VANCOUVER: Toyota is planning to bring hybrids “into the mainstream” with the 2016 Prius.
Firstly, Prius is a mid-size sedan with comfortable seating for five and sizable trunk, so that nothing or no one is jammed in.
Secondly, it is amazingly frugal with a combined fuel rating of 4.5L/100 km.
Thirdly, Prius comes with the new Toyota Safety Sense (TSS) on all models except the Base, where it is an option. TSS blends four advanced safety systems - Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Auto High Beam and Full-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control working in stop-and-go traffic down to a full stop. TSS will be standard on most Toyotas by 2017.
Prius uses Toyota’s hybrid synergy drive system which consists of a 1.8-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder with two electric motor/generators.
The big difference between the new and last generation is there are two batteries available.
On the lower trim levels, Toyota sticks with the nickel metal hydrid battery it has used from the start. On the higher trim levels, Toyota uses a lithium-ion unit because it is lighter and offsets the weight of the extra added equipment.
Both batteries are smaller in size and have a flatter shape so they can fit under the rear seat instead of under the cargo floor, freeing up considerably more space.
The transaxle is also smaller, allowing the auxiliary battery to be moved into the engine bay.
This system produces a net 121 hp that doesn’t sound like a lot, but then there is the torque with the engine/motor combo. Toyota won’t give out torque numbers, but I’d put it at about 200 lb/ft based on my experience.
Prius retains a CVT transmission, but uses shift-by-wire technology through fingertip movements of the tiny shifter found on the lower centre stack.
This all results in a fuel rating of 4.4/4.6/4.5L/100 km city/highway/combined or 64/61/63 mpg.
With a drag coefficient of 0.24, Prius is one of the most aero-enabled vehicles on the road, thanks to a myriad of devices such as stabilizing fins on the under-floor covers, plastic air deflecting covers over the alloy wheels, automatic grille shutters, front spats and covers on either side of the fuel tank.
As luck would have it, I was teamed with Daniel Breton, a Quebec autowriter specializing in green propulsion and, for a time, Quebec Environment Minister.
This is a guy who knows how to get the best out of a hydrid and he did just — that achieving 2/8L/100 km on an 8.1 km loop around Stanley Park. Another was 2.9L/100 km over 31.2 km, but going admittedly very slow.
In the real world we averaged 4.6L/100 km over a morning of driving — right where Toyota said it would be.
Most of our time was spent in the Base car with TSS. When the engine was running, it was well muffled with Breton making the most of regenerative braking and using the engine to charge the battery, instead of the more wasteful engine driving the wheels rather than the motor.
Later in the topline Touring we found it to be quieter than the Base with the level of premium equipment making it a very pleasant place to be.
Ride quality is much improved over the 2015 model, thanks in part to the rear double wishbone suspension that not only lowers the car to improve handling, but makes for extra cargo room.
Prius is also one of the first vehicles to use the Toyota New Global Platform that dramatically improves rigidity.
Starting price is $25,995 or $26,305 with TSS plus heated front seats. Top end is the Technology with Advanced Package at $31,990.
Standard equipment includes: 6.1-inch Display Audio system with six speakers; voice recognition; Bluetooth capability; air conditioning with automatic temperature control; 60/40 split fold down rear seat; the Smart Key System and Push Button Start.
It is expected a Prius c compact and Prius v people mover will be coming along soon in the product cycle.
Toyota/Lexus has led, and still leads, in hybrid propulsion, so this decision to take Prius and make it a player in the mid-size sedan segment was not done lightly.
Competitively priced against “normal” mid-size sedans, Toyota also is playing the fuel-economy card to go along with real room for five.
For instance, Toyota compared the Prius to the current Ford Fiesta sub-compact. With its four-cylinder, 1.8-litre engine/electric motor, Prius averages 4.5L/100 km. With its 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, Fiesta gets 6.6L/100 km.
Toyota uses the tagline “Going Beyond The Possible” with the 2016 Prius.
And knowing Toyota, it’s just possible they will successfully inject Prius into the mainstream.
Toyota Prius Liftback 2016
BODY STYLE: Mid-size hybrid liftback sedan
DRIVE METHOD: front-engine, front-wheel-drive with CVT transmission
ENGINE: DOHC 1.8-litre, 16-valve four-cylinder with two electric motor/generators (121 net system hp)
FUEL ECONOMY: 4.4/4.6/4.5L/100 km (64/61/63 mpg) city/hwy/combined
CARGO: 0.697 cu m (24.6 cu ft)
TOW RATING: Not Recommended
PRICE: Base, $25,995, $26,305 with TSS; Technology, $28,730; Touring, $29,330; Technology Advanced Package, $31,990