2015 Toyota Prius

It's the car that started it all. Back in 1997, Toyota introduced the original Prius, which was the first ever mass-produced gas-electric hybrid vehicle. Although there are now many worthy competitors, the Prius remains the top-selling hybrid model due to its attractive combination of comfort, practicality and, of course, excellent fuel economy.

The fourth-gen Prius is all new for this model year, riding on a brand-new platform and powered by an overhauled hybrid system.

Overview
The fourth-generation Prius picks up right where the third left off. While the looks may have changed somewhat dramatically, the fundamentals that have made the Prius so successful, whether as a niche environmentalist's vehicle of choice early on, or as a staple of mainstream retail and fleet sales more recently.

The Prius rides on a TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) chassis, which is Toyota's take on a modular platform. Eventually, it will underpin several Toyota and Lexus models, but for now, the Prius is the only beneficiary.

This new platform allows for several critical changes to the new Prius. For starters, the battery pack now resides beneath the rear seats, freeing up cargo room and flexibility in the rear. Dynamically, this also contributes to a lower center of gravity. It's also longer, lower and roomier inside, and the roof peak has been moved forward to improve headroom.

The benefits don't end there. A new rear suspension--a double-wishbone unit--is a first for Prius. Previous models featured a twist-beam rear end. This allows for significantly better ride and handling characteristics versus the outgoing car.

Modernized Motivation
While the power output remains modest (121 horsepower and 106lb-ft of torque from the combined gasoline/electric system), the individual components have been modified for improved packaging and efficiency.

Most notably, all models except the Prius Two now feature a Lithium-Ion (Li-ion) battery, which is lighter (by roughly 30lbs) and more environmentally friendly than the Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) battery previously employed. Prius Two is still equipped with the NiMH unit.

As a result, the new Prius has been rated at 54 mpg in the city, 50 on the highway and 52 combined. The Two Eco bumps that to 58/53/56. For comparison, the 2015 model was good for 51/48/50, so there are across-the-board improvements.

The revised planetary CVT in the new Prius is also more compact, which opened up enough room in the engine bay that the 12V battery was moved there, further freeing up precious interior room.

Trim Level Breakdown
The Prius is offered in several trim levels: Two, Two Eco, Three and Four. Three and Four models can also be equipped with the Touring package.

The Prius comes standard with bi-LED projector headlamps, LED tail and brake lamps, heated power side mirrors, 15" alloy wheels, active grille shutters and intermittent wipers. The base (Two) model includes such features as a 4.2-inch multi-information display with integrated back-up camera, fabric-trimmed front seats with 6-way driver's adjustment and four-way passenger's, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, digital instrumentation, power windows and door locks, a cargo area cover, dual 12V outlets and a driver's door "Smart Key" system.

The Two Eco does not come with much in the way of additional equipment. Unique wheels and tires, a NiMH battery pack and a "Smart Key" system that also includes the passenger door and rear hatch are the only significant differences. This trim is designed to be inexpensive and efficient.

The Prius Three adds a leatherette steering wheel with additional controls, soft-touch upper door trim, a leatherette door armrest, white interior accents and Qi-compatible wireless device charging in the center console.

The Three Touring adds leatherette seating surfaces, LED clearance lamps, 17-inch wheels, integrated fog lights and a unique rear bumper.

Bumping up to the Four adds rain-sensing wipers, heated leatherette seating, an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat with lumbar adjustment.

Adding the Touring package to the Four brings along LED clearance lamps, 17-inch wheels, integrated fog lights and a unique rear bumper finisher.

Prius Two and Two Eco models are equipped with Entune Audio, including a 6.1-inch touchscreen with AM/FM/CD/MP3/AUX/USB functionality and Bluetooth voice recognition. Hands-free phone and audio integration is included, along with Siri Eyes Free.

Three, Three Touring, Four and Four Touring models get an upgraded Entune system featuring a high-resolution, seven-inch display that adds Entune App Suite, HD radio, HD predictive traffic and doppler weather overlay, AM/FM cache radio, SiriusXM and Gracenotes album cover art.

A JBL Audio upgrade is available on Four and Four Touring models, along with Safey Connect (vehicle location and recovery services).

Prius Three and Four models can also be equipped with the Advanced Technology Package, which adds Toyota's Safety Sense suite, a color HUD and a power tilt/slide moonroof.

Occupant Safety
All Prius models are equipped with dual front, front side and side curtain airbags in addition to a driver knee airbag and traction and stability control systems.

Optional safety features include a lane-departure warning system, a pre-collision alert and braking system, and Safety Connect (detailed above).

Key Competitors
Those considering a Prius should also check out the Ford C-MAX Hybrid, which is less fuel efficient but more spacious and fun to drive. Pricier midsize sedans like the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Honda Accord Hybrid are nearly as efficient while also being larger and more refined.

Those willing to consider diesel vehicles can test-drive the Volkswagen Golf TDI hatchback and the 46-mpg Chevrolet Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel.