When Toyota introduced the Prius into the U.S. back in the early 2000s, it was a different time. Gas prices were quite low and everybody was gobbling up big SUVs like they were going out of style. A small vehicle that got high fuel economy numbers didn’t seem that appealing. But then gas prices rose and consumers began to see the inherent value in the Prius. Before too long, the Prius would become the gold standard of hybrid vehicles. Now with gas prices being somewhat steady again, consumers have gone out and started buying larger vehicles again - in this case, crossovers. But the Prius is still around, welcoming those who want to get the most out of a tank of gas, Last fall, the Prius underwent a massive redesign with the big news being a new platform. Is this Prius still the top hybrid?
The Toyota Prius has never been considered to be a sexy or stylish vehicle. Nor has been considered to be ugly. It has just sat in the middle of the design spectrum. Toyota decided to bust the Prius out of that design lull with a very polarizing look for the new model. Standing in front of the Prius for the first time, I thought that it looked like a cat toy. This impression comes from a pointy nose, triangular headlights, and creases in the hood. The side profile follows the ideals set by the last-generation model with some aggression. There is sculpting along the doors and rear fenders.
The Prius’ interior always looked and felt like an afterthought with a dreary design and cheap materials. Thankfully, Toyota moved the interior up the priority list for the forth-generation Prius and it shows. Stepping inside, you can tell there is a noticeable improvement in material quality. Many surfaces are covered with soft-touch plastics. The center stack and console feature contrasting black and white plastic trim. The white trim is an interesting choice and might make some people think that Toyota’s designers watched a bit too much Star Wars when working on the Prius.
Compared to the last Prius, the new model is considerably more comfortable and you could do a long trip without having any issues. The front seats have been lowered slightly and the setback has been slightly angled back. The back seat is slightly smaller than the previous-generation - legroom is down two inches. But an average-sized adult should fit with no issues. Cargo space has been increased to 24.6 cubic feet behind the rear seats.
On the technology front, the Prius has seen some major improvements. The center mounted instrument cluster with graphics commonly seen on a microwave has been ditched for a new setup with two color screens. The left screen handles speed and basic trip information. The one on the right shows driving data, a powertrain diagram, and tips on improving overall fuel economy. The displays are very vibrant and easy to read at a quick glance. Below that lies a seven-inch touchscreen with Toyota’s Entune infotainment system. Entune’s interface looks slightly dated to competitors and getting into the navigation system is a bit of a mess - you hit the apps button and then hit navigation on the touchscreen. Still, we think Entune is one of the easier systems to use and is quite fast.
The powertrain for the Prius is comprised of a 1.8L Atkinson-Cycle four-cylinder engine and two electric motors/generators. Total output stands at 121 horsepower and 105 pound-feet of torque. The base Prius Two sticks with a nickel-metal hydride battery, while higher trims - like our Three - get a compact lithium-ion battery pack. A CVT routes power to the front wheels. The Prius does take its sweet time to get up speed on the highway and rural roads. This also means you’ll need to plan your passes carefully. But the Prius does zip around the city with no issues - the electric motors offer instantaneous torque and the gas engine is ready to kick in when more power is needed. One improvement we’re glad to see is how much further you can just travel in EV mode. Keep a light foot on the accelerator and you’ll be able to travel a fair distance on just the battery alone. The CVT keeps itself in check most of the time. The only time it makes itself noticeable is during hard acceleration.
The 2017 Toyota Prius Three is rated by the EPA at 54 City/50 Highway/52 Combined. Our average for the week was a very surprising 60.2 mpg with most of our driving done in the city.
The Prius has never been known for being a decent handling vehicle. Going back through our previous Prius reviews, we have complained about the poor body control and steering that felt like you were stretching a rubber band. But the new Prius is quite shocking. Going around a corner, the Prius doesn’t show any real sign of body roll. Steering has some decent heft and feels more natural. What happened? A lot of the credit has to go to the new underpinnings of the Prius - Toyota New Global Architecture (TGNA). This architecture introduces a new chassis design for the Prius, along with a lower center of gravity. Toyota will be introducing this architecture on other models in the future and it looks to be a winner. One area that the Prius is still struggling is the brakes. The pedal still has a vague feeling and you can’t help but wonder if the vehicle will come to a stop.
Toyota has made sure the Prius was still a comfortable car to do the daily grind. Over potholed roads, the Prius’ suspension was able to soak up bumps without them making their way inside. Wind noise is almost nonexistent with a low coefficient of drag of 0.24 probably helping. Road noise is another matter as a fair amount comes inside. The combination of low-rolling resistance tires and not enough sound deadening material on the floor are the possible causes.
Toyota could have just rested on their laurels and keep the basic formula that has served the Prius for many years. But instead, Toyota made some massive changes to the Prius and it has resulted in making the model become more well-rounded. The design will not appease everyone and the Prius could do with a little bit more power. But the changes made to the interior and chassis along with the impressive fuel economy more than overshadow these issues. The Prius is not only the hybrid that stands above the rest, it has finally moved on from a science fair experiment to an actual vehicle.
Disclaimer: Toyota Provided the Prius, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Engine: 1.8L DOHC 16-Valve VVT-i Four-Cylinder, Electric Motor
Driveline: Continuously Variable Transmission, Front-Wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 95 @ 5,200 (Gas), 121 (Total)
Torque @ RPM: 105 @ 3,600
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 54/50/52
Curb Weight: 3,050 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Aichi, Japan
Base Price: $26,250
As Tested Price: $29,842 (Includes $835.00 Destination Charge)
Advanced Technology Package - $1,935.00
Body Side Molding - $289.00
Carpet Floor Mats/Cargo Mat - $225.00
Door Edge Guards - $125.00
Rear Bumper Applique - $69.00
Wheel Locks - $65.00
Cargo Net - $49.00