Prius’s nerdy look is gone, so if you were one of those kids, like me, who had the mechanical pencil and pocket protector in high school, well, you’d best reconsider buying the hybrid.
Toyota has jazzed up the Prius in looks and performance. The bright “hypersonic” red ($395 extra) test car nearly glowed in the parking lot, plus it looks more trim and sporty than past models. Like other Toyotas the nose uses creases for styling that bring it to a noticeable point and the taillights feature sharp angles previously saved for sports cars. The profile is more that of a sporty hatchback now.
So if you’re looking for a hybrid that gets great gas mileage, and don’t mind looking a little trendy, instead of nerdy, the Prius Four Touring could light your fuse.
The newest Prius isn’t bulbous and chubby looking like past models, but it’s still a gas mileage champ. I got a fantastic 57.6 mpg, while the EPA rates this model at 54 mpg city and 50 mpg highway. I spent more time in town and driving in the 40-45 mph range.
Premium mileage you expect with a hybrid, but Prius’ entire driving experience has improved. Ride is as good as most compact and mid-size sedans, which is to say well-controlled and generally smooth. Big bumps are noticed, but not annoying. A newly designed independent rear suspension certainly helps.
However, this Prius is agile. It turns into corners well and handles quickly and competently in all circumstances. The Four Touring borders on fun to drive, and it’s rare I say that about a hybrid. This model rides on 17-inch tires as opposed to the standard 15-inchers on the base Prius Two. They give it good grip and seem to improve the ride.
The hybrid system combined with Toyota’s 1.8-liter I4 with variable valve timing runs smoothly too and is well mated to its continuously variable transmission (CVT). Because the system starts in electric mode with its twin electric motors supplying power up to about 10 mph, it’s extremely quiet and smooth. Yet it’s no laggard. The immediate torque of the electric motors helps Prius scoot away from stoplights with ease.
No it’s not quick at the upper end when you get to highway speeds, but a drive mode button on the lower portion of the dash’s center stack allows you to put it in Power mode and that helps quite a bit for acceleration up to about 40 mph, which is precisely what’s needed to get around suburbia. There’s an Eco mode that siphons off power and the Normal mode, which is decent. I left my test car in Power much of the week.
Inside, Toyota has added sound deadening so you hear less road noise and less electric motor whine. There’s a bit of whine still there, but not as noticeable as in previous models.
I found the interior comfortable too. The Four Touring features a soft fake leather that feels close to real and the seats are well contoured with good hip support and good lower back support. Seats are power up front with two-level seat heat and power lumbar for the driver.
The dash is a soft textured material, and black in the red test car. A black belt-shaped gloss surround frames the big radio/nav screen mid dash and there’s black gloss trim on the doors’ armrests. But most riders commented on the Stormtrooper white console top. Ditto the lower facing on the center stack. That’s where the Prius’s tiny shift lever sticks out. That white is a little jarring, but certainly looks clean and brightens the interior. There’s a light gray headliner overhead.
Gauges are easy to see and many are in the large thin screen that sits atop the dash, which is low and gives excellent frontward visibility. The screen is split in two with speedometer on one side and various info on the other. It’s center mounted so takes a few days to get used to.
Other info up there includes the shift pattern, which is good because that stubby shifter takes a little getting used to also. And there’s a B in the pattern off to the right. I was puzzled, so looked it up before trying it out. It’s for engine braking to slow the car. That’s the first time I’ve seen that in any car.
The car, which easily seats four adults and has plenty of cargo room under the rear hatch, is loaded with safety equipment too. The Touring model comes with Toyota’s Safety Sense, a system that looks ahead to see if someone, or something, has slowed up. It brakes the car quickly to avoid an accident. Several car makers offer similar systems now.
There’s a blind-spot warning system, which nearly every car and truck now features, plus lane departure, a backup camera with cross-traffic alert, dynamic cruise control and an automatic high beam system to turn your bright lights on when it’s dark and off when there’s oncoming traffic. We must think less and less with each new model that the car makers develop!
One other feature stands out, and is only the second I’ve seen in cars, no matter their price. Prius has a wireless phone charging pad in the console. It’s rubberized so your smart phone doesn’t slide and with the click of a button begins charging your phone. So long plug-in cables and wires.
Lest you think the Prius is perfect, well, I had a few issues inside it too.
First, the sun visors do not slide, so with the car’s large side windows, you frequently get sun blinded early and late in the day when the sun is at lower angles. That’s a pain and totally avoidable with a visor that extends or slides.
Whine no. 2? The armrests, both on the doors and center console are awfully hard. There’s a thin coating of the fake leather on them, but they need more padding.
Lastly, and easily most annoying, the car beeps incessantly when in reverse. So each time you back from a parking space, or out of your driveway a piercing beep distracts you from driving. In fact, it urges you to drive quickly so you can slide the car into Drive and turn off the ear-splitting beeps. I’ve read that this can be turned off, and if true, make sure the dealer does that for you on Day 1 after a purchase.
All that brings us to price. The Four Touring model starts at $30,000, and add in an $835 delivery fee. This Prius also added wheel locks, body side molding, door edge guards, a rear bumper applique and cargo net to bring it to $31,827, still well below the average car price.
This is a top tier Prius though, a similar, but less well equipped Prius Two starts at $25,065 including delivery and slightly less dolled up Prius Four lists at $29,515 with delivery.
There also are several other Prius models of varying size and some offer even better fuel economy. Look at them all if you’re considering a hybrid, but if you’d like to axe your nerd image, go with the new Prius Four – in Hypersonic Red!
Hits: Edgier looks, super mpg, quiet interior, plus agile handling, good ride and semi-peppy acceleration (really). Plus two-level heated power seats, split info screen across dash top, big radio/nav screen, wireless phone charging, blind-spot warning, Safety Sense, seats four and good cargo room under hatch.
Misses: Modest top-end speed, visors don’t slide, armrests are hard and it beeps incessantly when in reverse, Stormtrooper white console.
Made in: Japan
Engine: 1.8-liter VVT-I I4, hybrid synergy system, 121 hp
Weight: 3,080 lbs.
Length: 178.7 in.
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
MPG: 54/50 (EPA)
MPG: 57.6 (tested)
Cargo: 27.4 cu.ft.
Base Price: $30,000
Special color (Hypersonic red), $395
Wheel locks, $65
Body side molding, $289
Door edge guard, $125
Rear bumper applique, $69
Cargo net, $49
Test vehicle: $31,827
Sources: Toyota, kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage