This post was originally written for Oppositelock, but I’m also posting it to my blog simultaneously.
Yes, a Prius review, on your Oppositelock. It’s more likely than you think.
This is gonna be a long one, so buckle up. I looked at it, thought about shortening it, and then decided not to. In exchange, after every section, you’ll get a one-sentence tl;dr – just look immediately before a section header.
(Full disclosure: Toyota wanted me to review the Prius so badly that their dealer took about $28k (after finance charges) of my money… and I get to keep it after the review. And, they gave me a full tank of gas. And free car washes. And Toyota gave me 2 years of free maintenance. Wait a minute, that sounds like… damn, I bought a Prius, didn’t I?)
So, this isn’t the first time that the Prius has been reviewed on the Kinja platform – Jason Torchinsky reviewed the Prius for Jalopnik for Toyota’s official launch. It’s worth reading his review first.
The specific car that I’m reviewing is a 2016 Toyota Prius Three in Hypersonic Red, with a black interior, the all-weather floor mat package, the protection package, and the black applique package. What this means is, I have the nicer soft touch interior with a leatherette-wrapped steering wheel (Two and Two Eco don’t have that), and I have the navigation system with Toyota’s Entune smartphone integration (no Android Auto, though). I have 15″ wheels and a cloth interior, both of which were my preferences. And, I don’t have the HUD, nor any of the safety features that Torch’s review talks about, so I can run pedestrians over at will, and the car won’t stop me. (I don’t actually want to run over pedestrians, and I actually turned up the volume on the car’s noisemaker. But if I wanted to, I could.) I’ve had this car for 2 months and a bit over 1400 miles.
Oh, and before I get into this, especially as this is my first post on Oppo (although I’ve been commenting for a while, and even longer on Jalopnik) it might help to know what I’ve come from. My other car is a 2000 Miata, and this Prius replaced a tuned 99.5 Golf TDI. Before that, I’ve had a beater-grade 92 Miata, a couple of beater-grade Mk2 VW diesels, and a deathtrap automatic 88 Civic that was, by weight, predominantly iron oxide. So, I understand what handling is thanks to the Miatas, although I’m very much a slow-car-fast driver – that Golf TDI is most likely the most powerful car I’ve owned (the butt dyno said about 150-160 hp).
tl;dr: It’s a red one, and I’ve owned Miatas, so I have an idea of handling
Bear with me, this section will be rather long, but it is the most important characteristic of the car, and I want to describe it accurately. And, I am a MPG enthusiast, always have been, even while I’ve also been a driving enthusiast – they’re not mutually exclusive. I haven’t gone to the extent of wrapping a Golf in cardboard to improve the fuel efficiency, but I’ve thought about it, at least.
So, if you’re looking at a Prius, fuel efficiency is probably up there on your priority list – you might have suddenly gotten a longer commute, you might have a TDI that you’re about to sell back, or you’re just trying to save some cash. The Prius is no longer the darling of environmentalists, now that viable electric vehicles are out there, but it’s still one of the most efficient gasoline-powered cars out there, and not everyone’s ready for an electric. (I’d like a PHEV of some sort, but I don’t know that I could get one plugged in due to living in an apartment, and I do too many road trips for the current infrastructure for battery electrics to be satisfying.)
As far as what I’ve gotten, I don’t have a formal test loop or anything. With the Prius, my driving style tends towards more gentle acceleration (as opposed to the Miata, where I drive at about seven to nine tenths everywhere, and then wonder why I get 22 MPG), I run the car in Eco mode (less aggressive accelerator mapping, and sets the AC for a more efficient mode of operation), and in any car I tend towards a cruising speed of 5 mph over the limit. I should also clarify that “gentle acceleration” is not holding up traffic (and if I’m trying for mileage, I’ll drive with my rear view mirror), but at the same time, if the right lane’s accelerating gently, the left lane’s slingshotting past, I’m more likely to just let traffic hold me up, and get the rewards at the pump.
My commute is approximately 5 miles each way, though, so it definitely counts as short trips – this destroys fuel economy in just about any car, due to the time spent warming up. There’s a few routes I can take – some are 35 mph on flat surface streets, ranging to one that involves about a mile of freeway, a steep 35 mph hill (both ascending and descending), and about half a mile of 45 mph. Typically, my commute into work is between 50 and 70 MPG indicated, depending on which route I take (the fastest route tends to be the worst, although I’ve broken 60 on it before driving with extreme care), traffic conditions (slow traffic is good for my fuel efficiency, but stopped traffic is bad), and how gentle I drive. In the summer conditions that I’ve been dealing with, the return trip is between 45 and 60 MPG indicated, thanks to the air conditioning load (and, that air conditioning load means that if I make stops along the way, the MPG tanks even more, due to having to run the AC after each stop – I’ve seen once where I got 35-40 on my way home from work when I drove 2 miles, stopped, did something for half an hour, drove another couple miles, stopped, etc., etc.). I got 40 driving it more aggressively on my commute home once, if I recall correctly. Cooler weather, better MPG. However, as the weather gets cooler in fall and winter, this will likely invert, and get worse.
On longer trips on 55 mph speed limit country roads, where I can just set the cruise at 60 and go, I’ve gotten between 55 and 80 MPG, depending on the incline. (The way it usually goes, if I got 55 on the way there, I’ll get 80 on the way back.) On 65-70 mph freeway, 50-55 MPG is the norm, although I’ve gotten better if elevation is friendly, or on 70 mph freeway, if I have the cruise set for 73 instead of 75 (73 is the fastest that the Gen 4 Prius can shut the engine down on downhills).
These numbers are indicated by the trip computer, however. Based on the two tanks I’ve put in it, these numbers run 4-5% optimistic (calculating based on gallons per 100 miles, not per MPG, which is the more accurate way to calculate this). Using the pen and paper method, in 1118 miles since taking delivery of the car from the dealership, I’ve put 20.735 gallons of regular in it, for a lifetime average of 53.9 MPG. I’m halfway into the third tank now, and I’m on track to continue that average (last I checked, the current tank average was 56.5 MPG indicated, which translates to about 53.8 with a 5% error).
If you get a Prius Two, the base model with a NiMH battery, you’ll probably get a bit worse mileage. If you get a Prius Two Eco, with an infrared blocking windshield (if I ever have to replace my windshield, this is the one I want), less weight, and no rear wiper, you’ll probably get a bit better mileage. If you get a Prius Three Touring or Four Touring, with 17″ wheels, you’ll get worse mileage.
To compare, I get about 22 MPG commuting in my Miata, or about 30 MPG on roadtrips. In my Golf TDI, I got about 35 MPG commuting, and high 40s on roadtrips. However, both of those vehicles got driven harder in commuting. Roadtrips, being a “set the cruise, sit back, and relax” affair, are a similar driving style to the Prius.
tl;dr: I bang out 50s all day long, I’ve had trips break into the low 80s
You’re going to love it or hate it, really. Or maybe both!
When I first saw the Gen 4 Prius – even when I saw it in person at the North American International Auto Show, my thought was that it was ugly, but at least Toyota was trying.
Eventually, though, the design started making some sort of sense to me… and then (after I had decided that I was probably buying one), I saw a comment on The Car Lounge about the design, comparing it to Citroën design… and that’s when it clicked.
The 2016 Prius is what happens when you take 1950s-1970s Citroën designers, lock them in a room with anime and methamphetamines for a year, and then tell them to design a car.
And, it has tail fins. In 2016.
I kinda love it. You may not – it is a rather busy design, with some incongruence. And, the protection package includes door guards that make it even busier.
tl;dr: It’s extremely weird, I like it, you might not
While less weird than the exterior, this is… rather weird. I’ll start with Toyota’s press photo of the Four Touring interior, but note that I don’t have JBL audio, and I have cloth seats (and therefore don’t have heated seats):
There is a lot of white in the interior, and I’m not a huge fan of it – and a lot of people, even on PriusChat, agree. As I understand, it’s better-liked in Japan, though. However, the black applique package covers up the stormtrooper’s bedpan center console, as well as the white shifter area. If you get a Two or Two Eco, the steering wheel has less white, and the center console is also black. Either way, get the applique package (it doesn’t do anything to the steering wheel, though), it’s worth it. For comparison, here’s what mine looks like (sorry about the potato shot):
The center instrumentation has been a Prius design trope from the very beginning, and it’s a love-it-or-hate-it thing. Two 4.3-inch screens plus a bunch of indicator lights to the right present a surprising amount of info, but you’ll have to get used to the location (or get the HUD). Myself, I’ve got mine configured to show instant MPG, trip MPG, the hybrid system indicator (shows how much power’s being regenned or deployed to the wheels, although it maxes out well before maximum power – like, half throttle will max it out), battery level, and a driving coach that is often wrong (except on braking, it’s good at figuring out the most efficient way to brake – it’ll penalize you for slowing down, then re-accelerating, though, when you were really avoiding a stop altogether). I have a lazy right eye, though, and even then, I don’t have a problem with it.
As far as the rest of the dash, the only really notable thing I have to say is that I really, really wish that the center stack weren’t glossy black plastic, as it’s a fingerprint and dust magnet. Ergonomics are fairly decent (except for, on models with SofTex, the heated seat controls, buried up under the shifter).
Materials are typically good, although some of the plastic on the steering wheel itself feels thin and cheap (not your normal touch points, but behind them), the center armrest is thinly padded, and plastics lower down in the interior are cheaper. Honestly, I don’t mind it, but it is a thing. Also, there’s a couple rattles that need to be chased down – artifacts of this being an early build (December 2015) car, I suspect.
Seats are rather comfortable, well-bolstered, and generally supportive, although I could use a bit more lumbar support. That said, I can road trip in comfort, so they did a good enough job. Seating position is nice and low. And, as far as rear seating goes, I can sit behind myself reasonably comfortably, at 6’1″ 250 lbs, with a 32″ inseam:
My head touches the roof, but I can do it. I wouldn’t want to roadtrip behind myself, but around town is fine.
I can’t tell you whether it’ll baby (I’m childfree, myself), but I’d be surprised if it couldn’t.
Visibility is, quite frankly, downright fantastic for a modern car. It’s rare that the pillars hide a car, you can see out the sides, the seating position is such that you can see out the front and up at traffic lights, and you can see behind you far better than most modern cars. When looking at the Prius, one of the other cars I test drove was the Volt, and I was amazed at how bad the visibility was, in every direction… but then, I haven’t driven much modern GM stuff, and before this, the newest car I’ve owned has been a 2000.
HVAC is pretty amazing, I must say. Being electric, the engine RPM doesn’t have any effect on how much cooling you get, unlike conventional systems. The system also can (and with the vehicle in Eco mode, does by default) direct air to the occupied seats, once the cabin is to the set temperature, saving energy.
Cargo area is… ample. Ample enough that I can sleep in it. Trims that include a spacesaver spare tire (Two, Three, Three Touring) have an essentially flat cargo area with the seats folded down, and then with a couple totes between the seats, you can inflate an air mattress, and sleep comfortably. If you don’t have a spare tire (Two Eco, Four, Four Touring), you’ll get more cargo room, but your rear load floor will be recessed. Trims that include the spare tire have a thin foldable fabric cargo cover, and that cover likes to flap in the breeze if I have all four windows down, though. If you don’t have the spare tire, you get a roller cover instead, much like previous generations of Prius, or many wagons. I’d really rather have the roller cover, myself.
tl;dr: It’s a bit weird, too much white, too much glossy, but otherwise I can see out of it, it’s comfortable, it holds lots of stuff, it holds lots of people
The infotainment system isn’t bad by any means – I can figure out how to navigate around it reasonably enough, it’s not sluggish – but it feels dated. Can’t do things like pinch to zoom on the navigation map, can’t pan around it. Navigation directions are OK – not what I’d do sometimes, but OK.
Entune smartphone integration is sometimes glitchy (timing out), but when it works, it’s pretty useful. I wish Android Auto were present, though.
However, ultimately, what this is is a Toyota 200 mm wide double DIN cage, with a slightly larger faceplate, and in Japan, Priuses don’t come with head units stock, at all – your dealer there will sell you one, but going to the aftermarket is something completely normal. So, the aftermarket can come to the rescue very quickly in this car, if I decide I want new features. This is in contrast to most modern cars, where the infotainment system is designed into the dash, and you can’t easily replace it.
tl;dr: Nothing to write home about, but it works well enough, and can easily be replaced in the future
This was, quite frankly, the shocking moment for me. I had read about how the Gen 4 handles better, but was not expecting anything this good.
The chassis, when pushed, feels thoroughly neutral. The harder you accelerate through a corner, the more the car wants to rotate, it almost feels like it’s RWD in that respect. I have a suspicion that they’re doing something like toeing the rear suspension out under squat, but whatever they did, it worked. When driving gently, there is more of a feeling of understeer, however. The chassis feels like it could take a lot more power than the Prius has to offer, as Micah Muzio commented on in a video where he took a 2016 Prius to a track day.
Steering is light, but has a decent amount of feedback. I have a suspicion that some of this might be artificial, though, based on what happens when I push through the feeling of understeer during light driving – namely, it turns. However, even if this is artificial, it still feels decent enough.
Ultimate grip seems decent, even when pushed. I mean, it’s not like my Miata’s Dunlop Direzza DZ102s, but the Toyo NanoEnergy A29s that shipped on my Prius are decent in that regard, while still providing the incredible fuel economy I mentioned above.
My Three does feel a bit underdamped over some heaves in the road, but I wasn’t expecting anything else, and I didn’t want the Three Touring due to the SofTex seating and the 17″ wheel situation. (It’s also worth noting that Car & Driver actually got better handling numbers out of a Two Eco with 15″ wheels than a Four Touring with 17″ wheels, and many reports say that the tires that ship on the 17″ wheels cause a noticeable fuel economy hit.) When the stock shocks are worn out, I’ll replace them with with something aftermarket – something along the lines of a Koni Red or a Bilstein HD would probably work nicely, with the stock springs.
The only bad part of the Prius’s handling, at this point, is the braking, as Micah noted in his video. It’s very effective at braking, but the brake pedal is best described as non-linear, and the transition between regenerative and friction braking is not smooth at all. You get used to it, but it’s still never quite right, unfortunately. Hopefully, future Toyota hybrids improve upon this. I know that they did a lot of work to improve brake blending on the TS040, including a computer-controlled brake bias shifting device to make all of this feel more natural, and I hope that that technology translates to road use.
I really, really want to autocross this thing, just to see how it does…
tl;dr: Surprisingly great, especially for a Prius
Obviously, the Prius is not a fast car. The hybrid system puts out a peak of 121 horsepower, and it weighs between 3010 (Two Eco) and 3080 (Three Touring, Four Touring) lbs. Car and Driver got a Two Eco to 60 in 9.4 seconds, and that’ll be the fastest of them (it’s not traction-limited). And, they force charged the car for that – essentially, brake torquing it to get the engine running and the battery charged.
However, going fast really isn’t what the Prius is about – as long as it’s fast enough to get merged onto the freeway, do you really need any faster? And, at least around here, it is fast enough. (My old 1.6 liter Volkswagen diesels with 52 horsepower, that took 17 seconds to get to 60, those were too slow.) Also, keep in mind, my preference is for slow-car-fast. I care more about how the powertrain responds, than how much power it has.
Now, you’ll probably be saying, “but wait, the Prius has a CVT, those have terrible rubber bandy response, they suck to drive!” However, the Prius doesn’t actually have a true CVT. Instead, it has a clever arrangement of a planetary gearset, the engine, and two electric motor/generators (known as MG1 and MG2) that in combination simulate a CVT’s behavior. Unlike a CVT, there’s nothing designed to slip (other than a torque damper on the engine, but if that ever slips, something bad happened), so these gearboxes also don’t tend to wear out.
If you’re on a device with Flash, I highly recommend playing with E. A. Hart’s Power Split Device simulator. The gear ratios are those used by the Gen 1 (2001-2003) Prius, but the concepts are the same in all Toyota hybrids today. If you can’t load the simulator, essentially, the Power Split Device consists of a planetary gearset, with MG1 on the sun gear, the engine on the planet carrier, and the wheels connected to the ring gear. MG2 is also connected to the ring gear. MG1 acts as both the starter, and a device to provide reaction torque to the engine, at a set RPM, to set the engine’s RPM relative to the wheels. And, power generated from MG1’s reaction torque can then be sent to MG2 to help propel the vehicle, or to the battery. I’ve always found this arrangement to be clever, even when I disliked the Prius in general.
In the Gen 4 Prius, Toyota’s done a lot of work to increase the amount of MG2 power used to propel the vehicle, to reduce rubber band feel from the drivetrain. And, when the engine does need to change RPM, it happens quickly, it’s like the perfect automatic. From the engine being off, I can go wide open throttle and hit 5000 RPM or so in less time than it took my TDI to spool its (stock) turbocharger. About the only time I can trip the gearbox up is if I lift off the accelerator, and then get back on it hard – then, I might have a delay in power delivery as the engine shuts down from me lifting my foot, then starts back up. However, some power is being delivered by MG2 even during that, so it’s not as bad as an automatic that picks the wrong gear and has to make another shift to correct itself.
It’s no Mazda 5-speed manual, but it’s a damn responsive automatic transmission, that has electric torque filling even in the rare cases that it can’t figure out what to do.
Also, note that I’m using Eco mode, which dulls the accelerator mapping. However, the throttle pedal doesn’t have incredibly long travel, and if I want full power, just push past the first half of the pedal. Honestly, it almost feels like a kickdown, to get more power, when in Eco. Normal gives a linear throttle, which is nice for more spirited driving. PWR mode gives a very aggressive throttle, that also changes aggressiveness based on steering input, which I didn’t care for.
The engine is nothing to write home about performance-wise – 96 hp @ 5200 RPM, 105 lb-ft @ 3600 RPM. However, at 40% thermal efficiency, the thing is almost as efficient at turning dead dinosaurs into propulsion as a diesel (good diesels being in the low 40s, the best automotive diesels being around 45%)… and then the hybrid system keeps it as close to that ideal as possible, where a diesel will often be away from its ideal fuel efficiency. It does get a bit noisy at high RPM (when you’re going for WOT, or near WOT if the battery’s low), but eh, I don’t mind hearing my car. At idle, or low RPM, you can’t hear it, but you can sorta feel it. I can usually tell when the engine shuts down on the highway, but I often need the instant MPG gauge to be maxed out as proof (sometimes it’ll shut the engine down without lighting the EV light in the cluster).
tl;dr: I like it, it’s the ideal automatic in my opinion, and it complements the engine well
As Jason mentioned in his review, the car beeps constantly when in reverse, and this is rather annoying. I was able to disable the reverse beeping, with the help of a pirated copy of Techstream and an $18 cable off eBay. Your dealer should be able to do this, but mine apparently hadn’t found the option. It took me about ten minutes to find it. I wanted the Techstream anyway, so… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
People complain about the pedestrian noisemaker, but when I was messing around in Techstream, I found the settings for it, and actually turned the volume up, and enabled it whenever the car’s in gear, not just stopped.
Also, people complain about the road noise from these Toyo tires, but while I hear it, I don’t find it objectionable. Then again, my Miata has worn out top seals, and is downright deafening at freeway speed. And, I actually like some road noise, it gives a sensation of speed.
In summary (this is another tl;dr line), I like it a lot, it’s efficient, can be fun to drive, and I’d buy it again in a heartbeat. Feel free to tell me that I’m wrong and should turn in my Jalop card in the comments.