Toyota Prius 2016 -

First Drive

Toyota Prius, 2016, front
Toyota Prius, 2016, side
Toyota Prius, 2016, rear
Toyota Prius, 2016, interior
Toyota Prius, 2016, instruments
Toyota Prius, 2016, gear lever
Toyota Prius, 2016, vent
Toyota Prius, 2016, wireless phone charger
Toyota Prius, 2016, badge

IT began life as Project 21 but nearly 20 years down the line the Toyota Prius has gone on to become the world's most popular hybrid with 3.6 million global sales.

And now the introduction of the all-new fourth generation model, which is priced from £23,295 to £27,450, is likely to see those impressive sales figures continue to rise.

The Toyota design team have been hard at work creating a completely new look for the car and in fairness, it does look striking from every angle.

The wide looking front end has a lower bonnet height and the company emblem sits at the same height above the ground as on the sporty GT86 coupe helping to create a more athletic appearance.

There are sweeping headlight clusters leading to a very sleek side profile which rises gradually into the rear spoiler.

From the back, the Prius looks completely different to the outgoing model with a more aggressive appearance. There are very distinctive signature tail lights with sharp, upright and angular lines.

Move inside and there are new seat designs that are more supportive and offer improved comfort levels.

The car has a futuristic, clutter-free feel to it with simple, multi-function displays that present information at a glance with less instrumentation. Yet, the Prius is well equipped with plenty of on-board technology.

There are four trim levels - Active, Business Edition, Business Edition Plus and Excel - with the entry level models boasting the likes of dual-zone air conditioning, LED headlights, Toyota Touch 2 multimedia system with touchscreen and DAB radio.

As you move up through the trim grades additions include soft-touch cabin trim, a wireless phone charger, a colour head-up display, heated front seats, leather upholstery and park assist.

Another factor worth noting is all Prius models are equipped with Toyota Safety Sense as standard which introduces a raft of safety features including lane departure warning, automatic high beam, road sign assist, adaptive cruise control and a pre-collision safety system that also detects pedestrians.

The latest Prius is also the first model to feature a chassis based on Toyota New Global Architecture.

It sounds very technical but in reality the GA-C platform as it is affectionately known has a defining role to play in how the car handles and performs.

For example the new Prius has a 25mm lower centre of gravity which translates into better handling, more precise steering and less body roll.

In addition, an entirely new hybrid system has been introduced to the car combining a re-engineered 1.8-litre petrol engine with a high energy intensity battery to deliver 121bhp.

This translates into pretty impressive performance stats - the new Prius can sprint to 62mph from a standing start in 10.6 seconds, topping out at 112mph. Combined fuel economy is as high as 94.1mpg and carbon emission are from 70g/km.

So the new Prius looks a whole lot more athletic in its appearance, is bursting with techno treats and delivers excellent economy along the way, but how does it handle?

The answer is rather well. The car starts up and pulls away in complete silence and the acceleration from the CVT gearbox is surprisingly good. In many cases these automatic transmissions whine, scream and fall well short of any expectations when it comes to driving dynamics, but that's not the case in the Prius.

The power is instant meaning gradual or short bursts of acceleration are easily achieved as the car cruises effortlessly at motorway speeds. It's a very easy car to drive - one you immediately feel at home with.

In busy town centres, the all-round visibility is good (once you have got accustomed to the split rear screen) and the numerous sensors along with a camera make parking a complete doddle. The latest car has 22 sensors compared to just nine on the third generation model.

The car certainly feels more dynamic too with sharper responses and good road holding even when pushed hard into tight bends.

There is a little wind noise, although in fairness to Toyota we were driving the car on the tail end of a gusty storm. Elsewhere the cabin remained nicely hushed with next-to-no engine or road surface noise to speak of.

Almost all the controls are ideally placed for ease of use, apart from the seat heaters which are hidden away from view behind the centre console.

But apart from that minor gripe and a somewhat wayward sat nav system at times, the new Prius was a delight to drive.

Toyota has done some of the simple things very well. The air vents have the name Prius in shiny chrome which looks really stylish and the car detects when a passenger is no longer travelling in the car and diverts their air con to the driver's side. There is even an intelligent clearance sensor which detects obstacles that might not be visible to the driver.

These are all features that appeal to Prius buyers old and new and it's easy to see just why Toyota is confident the latest generation model will prove very popular with about 4,000 sales expected this year alone.

The car is on sale now with first deliveries from March 1.

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