A new platform, revamped interior and 55 mpg should make the 2016 Toyota Prius the iconic gas-electric, go-to choice among hybrids.
Superior fuel economy; huge backseat; spacious cargo area; high-tech features and options.
Handling could improve with the new platform, but acceleration is still unlikely to inspire.
The Toyota Prius will be redesigned for 2016.
Toyota faces something of a crossroads with the upcoming fourth-generation Prius. The game-changing hybrid's iconic shape represents more than just smart fuel-saving motoring to its loyal owners. For better or worse, the Prius carries social and cultural currency beyond its practical nature, and to reinvent the model is to invite peril. The 2016 Toyota Prius will need to walk a line between loyalists and skeptics.
Early talk suggested that Toyota would give the next-gen Prius a thorough exterior overhaul, even evolving into a swept-back sedan shape (a notion reinforced by Toyota's NS4 hybrid concept car). One report citing a Toyota engineer indicated that the Prius would feature a lower hood and a more upright windshield moved farther back. Toyota officials say an all-new exterior design will improve aerodynamic efficiency, while a new chassis beneath the sheet metal offers a lower center of gravity and promises better handling. This same chassis will underpin future Camry, Corolla and RAV4 models.
Spy photos of the interior show a new direction for the dash and instrument panel. The prototype dash looks more conventional, with analog gauges behind a new three-spoke steering wheel, marking a departure from the current information display perched far away in the center of the dash. Photos show a center stack engulfed in a mess of tape and slapped-together elements, making it hard to visualize where a navigation display might go. A top Toyota executive promises a roomier interior, notable design and layout refinements, and greater ease of use.
We won't know for awhile whether this is the real dash or a decoy, but we know we'd like anything behind the steering wheel besides the flat expanse of plastic and small storage trays. Regardless, the Prius will need to offer better materials and an improved cabin environment if it's to keep an edge on newer hybrids like the 2015 Ford C-Max.
Expect to see the same 1.8-liter four-cylinder gas engine carry over, paired with smaller but more powerful electric motors. In a unique twist, Toyota may offer the Prius with both a nickel-metal hydride battery pack, as in the current model, and a more expensive lithium-ion pack that delivers longer range. Rumors persist of an electronically controlled motor that also powers the rear wheels, giving buyers in snow- and rainbelt areas the confidence of an all-wheel-drive Prius.
The current Prius offers an EPA-estimated 50 mpg combined. Toyota says the Prius has averaged 10 percent better fuel efficiency per generation, which would put the new model up to 55 mpg. The plug-in hybrid model will also carry over.
The Toyota Prius should debut in late 2015, with sales to start in early 2016. The plug-in model will likely follow a year later. Check back for a full review of the 2016 Toyota Prius, including specs, driving impressions and buying advice as it becomes available.