After a hiatus from production ceased last June, the Prius plug-in hybrid is back with a new name, double-sized 8.8-kwh battery and estimated 22 miles EV range.
Revealed today in New York, the Prius Prime is the second plug-in car to receive a comprehensive redesign and builds on the fourth-generation Prius hybrid’s platform.
Now with middle-rear passenger position deleted, Toyota otherwise says the vehicle has a lot of the right stuff to top its flagship hybrid line into the next decade.
But, you might ask: what’s with the name?
“’Prime’ means best, making it the perfect name for one of the most technologically advanced, best-equipped Prius in the model’s history,” says the automaker.
Clear also is the Japanese automaker is showing pride in having addressed an otherwise competent car’s Achilles’ heel – EV range for the 2012-2015 Prius PHV was as low as 6 miles or 11 miles electric-plus-gas.
Pending EPA certification, Toyota expects to step over the Ford Fusion and C-Max Energi which have 7.6-kwh batteries and 19 miles rated range. It will also rank competitively, if behind the 9.8-kwh Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optimas PHEVs which boast 27 miles, and of course the King of the Range, the 53-mile, 18.4-kwh 2016/2017 Chevy Volt.
EV range is also the single-most critical reason on why anyone would pay more for a plug-in version of an already efficient hybrid.
Toyota says its newfound competitiveness relies in part of a first-for-Toyota dual motor generator drive system. This employs the electric motor and generator for propulsion power which in turn augments acceleration performance and supports EV driving up to 84 mph.
The 22 miles range, says the automaker, is sufficient to meet the daily needs for more than half of all drivers, and 80 percent for those with intra-day charging.
Unstated is what the 0-60 mph time is at this first revealing, but the car building on the regular Prius’ high efficiency may perform similarly as it’s expected to get the same mpg in hybrid mode, and in EV mode Toyota touts a chart-topping 120 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent).
The efficiency on gas comes from a four-cylinder 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle engine which boasts 40 percent thermal efficiency, with power routed to the front wheel via a planetary-type continuously variable transmission.
Factors leading to this 40-percent number – far above a 25-30 percent thermal efficiency in other common engines – include an exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system with a cooler, smaller, lighter, quieter hybrid system water pump. Also, engine warm-up – which contributes to fuel efficiency – is augmented by an exhaust heat recirculation system.
Total range from the 11.3-gallon tank and EV range is estimated at more than 600 miles.
Addressing another issue with its latest eco car is more adroit handling manners thanks to a stiffer platform, and improved suspension.
These specifications also mirror the regular Prius, and the Prime is 2.4-inches longer, 0.6 inches wider, about 1-inch lower.
Aerodynamics are projected as among the lowest for a production sedan, The regular Prius has a cd of 0.24 – equal to a Tesla Model S or Hyundai Sonata PHEV – but Toyota has not released the number for the Prime.
Helping things are automatic grille shutters to reduce drag by closing when the radiator does not need airflow.
Inside also, the Prime mirrors the regular Prius upon which it’s based – except for the four-seat layout with center console front and back reminiscent of the 2011-2015 Chevy Volt – except the battery is not under this, but rather in the rear cargo area.
Available is an 11.6-inch multimedia HD display with its top Entune multimedia system, head-up display, wireless phone charging – but no mention of wireless traction battery charging as had been rumored.
Features like laminated windshield and front door glass for reduced sound intrusion add to other insulation and sound deadening for improved noise, vibration, and harshness control.
Another energy saver is a climate control system with electric compressor, that directs airflow only to seated occupants. The now-quieter system can run with the engine on or off and a heat pump lets it cool or heat while driving in EV mode.
An optional Intelligent Parking Assist (IPA) lets the car parallel park or park in perpendicular spaces by using ultrasonic wave sensors to assess the situation at hand.
A laundry list of multi-media, safety tech including eight airbags, stiffer crash cage and more from the regular Prius are included, but buyers will be assessing why they should get this one instead of the regular Prius or another plug-in hybrid.
Toyota has not stated price, but unlike the Prius Plug-in Hybrid from 2012-2015, the Prime will be available in all 50 U.S. states indicating more confidence in the evolved product.
The first PHV, as it was known, actually came at the mid-cycle point of the third-generation 2009-2015 (in Japan) Prius Liftback, and its 4.4-kwh battery good for just 6 miles EV range, or 11 electric plus gas while a turnoff for some, did not dissuade all.
The car has rested on the Prius’ laurels, and U.S. and global sales were respectable despite being dead last in the e-range category. There were even months when it sold close to or better than the Volt and all-electric Nissan Leaf as those better selling products were themselves awaiting replacement.
The new Prime now gets hobbled with loss of the middle rear seat, a complaint the first-generation Volt has been lambasted for, but buyers may be more forgiving to Toyota, although this remains to be seen.
Included is an all-new car with superior handling, new styling and features, class-leading MPGe, MPG in hybrid mode – likely 52 mpg, potentially better, and far above competitors all in the upper 30s or low 40s.
Long a strong contender on the used car market, Toyota did improve range, but it may still be perceived as short for car that will be on the market into the 2020s.
Buyers will have to weigh that versus all else they stand to get in the new Prius Prime.
We’ll have more soon.