A new building block for Toyota
The fourth-generation Prius is the first Toyota model based on TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture), the company’s new-generation vehicle architecture. Although the wheelbase and weight of the 2016 Prius are essentially unchanged, the hip point of the seating position has been lowered, bringing down the car’s center of gravity. The battery pack (a lighter, smaller, energy-dense lithium-ion unit will be deployed in cars for the U.S. market) is now mounted below the bottom cushion of the rear seat instead of on the deck of the cargo area, and this lowers the center of gravity and improves weight distribution.
Smoother power is better power
The 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle engine mounted up front is in principle still the same DOHC four-cylinder unit as before, and it relies heavily on the feisty instant torque generated by the 53-kilowatt e-motor to compensate for its own lack of grunt. Together, the two hearts pump up 121 hp in total. The main updates to the engine revolve around improving combustion and heat management, plus reducing friction, and the Toyota engineers boast that the engine’s 40 percent thermal efficiency is greater than any mass-produced car engine on the planet.
Imagine a Prius that handles
This newly discovered smoothness in the motivation department is complemented by the totally recalibrated suspension. The front strut-type suspension might look the same, but body roll is now more controlled even as the springing and damping are more compliant over bumps. Meanwhile, the independent rear suspension delivers more handling precision even as road shock has been reduced by one-third.
How can we tell that the 2016 Prius handles much better when all we did were a dozen laps on the Fuji circuit? Because Toyota laid out hundreds of bonsai-size speed bumps to slow down us crazy gaijin drivers. In the old Prius, driving over these obstacles felt like as noisy and confusing as crashing a performance of “The Mikado,” the Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera. In the new 2016 Prius, the entire performance is much slicker. The front suspension no longer lets the car flop over in the corners. And the rear torsion-beam axle that was an ill-fated symbiosis of “Poltergeist” and Rumpelstiltskin has been replaced by an independent rear suspension setup that knows how to behave. On merit, the new Prius is a lot easier to live with.
Improved manners in the motoring mode
When the battery is fully charged, Prius-san takes off silently and graciously. That’s really impressive, and it does make you feel good. Of course, the e-effect won’t last long, especially in the racetrack environment at Fuji. Even in optimum circumstances, we’re told that about a mile of all-electric cruising is all that you can expect. This is a reminder that the Prius is a hybrid, not an EV.
As another Toyota leads us around the track at what seems like a walking pace (the driver must have taken an overdose of sake, valium, or both), there is plenty of time to make mental notes about the car’s interior. The seats, which used to be filled with an indifferently conceived mix of plastic foam and cement mix, now are better shaped, a little cushier, and more generously adjustable. Even though our pace car didn’t dare to exceed the 70 mph limit, it was impossible not to register the Prius’ dramatically reduced noise level — wind, road, and engine, and even the fan of the A/C system. This is a consequence of an acoustically insulated windshield, a comprehensive set of acoustic insulation throughout the cabin, and even details such as the ducts for the interior ventilation.
2016 Toyota Prius Two Specifications
1.8L DOHC 16-valve I-4/95-hp @ 5,200 rpm, 105-lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm, plus AC electric motor/71 hp, 102-lb-ft; 121 hp, combined|
4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD sedan|
50/54 mpg (city/hwy)|
Strut-type, coil springs/twin wishbones, coil springs|
L x W x H:|
178.7 x 69.3 x 58.1 in|
Shoulder Room F/R:|
24.6 cu ft|
Weight Dist. F/R:|
9.7 sec (est)|
112 mph (est)|