AutomotiveEvents

2016 Toyota Prius Western Launch and First Drive

by: Jag Dhatt

February 3rd, 2016 (Vancouver, BC): Of the vehicles that have changed the economical/environmental footprint in the auto industry, the Toyota Prius has to be one of the top of the list. This utilitarian vehicle serves the function of being very economical, while delivering really no driving pleasure or enthusiasm. But it has had one heck of an impact, selling over 5 million units worldwide. People don’t seem to mind the Prius, and neither do taxi companies. Just drive around any major Canadian city and you’ll notice a majority of taxis being the “mighty” fuel-sipping Prius – yep they were, and are, seen everywhere.

Toyota knew that it had to change the bland image of the vehicle to attract new consumers and voila, introducing the new 4th generation Toyota Prius. DRK Magazine was invited to the Western launch event, which took place on February 3rd in beautiful Vancouver, BC.

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Toyota Canada’s VP, Stephen Beatty, began the press presentation by reminding everyone the importance of the Prius; it was the world’s first hybrid car, launching in Japan in 1997 and then coming to Canada in 2000. The name Prius itself, meaning “to go before”, was perfect for the vehicle as it came into production before environmental awareness became a social and global concern.

Following the presentation, media personnel were led outside to the Rosewood Hotel Georgia’s valet parking, where the new cars were staged. Colours of red, silver, blue and silver greeted us. For me, red was by far the best shade for this car, highlighting the new lines and angles.

For all of us who are used to the (yawn) looks of the previous generations of the Prius, the new iteration ­will surprise you. The “Triangle Silhouette” styling has been reimagined to produce a Prius that, according to Toyota, is, “sure to turn heads.” While we think the new design is bold, different, and nice, turning heads might be a stretch. The stylish front fascia is lower, giving an aggressive stance that the previous Prius never had. From the side, the new Prius is longer, sleeker, and lower, conveying an athletic look that is very un-Prius like. Journalists were divided on the overall look of the new car; personally speaking, I believe Toyota is moving in the right direction and will surely put a smile on buyers’ faces. However, if we’re making comparisons, I think the new Chevy Volt has more curb appeal.

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The cabin of the fourth gen Prius has been revamped with better materials, seating position, and ergonomics. Most things can be displayed and/or manipulated by steering-wheel mounted controls. I found the interior to be quite pleasing and tasteful, for a hybrid. I really liked the new lower seating position that is matched to the lower roofline; driving position is quite good and outward visibility is good, for the front and sides. Rear visibility is still a little difficult, thanks to the split rear windshield. My driving partner found it quite odd, probably because she had never driven any Prius before. For me, it reminds me of looking through the rear-view mirror of the old Honda CR-X. Rear seating is quite good, with enough room for five adults. Speaking of space, trunk space has been increased from 22 to 25 cubic ­feet.

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The new Prius is also the first to implement Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA), an innovative approach to developing new platforms and powertrains. What does this mean? Well, for the Prius, it means a new high strength body structure, new double wishbone suspension and a lower center of gravity. Toyota claims these innovations should deliver a more engaging driving experience. Did it work? Let’s find out.

Our media drive took us around Stanley Park, through downtown, and then to Richmond, BC. I can say that the new TGNA has made a difference. The previous Prius generations were sluggish around corners and usually had a line-up behind them on highways and freeways. The 2016 Prius is definitely more grounded, thanks to the lower center of gravity. It’s no sports car, and doesn’t claim to be; but is more aggressive going into corners. The new control arm rear suspension has improved handling quite a bit and the driver has much more confidence when pushing the car around windy roads, or even darting around in traffic. I’ve driven a 2013 Prius and let me tell you, I would never be able to push that car around like I can the new generation. During the media day, drivers were battling each other for achieving the best fuel economy, and yours truly got an amazing 2.7L/100km! Now, given that I wasn’t punching the throttle and speeds were below 80km/hour, it’s still a pretty impressive number.

Since this was a one-day event, media didn’t have the opportunity to drive the car over an extended distance. But we were assured by Toyota that the Prius will be on the press fleets within the month, and after that time, we’ll give an in-depth driving review.

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