Latest model promises more power and better economy
13 January 2009

The new Toyota Prius has just been unveiled at the Detroit show, just as sales of the Toyota hybrid have been hit in the US in the face of falling petrol prices.

The new model will have to rekindle interest in Toyota’s iconic hybrid, sales of which dropped by 48 per cent in November 2008 compared to November 2007. The new Toyota Prius is more powerful and more economical than the current model, but it faces competition from the cheaper Honda Insight.

The Toyota Prius’s design is a sharper version of the current model, with a sleeker, more integrated look; it retains the high rear boot line for optimum airflow over the car. The new Prius has a drag coefficient of 0.25, making it one of only two cars (along with the new Mercedes E-class) to manage such a low figure. It is slightly longer and wider than the current car.

The 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine has grown in size to 1.8 litres and has 96bhp and 105lb ft. The electric motor produces 79bhp and 153lb ft. Combined fuel consumption is 50mpg, a 4mpg improvement on the current car.

The engine “improves fuel economy because we can run the engine at lower revs using the 1.8’s bigger torque,” said product planner Scott Haddin. Performance is also improved, with a 0-60mph time of 9.8 seconds.

The new Hybrid Synergy Drive system, Toyota’s name for the electric motor set-up, is smaller and 20 per cent lighter than in the current Prius, while the car incorporates aluminium and more high-tensile steel in its construction.

Inside, the car keeps retains the layout of the current Toyota Prius, with the main instruments contained within a narrow, centrally mounted digital display. A button on the centre console, which is an Auris-style ‘floating’ unit, allows the car to run on electric power only, allowing the driver to isolate the engine from the powertrain.

Head room is improved and the Prius gains boot space, thanks to the smaller battery pack, which is mounted under the boot floor.

When the car goes on sale in the UK this summer, expect prices to be similar to today’s £17,777.

Dan Stevens

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