Toyota boosts mpg, interior space on retooled 2016 Prius

Improved driving dynamics aimed at drawing new consumers

The 2016 Toyota Prius is 2.4 inches longer, 0.6 inches wider and 0.8 inches lower than the outgoing model.

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LAS VEGAS — The Toyota Prius, a household name that has come to define hybrid cars for nearly two decades, was reborn here Tuesday night with the introduction of a bigger, more fuel-efficient model for 2016.

Toyota didn’t release powertrain details on the redesigned and re-engineered Prius (those are expected ahead of the Tokyo Motor Show in October), but the company promised the 2016 version would be lighter, 10 percent more fuel efficient than its predecessor and — rare for virtually any hybrid — fun to drive.

The latest Prius, Toyota pledged in a statement, “will offer best-in-class fuel economy among vehicles without a plug.”

The fuel efficiency gains resulted from smaller and lighter components in the hybrid system, denser batteries that pack more energy and a more efficient internal combustion engine, Toyota said.

The outgoing 2015 Prius, with a 1.8-liter engine, is rated at 51 mpg/city, 48 mpg/highway and 50 mpg combined.

To mark the event, Toyota hoisted a new fourth-generation Prius into the night sky on cables from the top of the Linq hotel here, while the band Atlas Genius played for a crowd of journalists, dealers and company brass.

Toyota says styling on the 2016 Prius hybrid was inspired by a runner in starting blocks.

“Prius set the global benchmark for hybrids, but now is breaking its own boundaries with more engaging style and fun-to-drive dynamics,” Bill Fay, general manager of Toyota Division, said in the statement. “What was once a rational purchase that for many customers focused on fuel economy, is now so much more.”

That’s because the 2016 Prius is the first vehicle from Toyota to ride on the company’s all-new modular platform that will underpin future models like the Corolla and Camry.

The new platform gives the retooled Prius a lower center of gravity for better handling. The car is also 2.4 inches longer, 0.6 inches wider, and 0.8 inches lower than the Prius before it. The changes mean more occupant and cargo room, Toyota said.

The Prius will also feature an all-new rear double suspension and more rigid body to improve ride and driving dynamics.

The hatchback profile carries over but the 2016 version wears aggressively styled sheet metal — especially in the rear — which echoes Toyota’s Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car.

The newest styling will still distinguish the Prius from anything else on the road.

“It’s always been a vehicle that set its own design and goes in its own direction,” Dave Sullivan, an analyst at AutoPacific, told Automotive News. “It’s never really looked like another Toyota since it’s basically its own brand.”

The unique looks will have plenty of existing owners to please. Not only does the Prius have some of the best name recognition in the green-car world, but it also enjoys some of the most loyal customers in the industry, according to Edmunds.com. With more than 3.5 million sales since its debut in 1997, the Prius holds a healthy audience.

But the new model also faces a major headwind: Low U.S. gasoline prices that have sent sales of alternative-powered vehicles tumbling 16 percent this year. The Prius family has seen U.S. volume slip 17 percent to 125,830 vehicles through August.

In addition to the 2016 model that debuted Tuesday night, Toyota also plans an Eco model of the Prius. That version will be even more efficient than the base model, and will have slightly different styling. Toyota declined to reveal other details or say whether it would cost more or less than the model released on Tuesday.

The fourth-generation Prius is also among the first Toyota products in the U.S. to come with the optional Toyota Safety Sense system, which packages together safety features such as pre-collision braking with pedestrian avoidance, lane departure warning and radar cruise control.

The new Prius is expected to go on sale at the beginning of next year. Pricing and fuel economy specifics haven’t been announced.

You can reach David Undercoffler at undercoffler@crain.com.


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