2016 marks the 4th generation of the Toyota Prius and with it, a new chapter. As the first mass production gasoline/electric hybrid vehicle, Toyota affectionately calls it “Disrupter” and to date, sales top 3.5 million globally. One of the biggest selling points has always been fuel economy, which rises to 54 city, 50 highway, and 52 combined for most 2016 models.
Yet, fuel economy is only one of many benefits stemming from Prius’ creative engineering. There’s more performance in the 2016 Toyota Prius than expected.
For example, if we parked the new Prius next to the Scion FR-S, the front badging would be the same height.
Despite being the brunt end of jokes and carrying certain stigmas, the Toyota Prius has the last laugh; “disrupting” automotive norms today as it did 15 years ago when it first entered showrooms.
Winds of Change
The 2016 Toyota Prius cut its teeth during wind tunnel testing. As designers worked, the vision of a runner poised in starting blocks returned to their heads. That sleek definition of a runner’s stance, turned into forward motion when the gun fires brought forth a fresh Triangle Silhouette.
The Triangle Silhouette appeared first in the 3rd generation Prius.
The 2016 Toyota Prius is longer, lower, and wider, with more interior room. The roof peak is advanced forward by 6.7 inches to further reduce drag without compromising rear-seat headroom. Special character lines run along the side from the front fenders. One is just above the sill, moving towards the rear fender, while the upper crease blends into the rear spoiler.
Prius glides through the air with a 0.24 coefficient of drag – among the lowest of current passenger cars. An automatic grille shutter provides additional assistance, reducing drag by closing when airflow to the radiator is not needed. Aero stabilizing fins on the underfloor covers, front quarter window garnish, and tail lamps help too.
Like the third-generation Prius, Hybrid Synergy Drive combines the output of a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine and two motors/generators through an electronically controlled, planetary-type, continuously variable transmission (CVT). Lighter hybrid components are now employed, including a lithium-ion hybrid battery over the previous nickel-metal hydride battery (excluding the Prius Two non-Eco grade). The new battery is housed under the rear seat, rather than the luggage area, for more cargo room.
“Hybrid” and “dynamic” are not synonymous terms in automotive culture, yet the 2016 Toyota Prius is seamless. Shift-by-wire technology sends electronic signals versus a traditional linkage, meaning forward and reverse gears are selected by the press of a fingertip. There are two modes: Normal, for the best balance of fuel economy and performance, and Power, which emphasizes acceleration.
The new hybrid transaxle and motor use a multi-shaft layout with a higher speed range and a reduction gear mounted on a parallel shaft. This reduces the parasitic loss/load paradox by 20 percent, compared to previous generations. In other words, the things making power for the 2016 Prius have better ability to do so.
The next brush stroke belongs to the 2ZR-FXE 1.8-liter gasoline engine as 2016 refinements make 40 percent-plus thermal efficiency. Reduced friction of the rotating assembly, internal parts, and improved combustion are to credit.
Similar to Heavy Duty diesel trucks, Exhaust Gas Recirculation is utilized, but with a different approach. With a cooler, Prius’ EGR runs even at the engine’s maximum output for an ideal air/fuel (stoichiometric) mix across the power band. Exhaust heat recirculation technology uses exhaust gases to increase engine warm-up on cold days. This allows the hybrid system to stop the engine earlier and more often in low demand city driving to conserve fuel.
Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA) is their current platform and powertrain development protocol. It introduces a high-strength body, double-wishbone independent rear suspension, and low center of gravity for better driving dynamics. The rigid nature of TNGA contributes to better handling, steering response, and ride quality.
Hot-stamped and high tensile steels, both lightweight and strong, are used extensively throughout the body. An aluminum hood and rear door frames slice weight while innovative fastening methods like laser screw welding and advanced body adhesives maintain rigidity.
The double wishbone rear suspension replaces the torsion beam setup for better handling, control, ride, and even increases cargo space. Soft trailing-arm bushings reduce feedback while bushings on all arm joints minimize friction.
Safe & (Not Too Much) Sound
Better hybrid and engine technology, plus high-strength, light-weight materials, equal a number of enhancements; including fuel economy, a Prius strong point. However, it’s high time the Toyota Prius makes some noise for being quiet
Sound absorbing materials throughout the body, dash, windshield, engine compartment, headliner, and cabin give the 2016 Toyota Prius a peaceful feel.
A “silencer pad” below the floor carpet even cuts road noise.
The 2016 Prius is one of the first with Toyota Safety Sense P, a safety tech package that, under certain conditions, detects obstacles and possible collisions then automatically brakes. Toyota Safety Sense P uses millimeter-wave radar and a monocular camera to detect pedestrians, vehicles, and lane markers.
Over The Years
Olathe Toyota Parts Center provides this infographic showing the evolution of the Toyota Prius. The progression in aerodynamics, functionality, technology, fuel economy, and overall performance have shed the stereotypes commonly associated with the not-so-little car.
It’s cliche but the 2016 Toyota Prius is a big thing in a small package. Granted, the name “Disrupter” sounds more like a Decepticon tank versus a lively cruiser like the Toyota Prius but typical to good surprises, we rarely expect them.
And nobody expects the Prius.
It’s the most unassuming vehicle but as hybrid, battery, and electronic technology become more prevalent, Prius paves the way. As classic muscle cars pioneered their era, so too the Prius will. Perhaps, in time, when alternatively powered automobiles long leave gasoline ones in the dust, we will look back on the Prius and say, “man, they sure don’t build them like they used to.”
*Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog.net and resides in Detroit, Michigan.