2016 Toyota Prius Four Touring Spec

Do not underestimate the 2016 Prius.

This tech trendsetter that was once a dollop of green envy has evolved to become an all-around handy hatchback.

The fourth-generation 2016 Prius gasoline-electric hybrid is a complete re-engineering on Toyota’s New Global Architecture. The five-seat car is 2.4 inches longer, a half-inch wider and 0.8 inch lower than before on the same 106.3-inch wheelbase. It all works for a more planted on-road presence. The engine, electric motor and seating positions have been lowered for more front and rear head room and also to improve aerodynamics.

The coefficient of drag was trimmed a hair to 0.24 from 0.25. But it all matters for fuel economy, which is now 54 mpg city, 50 highway and 52 combined (on 87 octane) for most models. The entry models are lighter with fewer amenities and these eke out mileage of 58/53/56 mpg.

The new model uses a 95-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and two motor-generators with a continuously variable transmission. Total power is 121 horsepower.

The hybrid components are smaller and lighter and a new lithium-ion hybrid battery replaces the nickel-metal hydride battery, except in the entry-level models. The more potent and more compact (flatter) battery is now packaged under the rear seat, rather than beneath the luggage area, where it took away some cargo space.

The 2016 Prius is sold in six trim levels. The Prius Two and Two Eco (with the nickel-metal hydride battery) have starting prices of $25,035 and $25,535.

The Prius Three, Three Touring, Four and Four Touring have starting prices that range from $27,085-$30,835; pricing includes the $835 freight charge from Japan. Today’s tester, a Four Touring, was $32,883 with the Premium Convenience Package ($1,705) and Preferred Accessory Package, $343.

As equipped, the tester’s price seemed fair for the quality of materials and features. The premium convenience package adds such conveniences as Intelligent Clearance Sonar with Intelligent Parking Assist, Entune Premium JBL audio with navigation and app suite with 7-inch touchscreen with split-screen display, 10 JBL GreenEdge speakers, advanced voice recognition and Safety Connect, which includes emergency assistance, stolen vehicle locator, roadside assistance and automatic collision notification.

The interior is very roomy, more like a midsize than a compact. Sightlines are good all around. The simulated leather elements are good and there are interesting arcs and wraparounds. But a hard white plastic surround to the center console area between the front seats looks out of place and will be prone to grime and coffee stains. Maybe it is supposed to remind of an iPhone?

Entry and exit is quite comfortable, but why isn’t there a height-adjustable front passenger seat? And as electronic as this car is, the manual foot-pumper parking brake seems yester-tech.

Soundproofing was improved with laminated windshield glass, more sound absorbers in the dashboard and even laminated front-door glass on the more expensive models. The 17-inch Bridgestone Ecopia tires may be good for low rolling resistance, but they also spin up lots of noise on some surfaces. For those not focused on max mpgs, a more compliant Bridgestone touring tire would be a welcome addition for a quieter and more compliant ride.

The back seat is reasonably accommodating and the seatbacks fold with a one-hand maneuver to create huge cargo capacity. This small car can accomplish many tasks.

Part of the Prius’ popularity was that it looked different and was recognized as a so-called green car. But the new warrior face and slashes of other exterior lines and angles seem to promise more performance than is possible with this powertrain and suspension.

The new powertrain has adequate power for maximum mileage, but the foot goes to the floor for interstate merging and to escape that scary box truck bearing down in the rearview mirror. The Power mode does little to sharpen the experience. But I did enjoy the overall easy drivability and thought that there could be opportunity for a “performance” Prius.

Stupid idea, of course. But Honda has lured many young buyers with its CR-Z hybrid sport coupe. And Toyota has a ready donor in its Corolla iM hatchback (the renamed Scion iM) that would make an edgy performance hybrid.

Many small cars and hybrids today get the same aerodynamic treatments and light-weighting and battery upgrades to do what the Prius does, but I was getting 49.9 mpg without trying to conserve. Not many other small cars do that with the roominess and easygoing attitude of the Prius.

Mark Maynard is online at mark.maynard@utsandiego.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage