More than any other car manufacturer, Toyota is synonymous with hybrid technology. And they owe it all to the Prius, which got the whole ball rolling, back in 1999 (1997 in Japan). The company hasn’t looked back since.
In fact, Toyota has sold some 8 million hybrid vehicles worldwide in the past couple of decades, and all of them have been either Prius models or vehicles with Prius-based technology. Taxi drivers, in particular, have taken to the Prius, and in most Canadian cities, it is the vehicle of choice for cabbies. Vancouver’s taxi fleet, for example, is easily 75 per cent Prius’ or hybrid Camrys.
So now, Toyota wants to spread the gospel even more. According to Toyota Canada vice-president, Stephen Beatty, his company wants to reach the masses with the Prius and has re-engineered the fourth generation model with that in mind. It has better fuel economy than its predecessor…..which was pretty decent in its own right….and carries more cargo, with an enhanced “Star” safety system. Among other things, the 2016 Prius has a new interior layout, with no less than eight airbags, plus a new instrument cluster.
A few specs. Motivation is provided by Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system, which features a 1.8 litre four cylinder engine / electric motor combo that develops some 121 horsepower and is mated to a CVT. Depending upon the model, you can also choose between a nickel metal hydride or lithium ion battery pack. The lower-priced versions get the former, while the upgraded models receive the latter. Toyota describe this as “packaging” but range, power, and driveability remain the same regardless of battery source, and weight distribution is the same. This is one of the ways Toyota has managed to bring the cost of the Prius down, which will now start at just under $26,000 for the base model.
This edition of the Prius is slightly peppier than the previous version and can be had in three trim levels, with a whole range of options and extras, including collision avoidance system, lane departure warning, radar cruise control, power sunroof, heated seats, heads-up display, and on and on. It’s also been given a mild makeover, exterior-wise, and is a little less bland than it used to be. Definitely more aerodynamic and up-to-date looking.
“The new Prius will not be defined by age or postal code,” adds marketing director, Jamie Humphries, hinting at the fact that until now, hybrid technology has not really been available to anyone not pulling down an above-average income. “We are bringing hybrid technology to everyone….not just early technology adopters.”
It’s certainly more driveable than ever. The biggest rap against the Prius up until now is that it’s about as exciting behind the wheel as cold porridge. Lots of people like cold porridge, it’s true, but it doesn’t hurt to have a car that is a pleasure to drive, and the latest Prius is definitely a nice driver. Still not exactly a pavement-burner or corner-carver, but predictable, stable, linear, and maybe even a little tossable…..with exceptional braking. During the launch of the new Prius, in Vancouver, we had the chance to run it through a modest slalom course and, for a hybrid four-door people-carrier, it wasn’t half- bad. Most people that gravitate towards this kind of car aren’t usually remotely interested in handling or throwability, but it’s there if you need it.
Regarding fuel economy. The 2015 edition of the Prius returned 4.7 L / 100 km combined rating, which was among the best in the industry. The ’16 iteration tops that slightly, with a purported 4.5 L / 100 km combined rating, according to Toyota. Few cars in the industry can beat that. But we knew that going in….it’s a Prius, after all, and is supposed to be easy on gas.
Which will become increasingly important, despite the current low prices. It’s just a matter of time before the oil companies stick it to us again, and Toyota is hoping that its hybrid technology will appeal to even more people than it already does. “We want to build relevance with new generations,” adds Jamie Humphries.
Prices for the 2016 Prius start at $25,995 for the base version, going up to $31,990 for the Advance Technology model.