Toyota Prius review (2016): Superb hybrid tech let down by a below-par interior

Price when reviewed

First launched in 1997 to relatively little acclaim, the Toyota Prius is the car that pretty much started the hybrid revolution. Now a common sight outside most clubs and bars at around closing time, the Prius is the perfect drunk-carriage, and can get you home at a super-efficient 85.6mpg.

This year, Toyota has updated its eco-warrior with a facelift and all-new interior, and it should be more refined than ever. So what’s the latest 2016 Prius like to use, and how does it fare when you’re the one driving? Read our Toyota Prius review to find out if the world’s most recognised hybrid is as revolutionary in the cabin as it is under the bonnet.

Connectivity 3/5

The Toyota Prius may look more than a little sci-fi on the inside, but scratch the surface and it’s surprisingly basic. 

When it comes to physical connections the Prius doesn’t give you many options, and you have to make do with a solitary USB connection and 3.5mm AUX input. While that’s enough for charging your phone or listening to music, it’s a pretty poor showing compared to most other modern cars. I was at least able to connect my iPhone 6 over Bluetooth, although compared with most cars this was quite a lengthy procedure, and took three or four goes for it to work.


There is a silver lining in all this: the Toyota Prius includes a CD player, which is a pretty unusual sight in cars nowadays. Sure, it’s not a multi-changer, only taking one CD at a time, but it’s a nice touch, and one that’ll probably appeal to the types of buyers Toyota is targeting.

When it comes to apps, the Toyota Prius can’t compete with the likes of the Audi A4 Avant, but it does have a useful selection. Google Street View is included in the Prius’ app portfolio, and although I wasn’t able to test it, it makes sense as a useful addition when used in conjunction with the Toyota Prius’ own satnav. After all, it’s the best way to get a street-level view of your destination, which is perfect if you’re, say, a cab driver. 

There’s also the “Glass of Water” app that’s much better than its rather patronising name might suggest. Simply put, this app encourages you to drive more efficiently by displaying a virtual glass of water on the centre console screen; if you drive with inefficient, jerky acceleration and harsh braking, you’ll spill water and lose points.

Satnav: 2.5/5

The Toyota Prius’ satnav system is a mixed bag. While some aspects of it are class-leading, other parts will make you want to scratch out your eyes. So, the good news first: the Toyota Prius is great at planning routes, and its POI search works well. Better yet, it has free text searching, so you can rattle out a full address without having to type in country, city, postcode and door number separately.

The Toyota’s voice-recognition system, which I’ll go through in more depth later, is the perfect accompaniment to the Toyota’s satnav, and lets you rattle off addresses without so much as a hiccup. As you’d expect, the Toyota ticks all the usual satnav boxes as well, so you’ll find options for toll road avoidance, scenic routes and so on.

However, now on to the bad news, and there’s a lot. The Toyota Prius’ satnav is slow and unresponsive, and makes even doing the simplest task on its tiny, 4.2 inch screen an arduous affair. Route plans aren’t calculated particularly quickly, while ridiculous levels of lag make using the map to browse for your destination impractical. The worst thing, though, is the counter-intuitive panning implementations: when browsing the map on your phone or a tablet, you’d expect a push up to move the map in that direction; here, the opposite happens – dragging your finger around the screen moves the cursor not the map.[gallery:5]

In fact, the Toyota’s generally sluggish UI makes using some of the car’s features a poor experience, which is really disappointing when some of them actually have serious potential.

Audio and Bluetooth: 4/5

Pair a phone, plug in a device or slide in a CD, and the Toyota Prius delivers music in a much better fashion than you’d expect, given the sub-optimal user interface. The car we tested was equipped with the ten-speaker, JBL system, and on the whole it sounded very good. It won’t worry the Mercedes-Benz Burmester system I listened to in the S-Class, or even the Volvo XC90’s Bowers & Wilkins system, but it’s not bad at all, with plenty of juicy, well-controlled bass and lots of power.

It’s not the most delicate system, but if you’re into bass-heavy music, you’ll find that the Toyota Prius (with the JBL upgrade) ticks all the right boxes. And, impressively, when you crank the volume right up there’s practically no distortion; you’ll hear buzzing and rattling in the cabin way before you hear the speakers give up.

Display: 3/5

Almost all the Toyota Prius’ multimedia functions are controlled via the touchscreen, and sadly it’s below the standard you’d expect. There’s no multitouch, so you can’t pinch to zoom in maps, and it’s also very laggy in use. Quality is a mixed affair, and while it’s sharp enough that you can’t see the pixels from the driver’s seat, the Toyota’s display can appear washed out and grey, especially when the sun shines directly on it.

In fact, sunlight is something to avoid in the Prius if you can. Toyota has wrapped the entire screen frontage in glossy plastic, and because the screen has no sun shade and isn’t angled toward the driver, it can be quite difficult to read in bright conditions.

Performance 2/5

The performance of any in-car system is crucial for a good experience, and this is another area in which the Toyota fails to impress. Critically, it seems to be vastly underpowered: press one of the capacitive shortcut keys surrounding the screen to leap to the Media, Settings or Map/Nav sections and you’ll be waiting around for at least a second before those screens hove into view.

Map browsing, as mentioned above, is painfully sluggish. In fact, most operations seem to be accompanied by a momentary, and annoying, delay. Compared with Audi’s Virtual Cockpit system or even the infotainment system in the Seat Leon, the Toyota Prius is a world away.

Driving, parking assistance and safety: 3/5

Although the Toyota’s interior might lack the premium finish and materials of some of the more expensive cars I’ve tested, it still has much of the technology you’d expect in 2016, including autonomous parking.

The Prius handles bay parking relatively easily, although it can feel quite tight sometimes, and getting to the exit function isn’t as intuitive as I’d hope. There’s also a single rear camera and all-round parking sensors if you prefer to take matters into your own hands, but there’s nothing here, however, to rival the top-down, surround view offered by the likes of the Volvo XC90 or the BMW 7-Series.


Elsewhere, the Toyota includes autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and blind-spot monitoring, and also has a lane departure warning system with clear large icons to keep you safe when motorway driving.

Verdict: 2.5/5

The Toyota Prius might be one of the most efficient cars on the road, but that cutting-edge doesn’t extend to its interior. Sure, it’ll save you money when it comes to insurance and running costs, but if you’re interested in technology, I’d look elsewhere.

With its slow, laggy screen and poorly thought-out UI, the Toyota Prius is far from fun to operate. Simply put, it’s an entry-level car with a clever powertrain; for more connectivity I’d look towards these hybrid cars, which combine the same hybrid tech with a vastly superior interior.

Read the Auto Express review of the Toyota Prius here

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