tossed us the keys to the latest generation Prius, they also really wanted us to get this hybrid’s wheels a screaming and squealing in a series of slalom courses and heavy braking maneuvers. Well, we assumed they wanted to hear the tires squeal…

A new double wishbone rear suspension makes the 2016 model year the most enjoyable to drive Prius Toyota has ever made.

This change of tact is all because the Prius is finally equipped with a suspension that doesn’t feel like you’re riding on overcooked spaghetti when the road gets twisty. Granted, the new double wishbone rear suspension doesn’t turn the Prius into a Lexus LFA. But it definitely makes this the most enjoyable and entertaining version of Toyota’s eco warrior.

Don’t get us wrong, we always enjoyed the Prius’ miserly mileage and Earth-friendly image. After all, waterfront property is only a good thing when the water isn’t pouring into your living room. As much as we love AMGs and Aston Martins, we also understand the planet can’t survive if all cars return a fuel economy average that can be counted on both hands.

The 2016 Prius comes with six available trims: the Two, Two Eco, Three, Three Touring, Four and, finally, Four Touring, though even the most expensive package starts at $30,000.

No surprise, the 2016 Prius boasts some of the best mileage numbers you’ll find anywhere on earth. Estimated mileage pegs the Prius at 54 city/50 highway, while the Prius Two Eco trim level (the mileage champ of the range) nets a cool 58 mpg during city driving.

The Prius model spread sounds daunting at first, though it’s not as dizzying as it appears. There are six different trim levels to choose amongst: Two, Two Eco, Three, Three Touring, Four and, finally, Four Touring. All come with a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine, coupled to twin electric motors that power the front wheels. The one mechanical oddball of the bunch is the base Two, which uses a nickel-metal hydride battery, rather than the lithium-ion batteries found in the rest of the Prius range. This is a cost saving measure, pure and simple, and allows the Prius Two to carry a sticker price of $24,200 (excluding destination fee).

In addition to the improved driving experience, the new Prius also has a much improved design; it looks more futuristic, and far less like a potato on wheels.

That’s fine, except the Two Eco starts at only $500 bucks more. Even the range-topping Four Touring model, loaded with basically every comfort and convenience item, starts at a reasonable $30,000. In an era when rough-and-tumble pickup trucks run close to $40-grand, the Prius is a solid bargain.

It also looks more futuristic, and far less like a potato on wheels – sorry Toyota, we always found the previous versions a bit spud-like in appearance. All models come standard with swoopy LED lights, while the wildly contoured rear takes inspiration from the oddly-angular, hydrogen-powered Toyota Mirai. Whereas the Mirai could arguably be called downright ugly, the Prius isn’t nearly as polarizing.

Inside, you’ll find the same left-of-center dashboard design that has always marked the Prius cabin as something outside the norm of typical economy cars and family sedans. The over-riding them is the same: A large centrally-located information display, a stubby little gear-lever sprouting from the dash, and an arc of gauges and dials spanning the dead center portion of the upper dashboard. Just be careful when scanning all those nifty gauges because, as dumb as it sounds, it’s easy to focus too much attention on the “efficiency” and “power flow” data, rather than the road ahead.

Now, auto journalists like to talk a lot about improved material quality and softer soft-touch plastics – car companies like to drone on about them even more, trust us! In the case of the 2016 Prius, however, the look and feel of the new dashboard materials is immediately apparent and lends a much classier aura to the cabin. Okay, the splashes of shiny white plastic on the steering wheel and lower half of the center console look pretty cheesy

Aside from a couple personal critiques of a few plastic pieces, we think most Prius shoppers will be more interested in the noticeable boost in passenger and cargo room. The front seats are really comfortable, outward visibility is better than before, and the trunk can hold up to 27.4 cu.-ft. of goodies, and that’s with the split-folding rear seats in place.

But let’s get back to driving because, much to our surprise, this was truly one of the key points that Toyota’s PR and engineering team pushed hard during our test drive in sunny Southern California. The Prius’ double-wishbone rear suspension makes the ride feel much calmer and far more planted to the road, especially given the previous model’s lighter, more wiggly-jiggly (it’s a technical term) suspension feel. That fancier rear footwork somehow makes the Prius feel heavier, but in a very good way.

Luckily the Prius hasn’t actually packed on the pounds, as the new version tips the scales between 3,010 to 3,080 lbs., depending on trim level. This relative svelteness – coupled to the highly aerodynamic 0.24 coefficient of drag – allows the Prius to make the most of its powertrain. A 1.8-liter 4-cylinder is mated to two electric motors, along with the aforementioned nickel-metal hydride or lithium-ion battery pack. Adding batteries always adds some weight and, in many cases, they take a sizable chunk out of cargo room. Toyota’s engineers were clever enough to side-step this problem, by carving out space for the battery pack beneath the rear seat.

But could this Prius – could ANY Prius – really be fun to drive? Well, the answer is yes, so long as the competition doesn’t involve Mazda Miatas or Alfa Romeo roadsters. We spent a good amount of time toggling amongst the three driving modes: Eco, Normal, and Sport. There is an EV mode, though it’s only good for up to one-half mile at low speeds (i.e. primarily parking lots).

All six trim packages come with a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine, coupled to twin electric motors that power the front wheels. However, the base Two uses a nickel-metal hydride battery, rather than the lithium-ion batteries found in the rest of the Prius range

As you can imagine, hot-shot drivers like us prefer the extra acceleration provided in Sport mode, even if it means sacrificing a couple MPGs along the way. Normal is pretty good, though Eco really puts the muzzle on this Prius’ modest amount of bite. The only available transmission, a CVT automatic, does a fine job of doing its business efficiently, and fading into the background. The regenerative braking system was also notable for being unobtrusive in operation. If you’ve driven other electric cars or hybrids, you know regen braking can lead to one very stiff and wooden-feeling brake pedal. That’s not the case with the Prius.

The trunk can hold up to 27.4 cu.-ft. of goodies, and that’s with the split-folding rear seats in place.

That being said, there’s only so much you can do with 121-horsepower. The powertrain droned loudly when we got on the gas hard while merging onto highways, or when trying to accelerate briskly in the left-hand lane. We could say the same thing about a couple dozen eco-minded cars and crossovers, however. If you’re buying a Prius, you’ll probably accept the fact that, yes, some people are going to pass you – a fact we should have more easily accepted during our day-long test drive. Handling is light and accurate, direct in the city and not nervous on the highway. Again, the change in driving manners feels more related to those suspension changes, rather than any ‘hug the road’ behavior provided by information being telegraphed to your fingertips.

Staying true to its heritage, the 2016 Prius can get up to 54 mpg city and 50 mpg highway. The Prius Two Eco can stretch all the way to 58 mpg during city driving.
One final point worth mentioning is Toyota’s Advanced Technology Package, which includes a hoard of safety features ranging from lane departure alert, to dynamic radar cruise control, auto high beams and a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, amongst other items. This suite of features is a reasonable $1,935, though it only becomes available on the Prius Three (base price of $26,250), and trim levels above it. All models come standard with a reverse camera, along with a full complement of front, side, side-curtain, and driver’s side knee airbag.

The base-level Prius Two starts at $24,200 and the top-of-the-line 2016, the Four Touring, starts at a reasonable $30,000.

As efficient as it has always been, but now with a lemon wedge’s worth of driving ‘zest’ added, the 2016 Prius is improved in enough ways that Toyota’s hybrid should earn its place on many more car buyers’ shopping lists. Even in an era of cheap gas, who can argue that 50+mpgs – and a little bit of driving fun – isn’t something to cheer?