Toyota Rolls the Dice: Previewing the Prius in Las Vegas

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Sep 10, 2015

LAS VEGAS—The 2016 Prius gets the Vegas treatment.

The new 2016 is instantly recognizable. The look is familiar, but it's all new. (Jim Motavalli photo)This was the Linq Hotel in Vegas, so were they just going to drive out the 2016 Toyota Prius on quiet battery power? No way! It was lowered down on cables, a stunt I recall from the debut of the Maybach on Wall Street.

No car is more important to Toyota’s future than the new Prius, on sale early next year, a flagship for the company’s green image. It’s a big seller, too, with 1.9 million Prius family members sold in North America. Globally, eight million have been sold, with Japan itself being the largest market. Toyota has reason to gloat about this, because the pundits mostly said it wouldn’t work back in 2000.

The poor car was mobbed, but that hood was locked. (Jim Motavalli photo)The Vegas debut gave 350 journalists a chance to crawl over the thing and notice features such as the oddball head- and taillights, plus a wireless charging pad, but we couldn’t drive it. We had to take the company’s word for it that the new car offers improved driving dynamics, and will bring a whole new group of enthusiasts into the fold. Here's some video for a 360-degree view:

Other first impressions: 70s retro-looking speaker enclosures in the doors; excellent front and rear legroom (a Prius constant); stubby shifter still sticking out of the dashboard (another Prius signature item), great safety adds including auto high beams, pre-collision with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert and parking assist. Toyota Safety Sense is the new name for a package of advanced safety features.  

The Prius team, with the designers at left and Toyota executive Bill Fay third from left. (Jim Motavalli photo)We didn’t get the all-important fuel economy numbers (indeed, any numbers at all). Instead, we were told of a 10 percent fuel economy improvement—so that implies 55 mpg combined.

But Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager of the Toyota division, said that the new Eco model “should do better than that.” We couldn’t miss the projections (including on the nearby Flamingo Hotel) that said the car would have the best fuel economy in the world for cars without a plug.

Yes, it's a bit unusual. The back shows a family resemblance with the Toyota Mirai fuel-cell car. (Jim Motavalli photo)Not much is known about the Eco model, though Fay said it would sell for less than the car shown in Vegas, and have minor styling changes. Make mine an Eco, I’m thinking. If the car achieves 60 mpg on the highway (a stretch) Toyota would really have something to crow about.

Lowering the car--shades of the Maybach on Wall Street. (Jim Motavalli photo)Since they wouldn’t open the hood or give us the numbers, styling loomed large. There were plenty of cues from the Mirai fuel-cell car, including the disappearing C pillars and the rear treatment. The car is 2.4 inches longer, and also slightly wider and lower. It’s still very aerodynamic, which is essential to achieve those fuel economy numbers.

The rear suspension is all new, and the body has been made more rigid. The new and distinctly angular headlamps are LED. The overall effect of the car is a bit more aggressive, but as anyone who’s ever seen The Other Guys is well aware, Priuses are pussycats that macho men take delight in destroying. And this one won’t bite. If you've (mercifully) forgotten The Other Guys, here's the Prius scene:


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