The alternative-energy car market is rapidly evolving, and to keep its fourth-generation 2016 Prius relevant, Toyota has “reimagined” it with 10-percent improved fuel economy and more sporting prowess than before.
Toyota is not publishing the exact mpg estimates just yet, saying it awaits EPA certification, but 10 percent would work out to 56 mpg city, 53 mpg highway, 55 mpg compared to today’s Prius Liftback rated 51 city, 48 highway, 50 combined.
And that’s not the end of it. Waiting in the wings is also a more-efficient “Eco” Prius model with as-of-yet undisclosed capabilities. Toyota is saying next to nothing about this, but it may utilize lithium-ion batteries and other tweaks for marginal improvements. The carmaker says we won’t have long to wait to hear more about it however.
“A soon-to-be unveiled Eco model will achieve an even greater improvement, strengthening Toyota’s leadership in hybrid fuel efficiency,” says Toyota.
What about the Prius plug-in hybrid? No word on the PHV yet, but it may be shown next year. If however what turned out to be relatively accurate and possibly pirated info in July pans out as correct, its all-electric range may be more than twice what it is today.
The report said by Japan’s JC08 standard it gets 50 kilometers range (31 miles). If true, this could be in the 20s under EPA. If so, it could significantly increase its appeal. The updated PHV may also have styling and headlight differences. We shall see.
Meanwhile, tonight’s event was just an overview of the core Prius.
Now approaching six years since the present Prius Liftback was launched in the U.S. in 2010, and 16 years since the first Prius in 2000, the world’s best-selling green car aims to keep and even expand its position into the next decade.
Toyota knows it must sharpen its act in the face of stiffening competition, and to offset perceived tarnish in the eyes of some plug-in fans. The most die-hard have begun to migrate to plug-ins – though these also come with their own pros and cons, and the Prius’ 55 mpg all the time should help. This, along with its established reputation are laurels Toyota is counting on to see it through.
Not that it’s at much of a deficit, really. The unsubsidized Prius Liftback sells 120,000-145,000 annually in the U.S. when the highest-selling plug-in hybrids haven’t done that in five years while subsidized. The Chevy Volt for example is just now crossing 100,000 units globally since its December 2010 launch.
It’s hard therefore to argue with sales success as the Prius has transcended niche status into mainstream. But, there is only so much one can do, apparently, to squeak out more mpg gains from a gas-burning system.
So, rather than trying to beat plug-in cars in ways it cannot – like run on electricity more than a mile or so at 25 mph – Toyota is broadening its appeal while giving as much more mpg as is possible within the laws of physics – or its engineers’ capabilities.
Also true is that this hybrid’s fuel efficiency still reigns supreme above all plug-in hybrids when they are only operating in hybrid mode, and without reliance on their larger batteries for propulsion. The 2016 Chevy Volt for example is rated 42 mpg in charge sustaining mode, but buyers of that car with 53 mile all-electric range aim to stay off gas altogether.
To be sure, it’s a trade-off, though here is where fans of respective technologies start to debate what is the most effective solution.
For its part, Toyota stresses the strengths it has, including its environmental contributions to date and ongoing. The higher volume of relatively gas-miserly hybrids it sells to stave off gasoline usage and greenhouse emissions does add up. Globally, 3.5 million Prii have been sold, and eight million Toyota and Lexus hybrids have been sold.
And now for 2016, Toyota is augmenting its known deficits. In sum, the Prius is a car that some performance enthusiasts love to hate for its plain vanilla sporting credentials.
To remedy that, the fun-to-drive quotient has reportedly been ratcheted up with a revised chassis with double wishbone rear suspension, and stiffer platform. This is the first Toyota to feature the modular Toyota New Global Architecture.
Styling has also been rethought to create a car that’s all-around capable while retaining core competencies.
“Prius set the global benchmark for hybrids, but now is breaking its own boundaries with more engaging style and fun-to-drive dynamics,” said Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager, Toyota Division. “What was once a rational purchase that for many customers focused on fuel economy, is now so much more. This Prius will invite new drivers into the category by delivering an impressive look and feel, built on the foundation of safety and ecoconsciousness that define the vehicle’s heritage.”
Festivities in a lavish launch ceremony in Las Vegas tonight were replete with food, music, drink, and just enough data on the new car to whet the appetite.
The powertrain for example may have a 1.8-liter Atkinson cycle engine mixed with motor generators, but that level of granularity was not disclosed in Toyota’s initial media information it provided.
As miscellaneous unofficial reports have suggested for the past two years, Toyota verifies in saying the updated hybrid is better where it counts.
“Today’s consumers expect environmental credentials, and the new Prius delivers. Smaller, lighter hybrid system components, higher-energy density in the batteries, and an internal combustion engine touting ground-breaking thermal efficiency (more than forty percent), contribute to a significant advancement in fuel economy,” says the automaker.
Want more powertrain detail? That is all Toyota chose to reveal. And besides, “it’s not just about MPG anymore,” says Toyota.
“Toyota upgraded the Prius inside and out to deliver the complete package – emotional styling, smarter technology and impressive MPG, in a vehicle that’s more fun to drive than ever,” it says.
Today’s green car designers must be thinking in anthropomorphist terms, as like Chevrolet and its Volt, the Prius is inspired by human endurance athletes ready to run. Do you see it?
In plain automotive terms, the Prius is is 2.4 inches longer, 0.6 inches wider and 0.8 inches lower. Sheet metal includes character lines sweeping along the sides, a lower spoiler, revised lights front and back, and updated profile.
The hood is now low, and the badge is the same height as the Scion FR-S sports car, while the roof peak is moved forward.
A lot of rhetoric has already gone forth by folks commenting about off-angle photos and drawings, saying the Prius is not all that fetching, but we don’t agree with the harshest critics saying Toyota beat it with an ugly stick, but of course everyone is entitled to their opinion.
Ours is it’s not a bad looking car in real life; it’s sharper, more contemporary, inside and out, and we are looking forward to seeing how it drives.
Inside, a driver-centric “premium” interior merges advanced tech, expansive layout, functional controls, and form-fitting seats that “hug” the front occupants.
Underpinning it all is the Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA). The idea is reduced production costs while making for a better car.
With TNGA, Toyota integrates development for powertrain components and vehicles are being grouped to promote strategic sharing of components with the goal of improving resource efficiency by better than 20 percent.
Toyota says resources will be directed into developing advanced technologies, and most importantly even further strengthening product appeal.
That’s all well and good, but what this means for the new Prius is lower center of gravity, more responsive suspension, stiffer chassis, and better driving excitement.
“From winding mountain roads to the wide boulevards downtown, the new Prius stays connected to the road, without sacrificing ride quality and occupant comfort,” says Toyota.
Designed in as well are new safety technologies to complement the stiffer body that is said to do better in a crash.
The Prius will also be among the first U.S. cars Toyota offers to come with Toyota Safety Sense (TSS), a new safety package centered around automated pre-collision braking.
Bundled in with TSS are 1) Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Avoidance; 2) Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist; 3) Full-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control; 4) Automatic High Beams
Onward and Upward
Drive opportunities were not offered in this first unveiling and teaser.
Toyota had pushed back this reveal a bit to make sure it gets it right, and has heavily emphasized this car builds on existing strengths while adding new competencies.
Pricing has not been announced, and the car will go on sale in the U.S. early next year.
We expect more info soon.