Driveway Outtake: 2016 Prius – OK; Bring On The Hate If You Must

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Needless to say, Eugene is Priustown, USA.  So it didn’t surprise me to see this new 2016 Prius in my neighborhood a couple of months ago. It was the first one I’ve seen close up. Which is a bit of a challenging undertaking.

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Toyota has taken its task of making its cars more dynamic, inside and outside, quite seriously. It’s working quite well with the Corolla, but the Prius is going to be an acquired taste, if ever. I’m trying to be pragmatic, inasmuch as a lot of cars look a bit wild or goofy when new, but become more palatable with age. Will the Prius? Tha rear end is one of the wilder ones since GM’s 1959 cars. And look what collector items they have become.

I don’t blame Toyota for pushing the envelope. A substantial part of the bounteous Prius hate seems to have been its soap bar styling. No more.

Clearly, Toyota wanted to emphasize a more dynamic image with this generation Prius, and for good reason. it’s the first car to use Toyota’s new TNGA architecture/platform, which will also underpin the next Camry. To counter the complaints of dull handling, the Prius now has a double-wishbone rear suspension, and its steering and suspension tuning are set up to provide competitive and sporty handling. And all the reviews seem to acknowledge that it is much more of  a driver’s car than before. So Toyota is responding to two areas of criticism.

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Despite the added weight of the new rear suspension, the Prius has lost weight elsewhere, and weight roughly the same as before. Its aerodynamics have improved, and its Hybrid Synergy drive (HSD) has been substantially reworked to net the 10% efficiency gain that was the development goal.

The 1.8 L Atkinson Cycle four has been tweaked to reduce friction and improve breathing, so that it’s now capable of delivering up to 40% thermal efficiency, long a goal for engine developers, and once distant target. But the next frontier is 50%, and Honda has already said it’s going to find ways to achieve that, which would probably demand some way of converting engine/exhaust heat into energy.

Except for the low-end Prius 2, which keeps the cheaper NiMH battery pack, the rest of the Prius line has lithium batteries that are lighter.  The Prius’ HSD electric motors/CVT has also been majorly revised, with new architecture and a20% reduction in friction. All this is of course in pursuit of those higher mileage numbers. The official EPA numbers are 54 city, 50 highway, 50 combined, and the lighter Prius Eco ups that to 58/53/56. Since the EPA changed the protocol for hybrids, an apple-to-apple comparison with its predecessor would show a 10% improvement.

The plug-in Prius Prime is scheduled to arrive later this year, and will have a 22 mile electric range and stay in pure EV mode for all of that, unlike the previous plug-in Prius.

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Ok, so much for all of the good news. Now help yourself to hating on the styling (or otherwise) of the Prius, but with one caveat: we don’t disparage  the owners of any cars; individually or as a group. There are a good number of Prius drivers among our readers, and crude stereotypes are inevitably flawed.