The Toyota Prius was redesigned for 2016, and for 2017 it was upgraded with more standard equipment. For 2018 Prius models, there is little that’s new, except for a tablet-sized touchscreen in the top models.
Powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine mated to an electric motor, Prius remains the king of fuel mileage, at least among cars that aren’t plugged in overnight.
Prius gets an EPA-rated 50/54 mpg City/Highway, 52 mpg Combined. The Two Eco model gets even more, with 53/58/56 mpg. The plug-in Prius Prime can go 22 miles on all-electric power.
The electric motor and four-cylinder hybrid are a proven and reliable combination, and the current Prius is faster than pre-2016 models, drawing on a combined 121 horsepower.
There’s a choice of batteries among the models: The standard battery pack in the Prius One and Prius Two is a 1.2 kwh nickel-metal hydride, used reliably for generations of Prius models.
Higher-tech 0.75-kwh lithium-ion batteries are used on the rest of the models: Prius Three, Prius Four, up to Prius Plus, Premium and Advanced.
Lithium-ion batteries are about half the weight of nickel-hydride, and they charge up faster and more completely. The power output and durability of Li-ion and Ni-MH batteries is about the same, but Li-on is more expensive mostly because fewer batteries are made. Tesla uses lithium-ion, so does iPhone. If Li-ion has an Achilles heel, it’s breakdown in high temperatures. Don’t leave your cellphone in the sun or park your Tesla for long if you live in the Australian Outback. As for their impact on the environment, lithium-ion wins, except for one little thing; it turns water to hydrochloric acid, making disposal a critical matter.
The Prius is as safe as it is efficient, with a straight-A report card from the IIHS, earning the Top Safety Pick+ designation. Even the base model includes forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, and active lane control. It all comes in a package called Toyota Safety Sense-P.
Prius One ($23,475) comes with LED headlamps and taillamps, 4.2-inch driver information display, cloth upholstery, 15-inch wheels, the Safety Sense-P suite of advanced safety equipment, keyless ignition, a rearview camera, and a 6.1-inch touchscreen. Built for fleet service, it lacks a split-folding rear seat and rear wiper. Prius One and Prius Two ($24,685) use Ni-MH batteries. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Prius Three ($26,735) comes with softer interior materials, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, wireless cellphone charging. Prius Three Touring ($28,115) adds synthetic leather seating surfaces instead of cloth.
The new 11.6-inch touchscreen is standard on Prius Four ($29,685), along with heated front seats, and power-adjustable driver’s seat. Prius Four Touring adds power passenger seats, blue contrast stitching, and automatic wipers are offered on the Prius Four Touring trim.
The redesign for 2016 transformed three-fourths of the Prius, sculpting the nose and sides, and making it longer, lower and wider. The black roof pillars made the roofline float. The new body gave the prosaic Prius swoop and sedan stature. The aerodynamic and still egg-shaped Prius now looks distinctive.
But the rear end got excessive in the details, with non-cohesive arcing lines at the outside edges of the taillamps; in that the c-shapes flow forward, widening the rear end and making it look higher. But maybe giving the Prius an uplifting butt was intentional. The bottom of the bumper is blacked out, which helps bring it down, but the rear clearance still looks high. Aerodynamics at work.
If those curves on the hatch are non-cohesive, some of the cabin details are downright conflicting. The plastics, textured or glossy, are questionable, and the bins are clunky. But the shape of the dashboard wrap is stylish, the way it wraps to the doors makes the interior look clean and sophisticated; and we like the instrument display with upmarket color screen, and the way the console sweeps into the big standard touchscreen, even bigger at 11.6 inches on upper models.
The cabin feels sporty, like a compact or mid-sized hatchback. The available two-tone beige and gray upholstery looks adult, but the optional pearlescent-white center console scratches easily (there’s an optional $200 cover for it).
The front seats are reasonably well bolstered and comfortable. Higher models get eight-way power adjustment with lumbar support.
Most passengers will fit in the back, but the slope of the roofline squeezes headroom for tall people. The bolsters on the outboard rear seats push those occupants to the middle, further squeezing that third person in the rear. But there’s decent legroom, with 33.4 inches. The battery packs are neatly located under the seat. Both the nickel and more explosive lithium.
The rear seats split and fold. If the liftback hatch design limits headroom in the rear seat, it makes up for it by opening up big cargo space, more than 27 cubic feet.
The 1.8-liter internal combustion engine makes 95 horsepower, and the 53-kilowatt electric motor makes a total of 121 horsepower combined. It’s pokey. Despite its years of development, the Toyota engine is less refined than the Chevy Volt’s. It’s quieter than it used to be, but it still lets you know you’re in a Prius.
The good news is that the ride makes you forget you’re in a Prius.
The continuously variable transmission, or CVT, is pokey; deliberately so, because it’s programmed for efficiency not responsiveness. The object is fuel mileage.
The chassis got more rigid in 2016, but the steering still feels like a limp handshake. It can’t interest the driver.
The braking, both regenerative and friction, is fairly seamless and confident.
The Prius delivers what it promises. High fuel mileage, with stylish looks, comfort and civility, for a very affordable price. There’s nothing wrong with the nickel-hydride batteries in the Prius Two.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection.