And Now For Something Completely Different: The 2016 Toyota Prius Two Eco

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Toyota Prius Two Eco
The 2016 Toyota Prius Two Eco.
Let's pretend that you run a carmaker, one of the world's largest.  You are known for making utterly reliable automobiles and for playing it a bit safe when it comes to changing those automobiles.  You also make the most popular hybrid automobile on earth.  It is the car most people think of when hearing the word hybrid.  Apart from the first generation, which people thought was odd-looking despite a mostly conventional sedan shape, your best-selling hybrid has benefitted from evolutionary thinking over the past two decades.  Moving forward, but not taking big risks.

And then one day, you decide to roll the dice.  Push the envelope. Instead of another smoothing of the existing design, you dare to dare.  Even the propulsion system, praised for delivering on its EPA estimate of 51 city/48 highway no longer looks good enough.  You swing for the bleachers.

Rear 3/4 view of 2016 Toyota Prius Two Eco
2016 Toyota Prius Two Eco.
If you asked everyone you met in the next week what the least daring car on the market today is, most people would answer "Prius".  But that has changed.  The 2016 Toyota Prius is nothing but daring. Start with the styling.  Some say it looks French.  Some say it looks Martian.  Some are rather unkind in their comments.  But it is a major departure, while still identifiable as a Prius, and it is not done purely for styling's sake.  What you see is the result of extensive wind-tunnel testing, and the new Prius arrives with a drag coefficient of 0.24, making it one of the sleekest shapes of any new car.  That allows the Prius to move through the air with the least possible resistance. And that improves fuel economy,

View of powertrain in 2016 Toyota Prius hybrid
2016 Toyota Prius Hybrid Powertrain.
Toyota also re-tuned the 1.8-liter gasoline four-cylinder that is the fuel-using part of the hybrid gasoline and electric equation, so that it is more fuel-saving.  Improved thermal efficiency including an exhaust heat recirculation system that gets the engine to the most efficient operating temperature quickly are part of the changes.  On the electric side, the hybrid components are now smaller and lighter.

Altogether, the changes add up to a remarkable year-to-year leap in fuel efficiency, according to EPA estimates.  The 2016 Prius should be good for 54 miles per gallon city---an increase of three miles per gallon from last year---and 50 miles per gallon highway---up from 48 in 2015.

Our tester was the Prius Two Eco, which has even higher EPA estimates---58 city/53 highway. That additional improvement was accomplished by still more aggressive weight savings.  The primary nickel-metal hydride battery has been replaced by a lithium-ion one which can now fit under the rear seat instead of under the luggage floor.  That moves weight closer to the center of the car, improving ride and handling, and allows for a lower cargo floor, meaning more things can be carried in the back of the Prius Two Eco. That alone saved 35 pounds.  Another 30 was shaved off by deleting the rear window wiper and eliminating the space-saver spare and jack.  In their place, you'll find a tire repair and inflator kit.

It all paid off. In a week's worth of driving in less than ideal conditions, including constant A/C use in the first week of July in Phoenix, Arizona, I averaged 54.7.

Interior view of 2016 Toyota Prius Two Eco
2016 Toyota Prius Two Eco interior.
As with all previous Prius models, the instrument cluster is at the top and in the center of the dashboard.  But that ends the similarity to previous generations.  The controls have been relocated in a logical and attractive way, and much to our delight, the gear shift lever has been re-positioned to eliminate accidental contact with it and the separate "Park" button while in motion.

There are six models of 2016 Prius, and by that we mean the Prius, not the Prius V or Prius C or Prius Plug-In, which are all considered separate.  The base price range begins at $24,200 for the Prius Two and ends at an even $30,000 for the Prius Four Touring.  Our test vehicle, the one-step-up and more economical Prius Two Eco, starts at $24,700 and our test vehicle came optionless, so with $835 delivery processing and handling fee, the as-tested price was $25,535.

However you feel about the new look---there seem to be fewer new ones on the road than you might think, and Toyota is offering $1,700 cash back on the 2016 Prius, which might indicate some resistance---the 2016 Prius is a major improvement in every other respect.  We're looking forward to driving the other models in the lineup.