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 : 5 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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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
- 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.