The 2017 Toyota Prius closes the gap between "driving a hybrid" and "driving a normal car," even though it still looks like nothing else on the road.
One year removed from a complete overhaul, the 2017 Toyota Prius is another big step for the automaker—but maybe not for the reason you're thinking.
The Prius this year is part of Toyota's larger push to make active safety affordable and accessible on cars for the car-buying masses. Even sub-$26,000 models now include forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control. They're one of the first automakers to make the jump in mass-market cars and we can't applaud the effort enough.
The Prius comes in three grades with two trims in each grade. Starting at base Two models, Two Eco models improve on the battery systems, Three models add a bigger infotainment screen and navigation, Three Touring models add better seating, Four models add blind-spot monitors, and Four Touring models heap on creature comforts and bigger wheels.
The Prius gets a 6.5 out of 10 on our overall scale thanks to its great fuel economy and admirable safety record. It's styling and performance are the two biggest boat anchors here, dragging the score down out of the stratosphere and into the realm of "better than average." (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Styling and performance
The Prius made a big leap in exterior styling for 2016—but we don't know where. The nose is now more sculpted and the exterior has more shape, but the rear end is where it all starts to fall apart. The roof pillar is shiny black, which gives it a "floating roof line," but the roof color has two odd little comma-shaped tails wrapping around the corners of the rear hatch.
But those taillights have tails of their own, making them almost into question marks that point down toward the ground, drawing attention to the height of the tail, despite a blacked-out lower section of the rear bumper cover.
(At least they tried, right?)
Under the hood is an updated highly efficient 1.8-liter inline-4 paired to an electric motor that puts out 121 combined horsepower. A 0.75-kwh lithium-ion battery pack provides the electrons to that motor (base Two versions still use a 1.2-kwh nickel-metal-hydride setup, however) and helps the Prius achieve a combined rating of 52 mpg. Eco models, which shed even more weight, are rated at 56 mpg combined.
The ride quality of the Prius has markedly improved over earlier generations, but the engine's performance and overall handling take a back seat to efficiency and aerodynamics.
Comfort, safety, and features
The Prius is a better place to sit, especially in the front seats. This generation's chairs are better bolstered and more comfortable than older models, and we've logged plenty of miles without a backache or complaint. Higher models get eight-way power adjustability, including lumbar support, for fine-tuning a better driving position.
This generation's shape sacrifices a little more in terms of rear head room, but we've found that most passengers will fit in the back—two if you can; three in a pinch. The basic Prius liftback concept remains, and split folding rear seats make the little hatch just as practical as outgoing editions.
Where this Prius makes a statement this year is its suite of active safety systems, which are now standard across every trim level. The Toyota Safety Sense P package adds forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, and active lane control.
Combined with all "Good" scores from the IIHS, the Prius is a Top Safety Pick+, and one of the most affordable with that designation.
Base models are well-equipped with a 6.1-inch touchscreen for infotainment, 4.2-inch color information display, 15-inch wheels, a rearview camera, keyless ignition, and LED headlights. Stepping up to pricier trims nets softer touch materials, better seating, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, bigger wheels, and Bluetooth connectivity.
Unfortunately, it also adds a pearlescent white center console that we're not big fans of, although Toyota will sell a $200 kit to cover it up and hopefully keep it from scratching and aging quickly.
This year's Prius remains the most efficient vehicle without a plug, although a plug-in version, called Prius Prime, will go longer on electrons alone. We cover it separately.