Driver's log: One week and 59 mpg with the new 2016 Toyota Prius

After it exceeded our fuel economy estimates, we look back at our week with the new Prius to shed light on our testing conditions and what we learned along the way.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Last week, we published my full review of the top-trim 2016 Toyota Prius Four Touring. Spoiler alert: It finished our week of testing at 59 mpg combined, consistently exceeding the EPA's 52 mpg combined estimate for this trim level. (That's also better than the Prius Two Eco's 56 mpg combined estimate.)

Below, I've chronicled how I achieved that number: where I went, what sort of traffic and roads I negotiated and what I observed about the Prius along on the way.

Day one: Thanks for the traffic, Obama. 104.8 miles, 59.3 mpg

My first day with the 2016 Prius Four Touring starts at Roadshow's San Francisco office on a Friday afternoon.

I approach the hybrid with a groan, taking care not to look directly into its squinty eyes or puckered tail end, and slide into the driver's seat. My first miles are mired deep in traffic, inching along at about 5 mph and 20 mpg. Thanks, Obama. (Seriously, road closures due to the POTUS' visit to San Francisco were the cause of most of my traffic woes.)

While I note that this is terrible fuel efficiency for a Prius, I also conceed that most non-hybrid cars would be lucky to creep into the double digits under these conditions. As the battery drains under the EV heavy creep, the gasoline engine periodically fires up to trickle charge the pack. It's a wheezy sound that's loudly by comparison to the silence, but not pleasing at all. I'm not loving it.

Google, Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

It takes about an hour to get out of the city and the mpgs start to increase rapidly once I reach Golden Gate Bridge. Traffic thins considerably on the other side of the landmark and the trip computer climbs to 50 mpg by the time I reach the far end and stabilizes at around 57-58 mpg for the smooth, uncongested drive through Sonoma County and past one of the best raceways in the region. I wonder, what it would be like to take a lap in the Prius?

I make a stop at the halfway point for delicious tater tots. It's here that I figure out how to program the trip computer to calculate fuel costs using current prices and trip cost savings using the estimated mpg of another vehicle as a reference. I punch in the 28 mpg combined estimate for the 2016 Toyota Camry for comparison and $2.85 average fuel price for San Francisco pulled from GasBuddy.com.

Then it's on to the freeway for the last stretch home to Oakland, where I note the 59.3 mpg estimate as I park for the night with just under 105 miles logged.

Day two: Weekend errands, Ikea run. 253.0 miles, 57.7 mpg

The weekend is a bit of a blur but I logged nearly 150 miles over the course of two days that include a jog down and back up the peninsula for an Ikea run. There were also more than a few hours stuck in San Francisco traffic and searching for San Francisco parking.

Joining me during the toils of the weekend were my girlfriend and my auto enthusiast, track day bro. The former was wowed by the Prius' ability to smoothly parallel park itself at the touch of a button and by the quiet and spacious cabin, but she was also turned off by the weird looks -- though not as repulsed as I was. The latter passenger was genuinely curious about the hybrid's fuel efficiency and followed up over the week, asking for mpg updates and posing questions about the upcoming review between jokes both at the hybrid's expense and to its benefit. As I myself watch the efficiency gauge float, I begin to understand why some Prius drivers are so zealous about their mpgs; it's like comparing lap times for sports cars, only sort of in reverse.

Google, Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

The trip computer hangs out at around 57 mpg for most of the weekend and finally settled at 57.7 when I park it for the night on at the end of day two. Day three was spent parked in front of Fallout 4.

Day four: Taking the long way home. 316.7 miles, 58.1 mpg

Day four is a fairly dull day that began with hitting one of my favorite shooting locations to grab photos of the Prius before heading into the office. A very nice guy in a first-generation Prius stops by for a look, but is gone before I could ask him to pose the two cars side-by-side. The seed of that non-interaction ultimately leads to a photo collection tracing the evolution of Toyota's hybrid design.

At the end of the day, I decide to take the long way home from the office. The hybrid's fuel gauge is hardly moving. I'm starting to believe that I'll never empty the tank.

Day five: Sport driving, anyone? 400.3 miles, 58.5 mpg

I decide to put the Prius' new multilink rear suspension and improved handling to the test on some of my favorite mountain roads, but get bored about halfway through, cutting over to the highway and heading back early. The hybrid certainly feels more planted than before and rolls more smoothly over bumps. However, even in its "Power" drive mode engaged, the Prius is no hot hatch -- it's barely a lukewarm one -- and the whole "sport driving" exercise feels like a waste of time.

I run into traffic of the way to the office -- traffic jams are a way of life for driving in and around San Francisco -- but I notice that I'm not experiencing the same level of stress that I feel when normally stuck in gridlock. There's a sort of psychological ease that hybrids and EVs seem to imbue me with that makes traffic slightly more tolerable. Perhaps it has something to do with wasting less fuel and saving the Earth; maybe it's just the quieter cabin and lack of engine noise. Most likely, the relief comes from the way these eco cars gamify fuel efficiency with their little mpg gauges and fuel saving meters that makes me feel like I'm winning at something, even when I'm losing at getting where I'm going in a timely manner. Whatever it is, I like it and I like the Prius... at least, from the driver's seat, where I can't see the weirdo exterior design.

Google, Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Day six: Roadshow video shoot. 562.1 miles, 59.0 mpg

Day five was going to be my last official day of testing before the day of the video shoot. I often try to exclude our production time from mpg testing, because shooting video requires lots of idling and the sort of driving that's atypical of most owners. A day of video shooting can easily and significantly lower mpgs for most cars so much that it simply wouldn't be fair. The Prius, however, took the whole ordeal in stride; actually, it seemed to thrive.

We logged over 160 miles that day between scouting locations, shooting, passing and driving for a full day's production in a very hilly area north of the San Francisco Bay. For the long ride back to the office, I dipped into the "Power" setting to get one last taste of the improved handling on some of the nicer roads with their broad, sweeping curves. Of course by the time I neared the city proper, traffic had begun to thicken again, but the Prius made it back into the office with its trip computer reading 59 mpg.

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What's more interesting is that I didn't have to do anything special to make these numbers happen. I didn't employ any special hypermiling techniques. I stuck near the speed limit and used the hybrid's "Eco" drive mode for most of my miles, but I certainly didn't drive like a miser and followed the flow of traffic like I normally would in any other car when faced with the sort of boring commuter driving conditions that most of us are familiar with.

If the hybrid's calculations are to be believed, I saved about $22.65 in fuel costs over the course of one week's testing using the gas prices and comparative mpg that I'd input on the first day. The onboard estimate also reckoned that, after 561 miles of testing, it still had about 100 miles left in the tank when I handed over the keys with just over 1/8th of its capacity remaining. Assuming my economy stayed around 58.5 mpg for the entire tank, that's about 661 miles of driving before the reservoir would run dry. Color me impressed.

You can check out my full review of the 2016 Toyota Prius Four Touring for more insight into the new powertrain technologies that helped the hybrid to exceed even its EPA estimate fuel economy and the technology and amenities that help make this the best -- though not the best looking -- Prius yet.