Is the 2016 Toyota Prius the perfect car to replace a diesel VW?

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Is the 2016 Toyota Prius the perfect car to replace a diesel VW?
Image Credit: David Lardner
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The Toyota Prius has been totally redesigned for 2016 and to say that the result is successful is the understatement of the year!

In my opinion, it is the best all-around conventionally fueled vehicle ever offered for sale in the U.S., and I’m going to tell you why you should strongly consider one if you’re in the market for a new car…especially if you’re looking to replace a diesel Volkswagen.

But first I’m going to serve up a bit of Prius history.

Read more: 2016 Toyota RAV4 hybrid review

Disclaimer

Toyota knew I wanted to drive the new Prius and they were kind enough to deliver a sparkling clean 2016 Toyota Prius Three Touring in Hypersonic Red paint to my driveway for a week’s worth of testing. Other than this courtesy, I received no compensation.

A brief lesson in Prius history

The Prius first went on sale in Japan in 1997 and sales began in the U.S. in the summer of 2000 with the 2001 model year. That model, while very good around the city, offered fairly clumsy handling and was only offered as a four-door sedan with a small trunk. The rear seat didn’t fold so it wasn’t the most utilitarian vehicle. But, it was a very good commuter car/city car and yours truly took delivery of one of the first 1,200 delivered in the U.S. I drove it for eight and a half years, racking up 100,000 miles with practically no issues.

What made the Prius different than other cars at the time was the unconventional drivetrain that consisted of a small 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine mated to an electric motor. The gas engine would shut down under certain circumstances allowing the electric motor to propel the car while, at other times, the two engines would work in concert. When running, the gas motor would recharge the battery for the electric motor. The main benefits gained from this hybrid power plant were reduced fuel consumption and reduced production of greenhouse gases. As a result of this configuration, the Prius was the first car in the U.S. classified as an SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle).

Is the 2016 Toyota Prius the perfect car to replace a diesel VW?

For the 2004 model year, Toyota introduced a redesigned model that offered a hatchback and increased efficiency. The shape of the Prius became synonymous with the word ‘hybrid’ and most folks think of the turtle-shaped car whenever they hear the word. That particular design soldiered on through the 2009 model year.

For 2010, Toyota introduced a redesigned model that carried on the familiar turtle shape and, again, offered a slight bump in efficiency. Three other Prius models were also introduced within the next couple of model years; the Prius V Wagon, the Prius C subcompact and a Prius Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) that offered a paltry 13 mile all-electric range before going into hybrid mode.

Enough with the Prius history lesson…let’s talk about the new Prius and why I’m calling it the best conventionally fueled car ever offered for sale in the U.S.

A nice substitute for scandal-plagued Volkswagen

First off, the 2016 Prius is rated at 54 MPG city, 50 MPG highway and a combined rating of 52 MPG. These EPA ratings are accurate and, when driven carefully, easy to exceed. In fact, even when driven without regard to optimal efficiency, the Prius returns amazing numbers.

For example, I drove the Prius from Atlanta to Macon, Ga., in heavy traffic at freeway speeds with the A/C on and the car returned in excess of 56 MPG. And, on the remainder of the over 800 mile trip, the Prius returned 52.5 MPG while cruising at speeds of 75 MPH for hours on end.

If you’re looking for a replacement for your scandal-plagued Volkswagen and feel like you’ll never find anything with that high fuel mileage, the Prius is a serious contender. To find a car with higher mileage, you have to start looking at PHEVs.

Handling has never been a particularly strong suit for the Prius, but the new model changes that. The new Prius is the first of many new Toyotas to use the oddly named ‘Toyota New Global Architecture’ (TNGA) and this new platform is a winner. It’s rigid and that translates to the car feeling very solid.  And, that’s not a sense that any previous Prius has ever even remotely supplied. Don’t get me wrong. The Prius has always been acceptable, but this new platform is fantastic. When the roads get twisty, the car is actually fun and the steering transmits excellent feel of the road. In fact, the new Prius handles far better than the last Volkswagen Passat I drove. That’s saying something.

Another area where the Prius is greatly improved is ride quality. Again, ride has never been a strong point for the Prius but now it is. The ride is supple and comfortable and surface imperfections are soaked up by the suspension, yet the driver is never at the loss for road feel.

Is the 2016 Toyota Prius the perfect car to replace a diesel VW?

Speaking of comfort, the front seats in the 2016 Prius are fantastic. In fact, the SofTex-trimmed seats (a leather substitute) may very well be some of the best available below the luxury category. They are supportive and just about anyone should be able to get comfortable behind the wheel.

After six hours of driving, they still felt comfortable and the SofTex is soft and may very well be superior to leather in every way. And, that comfort extends into the back seats where there’s ample space for three full-grown adults.

The rest of the interior is, once again, a huge improvement over previous models. Gone is the sense of being closed in by a high center console with an imposing dash. The dash is now almost completely symmetrical with all the controls and gauges neatly placed in the center. Add to that a concave shape and the interior seems like that of cars a class bigger.

For Prius drivers, controls are exactly where they would expect them to be. For Volkswagen defectors, there will be a new paradigm to get used to, but the learning curve isn’t too steep and the adjustment will be fairly easy.

The traditional turtle-shape of the Prius lives on and that’s a good thing. The hatchback offers plenty of space to store baggage and trips to Costco can easily be carried out without folding the back seats. However, when folded, it is possible to put in a couple of bicycles and still shut the hatch.

The hatchback does present the car with one design feature from the previous models that have been almost constantly criticized. The rear window is split in two and that compromises the view out the back somewhat. While an irritation, the backup camera does take a little of that sting away with its wide-angle view.

Speaking of design, this newest Prius incorporates Toyota’s latest design language and it certainly stands out from the crowd while still directly communicating that it is a Prius. From certain angles it looks sculpted and futuristic.

The test car

My test car was the Prius Three Touring. That model of the Prius includes the Entune Premium Audio with Navigation, the SofTex seating and steering wheel cover, a lithium ion battery rather than the standard nickel-metal hydride battery, Qi-compatible wireless charging dock on the console for smartphones, Toyota’s Safety Sense-P (DynRadar Cruise Control, lane departure warning, etc.), LED foglights, 17-inch wheels and LED accent lighting.

With the optional Hypersonic Red paint, the tester’s price came in at a very reasonable $30,027.

The newest generation of the Prius is offered as the Two, Two Eco, Three, Three Touring, Four and Four Touring and is priced from $24,200 for the base Prius Two to an even $30,000 for the Prius Four Touring.

Conclusion

The redesigned Prius does a lot of things very, very well. Some things, in my opinion, it does almost perfectly and in most areas it out-performs the competition. That, taken into consideration along with Toyota’s legendary reliability and other metrics such as having the lowest cost of ownership over 10 years, the Prius is at the top of the field. With all these superlatives, it very well may be the perfect car and, if replacing a Volkswagen with cheating software is on your list, you can’t go wrong with this combination of high fuel mileage and proven green credentials.

Simply put, you will not find a conventionally fueled vehicle with this combination of economy, green credentials, comfort, utility or handling at any price. Toyota has a winner.

Read more: The 2016 Lexus GS200t F Sport review: Does the new smaller engine deliver?

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David Lardner About the author:
David Lardner is a volunteer at Team Clark Howard's Consumer Action Center. He is also an active board member of the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association.
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