Car Reviews

2016 Toyota Prius i-TECH review

Robert Pepper’s 2016 Toyota Prius i-TECH review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.

In a nutshell: The prius is now one of many hybrids including several from Toyota, so it has been re-positioned as the most Eco-friendly and technically advanced car in its segment – and it is, more or less.

2016 Toyota PRius

PRICE : $42,990 (+ORC) WARRANTY : 3 years / 100,000 km SAFETY : not rated (5 star expected) ENGINE : 1.8L PETROL POWER : 72kW@ 5200 rpm TORQUE : 142 Nm @ 3600Nm rpm ENGINE : electric POWER : 53kw rpm TORQUE : 163 Nm Combined petrol/electric: 90kw TRANSMISSION : eCVT DRIVE : FRONT WHEEL DRIVE BODY : 4540 mm (L);  1760 mm (W);  1900 mm (H) TURNING CIRCLE : 10.2 m TARE WEIGHT : 1400 kg SEATS :TOWING : not rated FUEL TANK : 43 litres SPARE : none THIRST : 3.4L/100km ADR81/02 combined cycle FUEL : 91RON PETROL

Practical Motoring Says: The Toyota Prius is has been the best hybrid for a while and this is the best Prius yet. It’s the most efficient, has a decent amount of tech but not quite enough to justify the headlines, has no significant disadvantages compared to a normal car, drives just as nicely and looks distinctive. It’s still not a cost-effective buy for the average owner, and doesn’t offer much fun either in the driving or the owning, but if it’s fuel-efficiency you prize above all else then this is your car.

Design

I think of the Prius as rather like a Hummer or a Lamborghini – all three are cars that get the owner instantly judged, even if for entirely different reasons. Such has been the way since the Prius first wafted its way onto the market, back in 1997.

Since then the car has been in continuous production, unlike several of its competitors, and with more than 3.6 million sold it has deservedly become the standard by which all other hybrids are judged. That will change, over time, as hybrid tech becomes as unremarkable as a diesel or petrol option, and in turn electric cars are now the new unusual.

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Rolling down a slight hill in heavy traffic, the Prius has its petrol motor switched off and is using the slope to charge its battery, ready to run purely on electric power.

Toyota themselves are rolling hybrid technology out across its range, already with Camry, and soon with Corolla later this year. In fact, Toyota has sold 8.6 million hybrids in total, and even the likes of Porsche and Land Rover now offer hybrids, although as a whole Australia’s take-up rate of the technology is well behind that of Europe and USA which gets plug-in versions of the Prius, hybrid Kluger and RAV4.

So if hybrids are just another drive system, where does that leave a car which is defined by its drivetrain? Global chief engineer Kouji Toyoshima says that “From a social perspective, we knew it was important to build on the role of Prius as an eco-leader”. Toyota also say that “the new Prius adds a fun-to-drive character while evolving the best aspects of the car’s ecological heritage”, and that “at the same time, we wanted to create a more emotional response with a design that is inspiring, passionate…perhaps even sexy”.

There you have it. Prius is to be the leader in eco-motoring, and sexy with it. That’s the goal for the car, and so the  scene is set for the review. 
 
So let’s take a look outside. There’s quite a few changes to the exterior:
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Whether you love or hate it is up to you, but it’s distinctive and personally I always appreciate a car that looks a bit different. The Prius manages a modern look appropriate to a hybrid, and as ever the naysayers will slowly come around to tolerance if not appreciation.
 
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Toyota say that the “front and centre is the Toyota emblem, located at exactly the same height from the road as the Toyota 86 sports car – a subtle pointer to the improved dynamics of the new-generation Prius.” Toyota like this sort of little game, but to draw a link between the Prius and the 86 is stretching the long bow to breaking point.

Room & practicality

Starting from the front we have a reasonable amount of storage; glovebox, door pockets and a nicely spacious centre console. The tiny gearshift and foot-operated parkbrake (yuck) don’t get in the way, and there’s a storage area for your phone in the centre which does inductive charging. So all the basics are up front, including a sunnies holder, but there’s nothing special or particularly impressive.

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Moving into the second row and the outer seats are comfortable enough, if not overly blessed with legroom.  Adults are going to find the middle second row less than comfortable, particularly because of the limited headroom due to the sloping rear back, required for the low aerodynamic drag coefficient of 0.24.

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There’s a 12v socket for the rear seat occupants, and two rear pockets on the front-row seats. But otherwise it’s all bland and beige, not really fitting with Toyota’s vision of the Prius as cool, eco, inspiring and tech.

At the back and the boot is spacious, and has four decent tiedowns. Again, that aerodynamic shape forces a teardrop design that means the hatch door is low. 

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This car is no reconfigurable master of interior space, not least because under the second row seats is the battery. But it’s not cramped, and you mostly would never realise it’s a hybrid.

A nice touch is a cargo blind, which neatly stows away under the boot floor.

Compared to the previous model, this new Prius is 60mm longer, 15mm wider and has seats that are 55 and 23mm lower front and back.

On the inside

Given the Prius is all about being inspiring and cool it’s a bit disappointing to find no more than the basics. The 7″ touchscreen infotainment unit is the same as every other new Toyota, there’s no smartphone integration like Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, there’s no self-park function, no electric parkbrake, surround cameras or anything else to push the car ahead of the tech-pack. The only notable feature is the smartphone inductive charging and there’s just one USB port and one 12v socket.

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Wireless (inductive) charging for your smartphone, if it supports it like a Samsung S7 or iPhone 6S. Also visible here is the button to put the transmission into Park, the drive mode changer (explained later) and the EV mode button. And the horrible foot-operated parkbrake. The heated front seat buttons are visible from this angle, but not easily spotted by the front seat occupants.

The infotainment unit is the current Toyota standard and adequate, if not exceptional – response speed is acceptable, it’s fairly easy to use and looks ok. The unit has most of the basics covered, but again the Prius falls a bit short on its tech promise. What is covered, well and truly, is fuel consumption…every possible permutation of how much you’ve used when is displayed, somewhere, somehow. I have to wonder who actually uses all these displays.

The interior is well built but not exceptional, and Toyota have gone to some effort to create a futuristic design but appear to have got bored and given up once they did the centre dash.

Toyota do deserve considerable applause for using two different screens, one main unit in the dash and another further up below the windscreen. 

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This is a great move because it allows you to have two displays going at once – for example, navigation and radio stations, and the smaller display does a good job of fulfilling its functions, although there’s not an exact 1:1 ratio of features between the two screens.

Cars with just the one display force you to constantly switch the display from one function to another which is distracting and tedious. More cars should be like this.

Performance, ride and handling

How it works:

The Prius is a petrol-electric hybrid, which means it has two engines – a petrol four-cylinder 1.8L and an electric motor. It can operate in the following modes:

  • Petrol power to drive
  • Petrol power to drive and recharge the battery
  • Electric power to drive
  • Petrol and electric power to drive at the same time
  • Petrol and electric power at the same time, plus battery recharge
  • Using braking or coasting power to recharge the battery (regeneration, energy harvesting)

In other words, pretty much every combination of electric and petrol engine can be, and is used. However, all this is entirely transparent to the driver and there is no manual control. You just drive, and the Prius works its magic.

The petrol engine is good for only 72kW and 142Nm, which are very small figures for a 1.8L motor. The Prius is, as hybrids always are, a bit heavy at 1400kg (the Corolla is 1300kg). But with the efficiency improvements, and allied to the electric engine which contributes another 52kW and 162Nm the Prius can’t be called underpowered as the electric and petrol engines work beautifully together.

Here’s what the in-car display looks like (more photos in the gallery below):

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The fuel consumption for this new model has dropped from 3.9L/100km to 3.4L/100m – that’s not a huge difference in absolute terms, but it is in percentage terms and means more kays out of a tank. That’s the result of making improvements pretty much everywhere. The chief engineer, Mr Toyoshima, says “take the petrol engine for example. Outwardly, it seems it hasn’t changed, with the same capacity and basic design, but in fact we have taken its performance to a much a higher level – more complete combustion, less friction and better heat management. With this level of scrutiny, we have in fact made it the most thermally efficient in the world. Simply put, you get more power from every drop of fuel”.

Mr Toyoshima said other major elements also received the same close attention – transmission, electric motors and hybrid battery, which is now under the rear seats, freeing up storage space and improving the handling with a more centrally located centre of gravity. The air conditioning systems detects if there is a front passenger; if not, it will focus its energy on the driver alone, another efficiency gain. This can be overridden by the driver.

 
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Selectable aircon. Would it make a difference? Yes. Enough to worry about? Debatable.
 
Aerodynamic drag has been reduced, including under the body of the car, and the electric power steering has also been tuned for efficiency. The steering is quicker now compared to the previous model so less turns of the wheel required.
 
Around town:
The Prius is an easy, quiet car to drive around the ‘burbs. You don’t lack for power, although this is no sportscar. Response to throttle is immediate, brakes are good, and while the tyres are optimised for low rolling resistance the car won’t run out of grip unless you really start doing things it’s not designed for – that’s thanks to improved suspension and a lower centre of gravity.
 
Every Prius has, in effect, engine stop-start tech. Many people dislike this feature, but in the Prius it’s fine because the petrol engine is cut as soon as you come off the throttle and coast, or brake so it doesn’t feel like a last-minute switch off. Then when you move off the car gets off the line instantly with its electric motor, and then if necessary the petrol comes in too. This is as distinct from the slight lag between throttle application and engine start in a car with stop/start that doesn’t have an electric motor.
 
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There are three driving modes; Eco, Normal, Power. Compared to the previous model, Toyota say the current Eco mode is more like Normal, which is good as such modes don’t really save you any appreciable fuel and just deaden throttle response. The Power mode is similarly rather pointless, you get no more power, just a different delivery.
 

One good point is braking. Most hybrids have an unnatural brake feel as the hybrid’s energy-harvesting system interferes with the pedal feel, but not in this Prius, you’d never know it was a hybrid.

Compared to previous Priuses this one uses its battery power more often and more effectively. In stop-start traffic you will often not hear the petrol engine for a while, even with acceleration in traffic up to around 50km/h. Beyond that the petrol cuts in again. Many other hybrids on the market barely use their electric motors, but in some cases the Prius barely uses its petrol engine.

There’s no hill start assist, and as the Prius cuts its engines at idle there’s no ability to ‘hold’ the car on a hill as you get with conventional automatics. The parkbrake is foot-operated.

You do get a heads-up display which shows speed and optionally, the state of charge of the battery. The dash is unusual because there’s nothing directly ahead of the driver, just a central display. However, it works well enough, although some of the text on the dash display is a bit too small and fiddly. Looks like the designers worked on high-resolution monitors and forgot drivers will need to glance at this while they’re meant to be driving.

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The rear-view mirror shows the kind of odd split window system at the rear. It works well enough though and affords use extra visibility to the back.

EV Mode

The Prius can be run purely as an electric vehicle without relying on its petrol engine. The battery will need to be above minimum charge, but there’s no way to force a battery charge other than drive so the battery charges which means a lot of coasting. Anyway, we charged it best as we could – around 85%, as it never gets to 100% – and set off around flat suburban streets below 50km/h. We did this test with the smaller 2015 Prius c and it managed 1.6km before EV mode was cancelled. This new Prius managed 1.9km, which backed up the view from the driver’s seat it uses its battery more because it is better able to keep it charged, and is a more efficient vehicle overall. Toyota have improved all sorts of things from aerodynamic efficiency to battery design in order to make these gains.
 
 
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Funky gearshift. It returns to centre each time it’s used. There is no way to select gears because it doesn’t have any, it’s an eCVT. The “B” mode is a form of engine braking, useful on long downhills.
 
On the open road:
The Prius’s handling has been improved, something Toyota are keen to trumpet, so now it handles like a modern 2016 medium sized hatchback. In other words, it’s gone from below par to on-par. It is in no way what you’d call a sporty or exciting drive, it’s just an easy cruise.
 
As we found at slower speeds, the car doesn’t hurt for power and will readily accelerate at 100km/h, but there’s no easy surfeit of grunt as you find in modern turbo-diesels. The active cruise control works well and is easy to operate. The seats are comfortable, and the ride is generally good; not wallowy, firm enough for control but certainly not harsh, and the only negative moment was a set of washboard corrugations on a broken bitumen road, but that’s not really Prius territory.
 
There is a new electric cruise function where up to 105km/h the car will, where appropriate, cruise on its battery. This is effective. If the Prius’ battery is charged it may as well use the power, whereas before it would tend to cruise with full batteries but not use the power at higher speeds.
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There is no full-size or even a space-saver spare on our i-Tech, just a repair kit, but the base model does get a space-saver. Fuel is happily 91RON not premium.
 
The B mode in the gear selector stands for Braking and is used on long downhills where the engine can assist with braking.
 
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Just one of the many fuel consumption displays the Prius has to offer

Safety

The Prius does fairly well for safety with AEB, active cruise control, lane departure alert, blind spot monitoring (on i-Tech models only) and automatic high beam. The i-Tech also gets blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

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Active cruise control at night. Road speed is 75, and the limit is set to 80. If the truck ahead speeds up to 80 the car will follow, but go no faster. It will slow the car to a complete halt if needs be.

The lane departure alert is a bit over-sensitive and many drivers will switch it off. The automatic high beam is mostly effective but can be confused, so in trickier situations such as hills it’d be best to take control manually. Visibility is fairly good all round. Usability of the controls isn’t particularly intuitive, but once learned all the basic functions can be quickly and easily controlled.

A reversing camera is standard, and the car beeps when it reverses like a large truck…as reversing tends to be done on battery alone this is a good safety feature albeit a bit irritating.

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ANCAP hasn’t rated the 2016 Prius yet but we’d expect a 5-star rating as all the Prius family has rated 5-star to date.

Pricing & Equipment

There are three Prius models; the small, Yaris-sized C, the Prius itself which is our test car and about the size of a Corolla, and the larger V model which seats seven.

In the case of the Prius there are two grades, Prius and i-Tech. Here’s what you get:

Prius key features ($34,990 plus onroads)

  • LED headlamps with auto high beam
  • AEB
  • Active cruise control
  • Reversing camera with moving guidelines
  • 7″ touchscreen and secondary display
  • Heads-up display (speed, optional battery and other info)
  • Wireless inductive phone charger
  • Space-saver spare

Prius i-Tech adds ($42,990 plus onroads)

  • 17″ wheels (Prius has 15″)
  • Leather accented seats
  • 8-way power driver’s seat
  • Blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert
  • Front seat heaters
  • Satnav
  • Digital Radio
  • Tyre repair kit

The difference is about another $8k driveaway, and it’s quite hard to justify. The blind spot and rear cross-traffic are useful but not in the same league of safety or convenience as active cruise and AEB, and for satnav I’d prefer to use my phone in a proper mounting system. Interestingly, the i-Tech has a turning circle of 10.8m vs 10.2 for the base model. The 20mm wider tyre/wheel package on the i-Tech is probably the reason.

The standard Prius price is $2500 more than the outgoing model but the i-Tech is $1000 less. Toyota also say the Prius is covered by capped-price servicing, Toyota Service Advantage at a maximum of $140 per service (with small print).

Value? As we explored previously here and here, hybrids like Prius is not a cost-effective vehicle. A typical owner just don’t get your money back over the lifecycle of the vehicle. But if you want the most fuel efficient vehicle for its size, this is your car.

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tony coz
tony coz
4 years ago

Congratulations Toyota you have outdone Subaru – no mean feat- in designing an uglier car.

Alien
Alien
4 years ago
Reply to  tony coz

Uh, this site is practical motoring, not fancy motoring.

trackdaze
trackdaze
4 years ago

No reference to the Mitsubishi outlander phev?
The best hybrid would use zero for the average daily commute.

Robert Pepper
4 years ago
Reply to  trackdaze

Agreed, trackdaze. The Prius is a long way off using 0, and never will unless we get the plug-in versions other countries can buy. PHEV is a better option, yes, and is arguably more green than a Prius.

Alien
Alien
4 years ago
Reply to  trackdaze

A car using zero fossil fuel is not a hybrid. Some daily commute is about 100 km or more. Outlander is in different category.

trackdaze
trackdaze
4 years ago
Reply to  Alien

I thought Hybrid drivetrain includes anything with a combustion engine.

What your refering to is a “mild” hybrid.

xuniltoor
xuniltoor
4 years ago

$42,000. Seriously.

CogitoErgoZoom
CogitoErgoZoom
4 years ago
Reply to  xuniltoor

But $51K for a sportage is ok? yes sportage, not sorrento…

HYBRID SUPER VALUE
HYBRID SUPER VALUE
4 years ago
Reply to  xuniltoor

But $51k for a SPORTAGE [not Sorento] is ok?

Alan
Alan
4 years ago

Interesting – I just looked at the brochure and it says it has “hill start assist” on all models.

I agree, the I-Tech is underwhelming and VERY overpriced compared with the previous I-Tech which had some real extras on top of the base model, including self-park & a solar roof. Only the Prius v has self-park now, it seems.

David Grant
David Grant
4 years ago

“love it or hate it”. Count me in the latter column. Makes at Nissan Tiida or a Toyota Echo sedan look like an E Type.

Alien
Alien
4 years ago
Reply to  David Grant

Count me in the first column.

CogitoErgoZoom
CogitoErgoZoom
4 years ago

From lower fuel use of 3.9% to drop to 3.4% IS HUGE, please dont dismiss that as petty, oh and now ULP was PULP before

My RX Lexus has foot operated park brake, what is all the fuss about, works fine… when i remember to release it 🙂

What sort of animal did you have in the back seat, photo 6?

I love it, better in the real world than a tesla [not coil]

Robert Pepper
4 years ago
Reply to  CogitoErgoZoom

Q1: 3.9 to 3.4 is an impressive engineering feat but 0.5L won’t make that much difference in the real world as both number are so low. If the same % had been achieved in a car that did say 12L/100 that would be more impressive in the real world.

Q2: kids. It’s just dust.

Generalist Car Fan
Generalist Car Fan
4 years ago

Always enjoy your reviews Robert. But this one…tl;dr.
Aaannnnddddd…mainly because I sicked-up in my mouth a little the moment the page opened up and I was presented with that hideous obscenity of a vehicle.
I also appreciate it when a manufacturer makes the vehicles look a little interesting. This Prius inst interesting. Its an abomination.

Robert Pepper
4 years ago

Thanks, Generalist. Not an exciting car, granted. I’m writing for people that might buy the car, not so much people that just want a good entertaining story. The two styles are quite different.

Maybe I should have written the review without pictures 🙂

Alien
Alien
4 years ago

It looks interesting.

Guest
Guest
4 years ago

Does cruise control work below 46km/h (displayed)?

Nice write up as usual. Finally a review that actually takes the time rather than some that writes off the car because of the polarising design and in the mind of an owner.

Robert Pepper
4 years ago
Reply to  Guest

Thank you for the note. Sorry, didn’t test the cruise down to very low speeds so don’t know.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper