New Prius: 58 mpg with a little kick

Surprise! The new Prius is actually fun
Surprise! The new Prius is actually fun

Toyota has let me down before. I've been promised that a new, redesigned version of some boring but efficient and reliable Toyota stalwart would be "more fun" than before.

The new Toyota Camry? A good car but, no, the latest version is still not fun. The Toyota Corolla? A careful and thorough home cleaning is, seriously, much more fun. No progress there.

Then Toyota (TM) promised that the new redesigned Prius would be "more fun to drive than ever." Now, this is does not create high expectations. I don't think anyone has ever even thought about "fun" when considering the purchase of a Toyota Prius any more than one might consider "fuel efficiency" when considering the purchase of a surplus Sherman tank. Still, I scoffed, doubtful that Toyota really even meant it.

I was surprised. When I first got into the new Prius and pulled out of a parking lot, the difference was evident right away. The steering felt sharper. I got to a sweeping entrance ramp and squeezed the gas pedal down. The Prius's new lower, wider body didn't lean way over like it was trying to see around the car in front of it. This Prius felt stable and perfectly at home on a curve unlike any other I've driven.

Now, this is not a fast car. At all. With a grand total -- electric motors and all -- of 121 horsepower, the Prius still takes almost 10 seconds to scurry up to 60 miles per hour. That's a couple seconds longer than the average car but, in real life, it's plenty fast to merge onto the highway. Just don't try amateur night at the drag strip.

2016 toyota prius

Of course, the thing people mostly care about with the Prius is fuel economy. Sharper and more responsive handling is nice. The new design is important. But, just like Corvettes must get faster and Aston Martins must get better looking, Priuses must get stingier. As promised, the most fuel efficient version gets an astonishing EPA-estimated 58 miles per gallon in the city and 53 on the highway. (That's not a typo. Priuses get better fuel economy in the city.) Even the cheapest base model still gets 54 mpg in the city. That's 3 mpg better than the last-generation Prius.

2016 toyota prius

Much of the fuel economy improvement is due to a lighter, sleeker body that, Toyota boasts, has the best aerodynamics of any mass-produced car. Another big change is more powerful lithium ion batteries in all except except the budget version, which still uses a cheaper nickel metal hydride battery. That means more power coming from electricity and less work for the gasoline engine.

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The new Prius may turn off some hard-core Prius enthusiasts. Just as there are some people who think healthy foods must taste like hamster bedding there are those who think environmentally responsible transportation cannot -- and must not -- look good and be enjoyable. Hopefully, they'll get over the shock.

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