New Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid To Bow Next Week

For those of you wondering how competitive the new Prius Plug-in Hybrid will be, you should soon find out when it’s revealed March 23.

Slated for its first U.S. showcasing at the New York Auto Show, Toyota has been very mum about it to date, and a teaser photo and minimal info provided today mean the intent is to keep the suspense until the curtain draws.

“Toyota is rolling out the next mechanical marvel in the Prius lineup at 9:10 a.m. EDT, Wednesday, March 23,” said the automaker in a statement today. “Put limits in the rearview and check out the reveal at https://livestream.com/Toyota/NY2016.”

The phrase “put limits in the rearview” is ambiguous, could mean a few things, but if this is an address of the 2012-2015 Prius’ chief criticism – electric range – that could be significant.

Last decade Toyota had resisted a plug-in Prius version, and even lithium-ion batteries until enough of its own regular Prius owners made conversions. For 2012, it slotted in a 4.4-kilowatt-hour battery in the hatch area to make its own plug-in midway in the lifecycle of the third-gen Prius which was launched 2009 in Japan.

The U.S. EPA said this was good for six miles all electric range, or up to 11 miles gas plus electric. Drivers could get a few miles over that, and Toyota early on had touted the car as capable of 14 miles EV range assuming a relatively tame drive.

This made the Prius less competitive in the one reason why anyone would spend extra to buy a plug-in version of a regular hybrid.

2016 non-plug-in Prius Liftback Reveal in Las Vegas, Sept. 2015.

2016 non-plug-in Prius Liftback reveal in Las Vegas, Sept. 2015.

In fact, it was the least competitive in electric range, and paled next to 19-mile Energi plug-ins by Ford with 7.6-kwh batteries, the 35-38-mile first-gen Chevy Volt with 16.0-17.1 kwh, and now Kia/Hyundai’s 27-mile cars with 9.8 kwh. The 2016/2017 Volt with 18.4-kwh and 53 miles dominates all in this department.

That said, the Prius plug-in did get better mpg (50 combined) in hybrid mode than anyone else, and its small battery saved costs for Toyota while minimizing intrusiveness into the cargo area unlike vehicles which stuff in so much battery volume as to reduce utility.

Some perceived it as a half measure however, and advocates have said the car which was sold in just 15 markets was a compliance car to meet California-style regulations. Miscellaneous anecdotes have circulated of people who bought them just to get California solo-HOV lane access stickers.

Of course people who embraced the plug-in Prius did get good use out of them, praised them as delivering all the benefits of Toyota’s best-selling and evolved third-generation Prius, and sales showed that.

SEE ALSO: 2016 Toyota Prius First Drive Review – Video

Compared to the regular Prius, it has not held a candle, but among global plug-in electrified vehicle sales, it has ranked as high as within the top three in 2014, but production ceased last summer, and it has dwindled to fifth place at present. It has also done relatively well in the U.S., even though sold in a limited market.

Electric Range?

Rumors have said the Prius with plug-port is “expected” to get 30-35 miles EV range this time around. Would that this could be true. In fact, we shall see whether that is correct or a lower U.S. EPA estimate in the high teens or more-likely low-20s is the reality.

At this stage the EPA number may not even be announced and Toyota may only give its own estimate, but underlying the car again is the fourth-generation Prius, Toyota’s most fuel-efficient ever and sportiest handling too.

Regular Prius.

Regular Prius.

That car gets 52 mpg in most trims, 56 mpg in an Eco tim, and the Prius plug-in has been said by Toyota to be shooting for the same target in charge sustaining (gas hybrid) mode.

Unique styling details to further set the two variants apart is also believed likely.

So, without really saying much official about the new plug-in, Toyota is saying this is a vehicle that will make quite a splash.

“The city that never sleeps is about to get a wake-up call,” says its press release.

You’ve been duly notified now, so mark your calendars.