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Toyota has finally made the Prius sexy. The all-new model launched globally this week showcases heavily updated hybrid electrified vehicle (HEV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) technology in an undeniably sleek body shape.
But it might be too late for New Zealand. Toyota NZ indicated to Kiwi media at the launch of the Corolla Cross Hybrid last month that the Prius name would be retired here for 2023, after a long period of low sales and the comprehensive mainstreaming of its hybrid technology into the majority of Toyota passenger cars and SUVs on sale. It reaffirmed to DRIVEN this week that it has no plan to bring the new Prius here.
The “conventional” Prius HEV quietly disappeared from NZ in May 2021, after total sales of 13 for the year. The sole survivor is the Prius Prime PHEV.
Both the smaller Prius C (aka Aqua as a used import) and larger Prius V people mover (aka Alpha) are no longer produced by Toyota.
The question of Prius’s continuing relevance in the modern world was also raised at a global level when the new model was mooted. Speaking at the launch of the latest version, senior general manager of Global Toyota Design Simon Humphries explained there was consensus the name should continue, as an acknowledgement of the role Prius has played in bringing electrified technology to the mass-market since 1997, and the important role hybridisation has to play in the future alongside pure-electric.
But according to Humphries, company president Akio Toyoda wanted to take Prius further down the route of being a true commodity car – a purpose-built taxi or even an OEM package that could be supplied to other carmakers.
Humphries said the development team created an “interesting struggle” with the president by arguing for a Prius that buyers would choose for both “rational benefits, but also its emotional experience.
“Without a doubt, pursuing rationality, fuel efficiency and other numerical values, imposes many restrictions, and makes designing the car no easy task,” said Humphries. “I honestly don’t think Akio thought we would be able to achieve this, given the difficulties we had faced in the past. But he did not oppose us. On the contrary, he gave us a chance to fight. When he saw the final design, he said: ‘That’s cool!’”.
Toyota calls the new design concept “Hybrid Reborn”. It’s still recognisably a Prius, retaining the monoform profile and Kamm tail introduced in the second-generation model, but the centre of gravity is lower and the wheels are much larger – up to 19in. The interior features “island architecture” with a large central infotainment screen and a focus on dark tones.
The new HEV powertrain will be available in both 1.8 and 2.0-litre capacities, the latter with combined output of 144kW (1.6 times higher than the outgoing version). It will also be available with Toyota’s hybrid E-Four AWD system, similar to the RAV4 and Highlander hybrids.
The PHEV uses the 2.0-litre and makes up to 167kW, with 0-100km/h in 6.7 seconds. Toyota says this faster, more powerful model maintains the same fuel efficiency as the outgoing Prime, with “EV driving range… about 50 per cent higher”. The company has not yet released specific figures on battery size or km ratings.
The PHEV also has a “BEV external power supply mode” where the battery can be used to power other devices, via outlets in the centre console or boot. There’s even an accessory that allows users to run an extension cord out a rear window while keeping it closed and secure.
Cumulative sales of Prius have surpassed five million since 1997 and Toyota claims the car is responsible for an 82 million tonne reduction in carbon emissions over that time.