From £22,8198
Now in its fourth generation, Toyota's original hybrid is radically different underneath, greener than ever and slightly more pleasant to drive

Our Verdict

Fourth-generation Toyota Prius

World’s most popular hybrid is reborn to face stiffening competition

  • First Drive

    2016 Toyota Prius review

    Now in its fourth generation, Toyota's original hybrid is radically different underneath, greener than ever and slightly more pleasant to drive
  • First Drive

    Toyota Prius plug-in

    Plug-in model is the cleanest, most efficient Prius yet
18 November 2015

What is it?

This is the fourth-generation Toyota Prius, the petrol-electric car that played a huge role in kick-starting the acceptance of hybrids when it first appeared in 1997. 

The new Prius is the first model to be based upon the Japanese manufacturer’s new TNGA modular architecture, said to bring advantages in terms of interior space, mechanical packaging and chassis sophistication. In turn, that should mean a car that offers a more involving driving experience than the outgoing model.

However, the emphasis is still on remarkable fuel economy and low CO2 emissions, and in that respect the new Prius has taken a significant step forward. According to Toyota’s own figures, it emits an impressively low 70g/km of CO2 and is capable of 94.1mpg.

At 4540mm, the new car is 60mm longer than the Prius Mk3. It is also 15mm wider and 20mm lower, while retaining the same wheelbase of 2700mm, and has a more slippery shape than of old.

The now more compact powertrain components in the front of the car have been positioned 10mm lower than before. Toyota claims the new platform helps to lower the centre of gravity and that, allied with a 60% increase in body rigidity and revised front and rear suspension, gives the Prius improved handling response and agility.

Not everything is new about this Prius, however: it retains the 1.8-litre petrol engine used by its predecessor – codenamed 2ZR-FXE – although the unit has been significantly overhauled.

Toyota claims to have improved the engine’s maximum thermal efficiency from 38.5% to 40%, which is an impressive figure for a petrol unit. The petrol engine produces 97bhp while the electric motor makes 71bhp.

The electric motors in European versions of the car will continue to be fuelled via a nickel-metal hydride battery pack, albeit a newly developed version compared to that used by the third-generation Prius. Toyota claims the new battery is smaller than the old one, and can recharge via the generator more rapidly, by as much as 28%.

The reduction in size, allied with the packaging possibilities of the new TGNA architecture, mean the battery has been shifted even further under the rear seats, freeing up 56 litres of extra boot space in the boot of the new Prius to give it a total capacity of 502 litres. The rear bench splits 60/40 for more load carrying space. This is also the first Prius to be rated for towing, with an unbraked capacity of 725kg.

What's it like?

The minimalist cabin features fewer buttons and switches than the Mk3 car. The shift to the new TNGA platform has reduced the height of the top lip of the bonnet by 620mm, allowing more light into the cabin and providing better visibility for the driver.

The feeling of spaciousness provided by increases in front and rear head room is emphasised by the thinner frames on the quarter glass ahead of the door mirrors; on the previous car, the elements were obscured by thicker pillars.

The previous car’s distinctive centrally mounted instrument panel is retained, although it is less recessed into the dashboard and has sharper graphics, making it easier to read at a glance than the old design. The main infotainment screen is larger, and the climate controls simplified.

The foot-operated parking brake also remains, freeing up space between the front occupants. The stubby gear lever is familiar, too, albeit mounted higher on the central stack than before.

There is a lot of plastic on show, although the materials used for the main points of contact are of an acceptable quality, and there’s some silver brightwork to lift the ambience. Some ergonomic quirks remain: the switches for the seat heaters are inexplicably hidden behind the floating central stack, a full arm’s stretch away.

Our first test of the car came as part of a strictly speed-controlled convoy run over two laps of the Toyota-owned Fuji Motor Speedway.

Operation of the new Prius is child’s play to anyone familiar with hybrids – and with EVs, for that matter.  Press the power button to the right of the steering wheel and the car chimes into life, showing the ‘ready’ prompt on the instrument display.

The battery-powered component of the petrol-electric Hybrid Synergy Drive system propels the car silently away from a standstill, with the petrol engine kicking in quietly and smoothly at higher speeds.

Toyota has also tweaked the power delivery to provide more linear, consistent acceleration, smoothing out the curve by using more of the battery’s power; floor the throttle and you hear less of the engine’s buzzsaw drone that was a trait of the previous car, although it hasn’t been eradicated entirely.

Three drive modes – Eco, Normal and Power – are available at the press of a button, although Normal seems adequate in most occasions. Power mode is said to provide more throttle response, but the difference feels minimal.

Of course, this car’s unique selling point isn’t its performance – and driving a Prius in an over-enthusiastic manner traditionally plays havoc with the fuel economy – but the Toyota is definitely more composed during cornering than before, steering fairly precisely and cornering in a neat, flat manner. The brakes, too, have been improved, providing a more progressive and ‘natural’ feel that was somewhat corrupted by the regenerative braking system on the old car.

The ride of the old car could feel harsh and fidgety over uneven roads; Toyota’s claim of an improvement brought about by the new suspension felt valid on a smooth race track, but we’ll require a more thorough test on UK roads.


Should I buy one?

If you need a hybrid family car that doesn’t need to be introduced to an electric socket on a regular basis and you drive more in urban areas than on motorways, the new Toyota Prius looks likely to be worthy of consideration, especially for company car drivers.

However, a price tag of £23,295 puts the Prius up against a wide range of high-quality, efficient petrol and diesel vehicles from Toyota’s mass-market rivals.

It’s a case of small gains in lots of areas as opposed to a revelatory leap in any one, but given the roaring success of the Prius in many markets, it shouldn’t be a surprise to discover that Toyota hasn’t deviated far from the popular and successful template.

Toyota Prius

Location Japan; Price from £23,295; Engine 4 cyls, 1797cc, petrol plus electric motors; Power 121bhp; Torque 105lb ft; Kerb weight na; 0-62mph 10.6sec; Top speed 112mph; Fuel economy 94.1mpg (combined); CO2 70g/km, 9%

Join the debate


18 November 2015

Impressive numbers, nice to hear that it doesn't drive like a toaster anymore, but geez... It looks like it came from a mid 90s manga book.



18 November 2015

Much as I admire Toyota's engineering, and the success of its hybrid concept, I just wish the new Prius looked a bit more elegant and less freakish. I can see the need to differentiate it from ordinary cars, but really this looks like a very clumsy execution. Good to see a manufacturer who is prepared to quote thermal efficiency though - and a 40% figure for a petrol engine is fantastic.

18 November 2015

Wish I had something good to say because the Prius is an iconic car for which Toyota should be applauded. But why maintain the look of a spaceship? It makes the car look older IMO. As for the foot operated parking brake - even Mercedes have given up that solution! Surely an electronic brake would be less weight?

18 November 2015

Strangely enough, if this were to be put in the same place as an i8, those looks might not be so out of place.

19 November 2015
Adrian987 wrote:

Strangely enough, if this were to be put in the same place as an i8, those looks might not be so out of place.

BMW has a history of producing something very distinctive only to either drop or 'BMWize' the concept. My guess is 4th gen of the i8 will either be non-existent or end up looking like a 3 series. (who's going to bet against the latter?)

18 November 2015

Take these comments in the context of someone who owns the current Gen 3.... Great to see it can tow at last, if nothing else that means I can fit a tow bar for carrying bikes. Couldn't really care less that it's supposed to be quieter than the old car, we never had a problem with the so-called "buzzsaw drone". Load of nonsense IMHO. No problem with the foot operated brake myself, works well on the current car and is a lot more reliable than the electronic parking brake on our Avensis. Better fuel economy, lower emissions and still true to the spirit of the original Prius. I can see us buying one of these at some point.

18 November 2015

Toyota either get criticised for being dull as ditch-water or too adventurous. Bah! If you can't get along with it, wait for the updated Auris with the same drivetrain. If that's not ordinary enough for you, then nothing is! ;)

18 November 2015

Looking at these photos of the car in daylight, the front end actually looks ok though I'm still not convinced by the rear. As for the interior, I still think the centre console looks like Darth Vader's helmet. But for all the styling issues, it has to be said Toyota's hybrid drivetrain has so far proved impressively robust. With diesels being so complex, and even modern petrols having turbos and dual mass flywheels, reliability is an ever present concern and does draw me towards a Toyota, albeit an Auris rather than a Prius...

18 November 2015

I think bizarre styling kinda worked when these cars were in their infancy as owners wanted you to know that they were doing something different, something good. I don't think it works so well now that hybid's and EV's are growing into sensible everyday choices for the masses as most owners just want to be seen as normal, so normal styling will suffice. One of the Tesla's many achievement's to my mind is the fact that isn't trying to be a car for tomorrow now, it's just trying to be a car for right now. Yes it might be a little plain compared to it's rivals but I'd rather that than it be bonkers/ugly just for the sake of trying to pretend that it's something futuristic

19 November 2015

The sheer number of Priuses you see in London when compared to Hybrid versions of say the Auris, suggests that people who drive a hybrid WANT everyone to know they're driving a hybrid!


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