Redesigned Toyota Prius improves on a familiar set of virtues
Ever since its introduction more than 15 years ago, the Toyota Prius has dominated the market of hybrid cars – vehicles that use an electric motor to assist with a gasoline engine, reducing gasoline usage. Its distinctive shape sets it apart from the rest of traffic, making it instantly recognizable as one of today’s most iconic fuel-sippers.
But unlike some of its rivals, the Prius has also excelled at everyday functionality. It’s a roomy five-door hatchback with respectable five-passenger seating and ample cargo space. Rivals from Honda and Chevrolet have never been able to match the Prius for utility.
And now for 2016, Toyota has fully redesigned the Prius to build on its longtime strengths while adding new ones.
The first change you’ll notice is the styling, which had been pretty consistent in the last two iterations. The silhouette is familiar, still shaped by aerodynamic needs, but Toyota added slashes and wedges all over the car’s body. Regardless of whether you like the effect, it clearly defines the new Prius as new.
The next thing to note is improved gas mileage, the Prius’s primary raison d’être. EPA ratings were already impressive in the old model: 51 miles per gallon in the city and 48 mpg on the highway. Most models of the new Prius are up to 54 mpg city and 50 mpg highway, and the tested Eco model – equipped with a more advanced battery and some aerodynamic tweaks – is rated for an outstanding 58 mpg city and 53 mpg highway.
But in case those numbers aren’t impressive enough, driving the Prius with enough care can let you comfortably exceed those EPA estimates. Like other hybrids, you’ll want to drive it to maximize time spent in all-electric mode using zero gasoline; it requires a light touch to the throttle and some degree of attentiveness, but the Prius responds well to this attention. It can maintain speed in all-electric mode even on the highway, and handles stop-and-go traffic with aplomb. In a week of driving the Prius Eco around the D.C. region, it averaged 68.7 mpg.
The redesigned Prius is also more pleasant to drive than before, with a smoother ride, nimbler handling, and a more natural feel to the accelerator. However, it’s still noisy if you have to gun the engine, and although it’s quicker than before, acceleration is still on the pokey side even for an economy car.
The Prius also doesn’t have quite the green-car credentials of the Chevrolet Volt, which you plug in to the wall for an EPA-estimated 53 miles of all-electric range before the gas engine starts recharging it on the go. But the Toyota has the practical advantage: It’s roomier and less expensive. Priced from $25,550, the redesigned Prius is within easy reach as a way to save fuel with minimal sacrifices.
Lavish Range Rover continues to buck SUV norms
Long before it occurred to anyone else that a truck could be a luxury car, Land Rover rolled out its Range Rover – the first sport-utility vehicle that was designed to match contemporary passenger cars on pavement while still providing off-road ability.
Now, the pendulum has swung the other way: Most of today’s crossovers and SUVs offer a minimum of off-road talent, essentially serving as tall passenger cars with slightly higher ground clearance. And the 2016 Land Rover Range Rover now stands apart for its continued dedication to off-road performance, despite its lavish luxury trimmings. It was designed to pamper passengers even as it shepherds them through up to 3 feet of water.
But you can’t have more than five passengers. Unlike most big SUVs, the Range Rover offers no third-row seat – a decision that limits its family-friendly capability but ensures grander accommodations for the people who are allowed in. Less costly Land Rover vehicles, including the Range Rover Sport model, do offer seating for seven. So does the competing Toyota Land Cruiser and its Lexus LX 570 twin, but they offer a more dated on-road experience despite their off-road chops.
The Range Rover has a base price of $85,495, and the tested model – with a supercharged 510-horsepower V8 engine instead of a V6, and a longer wheelbase for more rear-seat room – is $109,190. Add all the options, such as the “electronically deployable tables” for the rear passengers, and you can just about double that price.
If you’re just looking for a posh, roomy vehicle, options abound – including for far less money. But Land Rover continues to offer reasons for affluent customers to continue buying Range Rovers.