Fifty-two MPG. That’s a drop-the-mic moment.

That overall fuel economy milestone we recorded in our tests for the redesigned 2016 Prius hybrid is a phenomenal achievement, especially viewed against the previous generation’s already impressive 44 mpg overall. In fact, it gets the most miles per gallon of any vehicle we’ve ever tested.

At a glance the Prius’ power­train appears largely carryover—which makes you wonder how fuel economy could jump so quickly. It turns out that an extensive collection of small engineering changes conspires to make the 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine exceptionally miserly. Also helping is a more efficient transmission, a higher-tech lithium battery, and a more aerodynamic lozenge body shape. One mpg here, another mpg there . . . pretty soon you’re talking a huge improvement.

The results don’t lie: The new Prius achieved 43 mpg in our city cycle vs. the old car’s 32 mpg; highway fuel economy improved from 55 to 59 mpg.

Interior of the 2016 Toyota Prius Review

HIGHS: Fuel economy, reliability, improved ride and handling
LOWS: Rear visibility, odd interior quirks, acceleration
FUEL: 52 mpg
PRICE: $24,200 - $30,000

The lighter, more compact electric drive system combines with the gas engine to produce 121 hp. Despite the modest output, it has sufficient oomph around town, and the hybrid’s initial hit of battery power moves the car off the line smoothly until the gas engine kicks in. Still, the car is far from quick—it loafed to 60 mph in 10.3 seconds. That matters when you’re merging on the freeway.

The new Prius has a more sophisticated rear suspension that helps smooth out the car’s ride as well as sharpen the handling. There’s now less body roll in corners, with an alert nature that was missing from the sloppy last generation. The brakes are less grabby than in most hybrids, making it easier to modulate smooth stops.

The car’s sleeker, lower stance requires you to duck your head to get in. And the lack of lumbar adjustment in the chintzy front seats—along with minimal door and center armrest padding in lower trim levels—compromises comfort on longer trips. The rear seat has enough space for most adults, but it is lower and less comfortable than before.

The interior sees a major upgrade in terms of fit and finish. Gone is the plasticky trim that encased the dashboard; instead, the new Prius brings soft-touch surfaces, flashes of chrome, and a high-tech look. But oddities remain: The instrument panel is in the middle of the dashboard, the gearshift stays akin to a joystick, and the bizarre white plastic center console looks like a Stormtrooper’s bedpan.

We think the Prius Three trim level we purchased with the optional Advanced Technology package hits the sweet spot. It brings forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control.

Without question, this is the best Prius ever. Its fuel economy is stunning. It’s more pleasant to drive, and the interior feels more commensurate with its price. Even with gas at two bucks a gallon, the Prius’ strong reliability and owner satisfaction set the new standard for green transportation.

Read the complete Toyota Prius road test.


4 Recommended Alternatives

The Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid SE, Ford Fusion Hybrid SE, and Ford C-Max Energi are recommended models that rated well in the Overall Score, which factors in road-test score, predicted reliability, owner satisfaction, crash-test results, and availability of front crash prevention features such as forward collision warning and automatic braking.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the August 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.