Toyota says the broader appeal of this new Prius is based on three main aspects: design and styling, the new global platform (TNGA) and the next generation of its familiar hybrid system. We’ll take each in turn.
The car’s appearance is said to benefit from an unusually young design team, and a concerted effort to “inject ego” into what remains a largely familiar silhouette. The effect may bring to mind the Mirai for those acquainted with Toyota’s much trumpeted fuel cell vehicle.
Either way, the slanted waistline and jagged front end make it more striking than its predecessor – but no easier on the eye.
It is the platform that delivers arguably the most telling change: not only has the Prius’s overall height descended by around 20mm, but the driver’s hip point has also sunk by a full 59mm, making the car seem lower-slung in every sense.
It is longer and slightly wider, too, although it’s the resulting drop in the centre of gravity that Toyota identifies as a boon to the model’s handling – that and a 60 percent gain in torsional rigidity provided by a more extensive use of high-strength steel and additional body reinforcement.
The chassis has been altered, too. At the front, the MacPherson struts have been revised, while at the rear, the Prius gets a new configuration of double wishbones with trailing arms.
However, the bulk of Toyota’s ingenuity remains focused on the hybrid powertrain, where the engineers have sought a more intuitive driving experience alongside the obligatory gains in efficiency.
The changes are evolutionary but extensive nonetheless. The 120bhp 1.8-litre VVTi petrol engine, still operating on the Atkinson cycle, has been overhauled, delivering, Toyota claims, the best thermal efficiency of any mass-produced engine anywhere in the world thanks to a new exhaust gas recirculation system and incremental improvements made on combustion, heat management and friction reduction.
The Prius’s transaxle, which houses the electric motors and transmission, has again been remodelled. A smaller, lighter generation of motor/generators has helped the engineers reduce its length by 59mm, meaning that the auxiliary battery can now be housed in the engine compartment.
The car’s higher-density nickel metal hydride battery is more compact, too, and is now located entirely under the back seats.
Along with a redesigned power control unit and updated software, the Prius is now able to draw more on the electric motor’s 71bhp and 120lb ft of torque when its petrol engine is at low revs, and the range of speed where it may be used exclusively has increased by 60 percent.