First Test: Driving the 2016 Toyota Prius Two Eco
How quickly $2-a-gallon gas makes car buyers forget about fuel efficiency. Gas is cheap, crossovers are hot and miles per gallon no longer figure in as heavily as they did in the car-buying mind just five years ago. Whether by clairvoyance or chance, Toyota played the long game with the new Prius Hybrid, imbuing the fourth all-new iteration with character and appeal beyond the gas gauge.
“Fun to drive? Really?” It’s impossible to fault incredulous skepticism bred by three generations of Prius hybrids camped in the left lane. Time behind the wheel reveals a new truth: For the first time, Prius engineers placed obvious emphasis on driving dynamics.
At the outset, electronic power steering calibration offers communicative weight, even at slow speeds. Pick up the pace, and its low-resistance eco tires exhibit none of the input lag or lateral wander that dampen the reflexes of many hybrid cars. Instant torque from the electric motor is enough to keep the Prius interesting on city streets. Unladen, the 121-horsepower combined system output is enough to slingshot the Prius into the fast lane at respectable speed — at last.
Even more surprising is the level of versatility allowed by the gaping hatch. Lift up on the truncated trunk lid, and the entire rear glass peels back all the way to the roof. While other green cars compromise space and size to maximize efficiency, the Prius’s flexible interior conveys the character of a cross-trained MVP.
City-bound drivers with judicious right feet can achieve nearly 60 mpg with the help of the car’s Eco Mode, which re-calibrates accelerator pedal response to taper off fuel-sapping inputs. Normal drivers can expect about 54 mpg in the city with minimal attention to driving habits. That’s the miracle of a system that is eager to recapture braking energy complemented by one of the smoothest idle-stop calibrations in the world. Hybrids never shine brightest on highways, and at inter-Texas speeds of 75-plus mph, the Prius returns about 45 mpg — not bad by any stretch.
Sticker shock, in this case, is more like disbelief: The near-entry-level Prius Two Eco, complete with Bluetooth connectivity, backup camera, trick automatic climate control and keyless ignition, rings out at a surprisingly low $25,595. At that price, the new Toyota Prius is cheap insurance against gas prices, which will inevitably rise. It has the room to carry home a few fun new toys until they do. And if gas prices stay low, the Prius is ready for that, too.
It’s finally fun to drive.
2016 Toyota Prius Two Eco
Price as tested: $25,595
EPA MPG: 58 city/53 highway/56 combined
Adam Barrera is an automotive industry analyst based in Houston. Follow his car culture adventures on Instagram.
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