The 2016 Toyota Prius is all new, and we get our first drive in Southern California along the beach as well as the cone course. The new car has been a long time coming, and it brings with it not only new style, but higher efficiency and many new features.

The most important thing to note here is that this Prius is all-new from the ground up. It’s styling while clearly saying Prius at first sight, is bolder and much more daring than even before. Toyota’s stylists really got a bit more severe with their artistic flow.

Standard LED headlights clearly make a statement. They frame a face which rings of the Toyota Marai fuel-cell sedan, but not quite as extroverted. Around the back, a floating roof design comes by way of blacked out rear pillars and its rear hips are far more accentuated.

Those hips transition into the new LED tail lamp design which when lit up really becomes the new signature of Prius. They’re bold to say the least. Familiar elements remain however such as the glass pane in the rear hatch which allows better rear visibility.

The 2016 Toyota Prius is on the all-new global platform architecture known as TNGA, which brings a 60% stiffer structure. Size is up slightly, getting longer by 2.4-inches, wider and lower by almost an inch. Though larger, it comes in 62 pounds lighter than the 2015 on Prius 2 ECO and about 8 pounds more on top trim grades.

Its cabin is all-new as well, continuing the futuristic design push Prius has always been known for. It has a center mounted display and instruments as always, but now sports dual 4.2-inch customizable color displays which are indeed easier to read than the old. The steering wheel is now round instead of D-shaped.

Space for occupants increases in most directions about an inch, afforded by its new exterior dimensions. I found it comfortable to ride and drive in as I expected. The new white plastic trim elements though I am not so sure of. I suspect this flourish of fancy may give way to another color within the next year or two.

If you like the white and black contrast, you’ll enjoy the new optional interior which also sports white seating surfaces. It might be more work to keep clean, but it’s certainly airy.

The main battery pack was moved under the rear seat with this new generation, and the auxiliary battery moved under hood. This pays off in packaging efficiencies for the cargo area which increases by almost six cubic feet with the seats folded.

What’s under the hood of the new 2016 Toyota Prius is a little bit old and a little bit new. The 1.8 liter gasoline engine is largely the same, save for a number of refinments for thermal and emissions improvements.

Gained however is an all-new hybrid-drive transmission which was redesigned for better packaging and performance. The main electric drive motor relocated and on top of is new compact control unit whose electrical contacts go directly into the case, eliminating those orange cables and reducing electrical losses.

As such, it’s rated at 121 horsepower which is down from the old Prius which had 134. Toyota tells us they changed the testing procedure for their horsepower ratings, and that is largely why the lower number. But we suspect it is indeed less power.

The big news here is the increase in efficiencies which get a bump for 2016. It now has a rating of 54 mpg city, 50 mpg highway, and 52 mpg combined. A new ECO model goes even higher with 58 mpg city, 53 mpg highway and a 56 mpg combined rating.

What gives the ECO its higher rating Toyota tells us, is the combination of about 65 pounds of weight savings by elimination of the spare tire and power accessories, and a more efficient Lithium-Ion battery over the standard Nickel Metal Hydride unit on the base Prius 2.

We’re told there is no performance difference between Prius and Prius ECO, yet higher trim grades Prius 3 and Prius 4 also get the better Lithium-Ion battery yet don’t reflect better fuel-economy ratings. We suspect this curiosity will get fleshed out in time.

Though its power rating is lower, Toyota told us it has a better 0-30 acceleration time which in our first stints behind the wheel was verified by the seat of the pants. I found the new powertrain to offer better power off the line and less noise, vibration and harshness even when pushed.

And pushing the new Prius will be more rewarding than before. Its new platform offers up an all-new double wishbone rear suspension, replacing the old torsion beam rear axle. This combined with other refinements bring a difference you can feel in the first hundred feet of driving.

Both on the street and on the cone course of all places I found this new Prius to have lighter and more rewarding steering feel, meaning less dead to the touch. And while the tires are still as sticky as a hockey puck, the new chassis offers up a predictable and more athletic feel overall.

The ride itself about the same in terms of firmness, but is now much quieter overall courtesy of increased sound deadening in the firewall and floor areas, in addition to its new structure which is stiffer overall.

When it comes to technology, the Prius comes with all the latest infotainment options Toyota offers including Qi wireless charging for your phone among other things. And as expected there’s Entune goodness with all its services both connected and car-based.

The big news however is the new driver assistance and safety packages available for 2016. There are two packages, one more basic and the other more comprehensive, called Toyota Safety Sense C and Toyota Safety Sense P.

They both offer a pre-collision system, lane departure alert, and automatic high beam headlamps. Stepping up to the top package brings a more advanced pre-collision system with pedestrian detection capability, and dynamic radar cruise control.

I tested the top pre-collision system’s automatic stopping capability against a barrier and a simulated pedestrian. Detecting obstacles, it’s goal is to auto-brake the car between speeds of 7-50 mph to help reduce the impact or avoid a collision all together even if you don’t hit the brake yourself.

It worked well overall, but has many parameters which decide whether it engages or not which makes it not such an exact science. Conditions have to be just right for it to function as advertised, which means you should still be paying attention.

Also offered is an enhanced parallel parking feature which allows for an automated parking procedure at curbside. This has been offered in other models for some time, but now comes to Prius. It works well but takes almost as much practice as the real thing. And using this, also takes a little longer which might anger those waiting behind you.

If all this tech stuff doesn’t appeal, don’t worry it’s not standard nor is it mandated yet by law. So if you drive off the lot with a new Prius 2, you most likely won’t have any of it.

Overall I was impressed with the new Prius in its sunstantially improved handling and driving character. It really does feel a lot different from behind the wheel around town, and even yes on the autocross course.

Power is about the same, and when it comes to efficiency we’re gonna have to wait until we get more time behind the wheel to really see how much better this one performs. And we hope to be doing that soon after they arrive at local dealerships in January of 2016.