It will likely never win any style awards. But the Toyota Prius is still one of the best selling cars in America. A sea change of makeovers and modifications in 2016, plus the introduction of the Prius Prime in 2017, mean that the 2018 fleet is mostly unchanged. But that's not such a bad thing. The Prius still pulls in fuel economy numbers that go beyond anything its competitors can deliver. And it is absolutely packed with safety tech. Besides, it might be alright to let Prius loyalists have a few years to familiarize themselves with all of the new features. And new buyers might just get used to the odd looks and distinctive styling of the quintessential millennial hybrid.
What has changed for 2018?
Well, not much. After the major overhaul in 2016, Toyota switched the old batteries from a nickel/metal/hydride to the now industry standard lithium-ion cells, as well as employing a new multilink rear suspension. The Prius and Prius Prime are all built with the Toyota New Global Architecture, with a revised powertrain, interior, and exterior that debuted in 2017 and remains the same for 2018. The TNGA platform is designed to simplify the construction of all future Toyota cars and crossovers, so there are a few features given over to the Hybrid from other models. Although the Prius has always been a vehicle that assures your ethics, if not your comfort, the interior has been given a little love in 2018. The front seats have better cushioning and deeper bottoms, making driving less of a punishment for our excesses as a planet and a bit more of an experience approaching pleasure. Battery life is a bit better, and the Prime even uses a domestic plug socket to charge.
Is the interior the same?
There's no question that the Prius operates on the marketing strategy of making it look like nothing else on the road, which therefore does all of the advertising for itself. Indeed, the Prius of old was a statement about driving an electric car, from its outside looks to its interior cabin. The 2018 thankfully softens a lot of that space-age interior design, allowing it to feel more like a midsize sedan. The front seats are more comfortable and have more support, making it a place you'd like spending time in during those long fuel economic drives. The back seats have better cushioning, though it does feel like you've lost some space. The new sloping roof adds to this, as it restricts headspace in the back. Therefore, the extra cushioning coupled with the lower roof makes it a real squeeze to fit three in the back. Thankfully, most of the old hard plastics are gone and replaced with soft-touch surfaces or at least textured plastics. You can even opt for a leather trim, a further improvement that by and large makes this feel like a more mature vehicle, and one you could actually enjoy driving.
How safe is the safest car on the road?
Toyota has decided to make safety features standard across their fleet, which is a huge bonus for a new car. The new generation of Prius is dedicated to safety, and Toyota offers their Safety-Sense P system on every trim. This is no small feat: a base model that starts at $26,000 comes with a ton of safety features that you would have to pay thousands for on other models. Every Prius has automatic high beams, active lane control, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, eight airbags, rearview camera and automatic emergency braking. Blind spot monitoring is an optional feature, but across the board, it is quite simply an enormous suite of features that you won't find on any other car at this price. The Prius scored the full five stars from The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and where awarded Top Safety Pick+ from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the highest accolade that could be afforded.
Is the performance any better than previous years?
The Prius is not a car for thrill seekers, and it's not a car that you buy if you're looking to do any drag racing in your spare time. It is however still better than its previous incarnations, and the 2017 updates give you world-leading fuel economy. The 1.8-liter inline-4 engine produces 95 horsepower and when coupled with the two 53-kilowatt electric motors maxes out at 121hp combined, a little lower than the previous generation. But everyone knows that horsepower is not what this car is about, and that efficiency is the name of the game. In that sense, the Prius is head and shoulders above the rest. The standard Prius does 54 mpg in the city and 50 mpg on the highway, the Prius Two Eco forgoes the weight of a spare tire and manages 58 mpg in the city, and 53 mpg on the highway and the Prius Prime will go a full 22 miles solely on battery power alone. Its 570-mile highway cruising range is nearly 200 miles more than the Chevy Volt, its closest competitor. The Prius is the ultimate tortoise, inching along at a slow and steady pace while the rest of the world keeps racing to the next gas station. And we all know how that race finished.
Which trim is right for me?
Some companies these days opt for one car with a few add-ons. Toyota goes in the opposite direction with the Prius, making sure that every base is covered and every appetite satisfied. Available in three different grades, each with two different trims, there is something for everyone.The base model Prius One will get you the safety tech suite plus LED daytime running lights, LED tail lights, keyless ignition, 4.2-inch color information display, 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system and active grille shutters to reduce drag, all for less than $25,000. The Prius Two is reduced in weight and increases battery life, giving you a bit more longevity on the road and an ever so slightly smoother ride (relatively speaking, of course). The Prius Three is built for comfort, with softer materials on the door and armrests, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and wireless charging for your smartphone. You can upgrade to the Prius Three Touring trim and get Toyota's SofTex vinyl seats, or the Prius Four, which has heated front seats, power adjustable driver's seat. Go premium with the Four Touring, and you'll get tons of nifty gadgets like rain-sensing windshield wipers.