Toyota rolled out the next-generation Toyota Prius at this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show and it was welcomed with open arms for its sporty new design and impressive performance without sacrificing powertrain efficiency. CleanTechnica was present at the launch and we were able to hear from Toyota experts and drive the new vehicle for a few hours.
The new Prius’ graceful lines are more than skin deep as its aerodynamics contribute to a 57 miles per gallon rating in the front wheel drive LE trim. Efficiency drops slightly for the front-wheel drive XLE and Limited trims, both rated at 52 miles per gallon. Even though gas prices fell slightly last month, higher prices for everything else made the performance gains even sweeter.
Disclaimer: Toyota paid for the author’s accommodation while attending the launch event in Del Mar, California.
With its sporty new look, the Prius is sure to attract customers to dealerships for its sleek design and perhaps for the first time its high efficiency. The Prius continues the latest trend we’ve seen from Toyota. The focus is on pushing its hybrid technology across its entire vehicle lineup to deliver increased efficiency paired with increased performance when you want it. Toyota improved horsepower in the new Prius by 60% over the previous generation, increasing peak power output to 196 horsepower in all-wheel drive builds.
The ability to deliver both power and efficiency highlights Toyota’s true mastery of hybrid systems. Being able to summon the full power of the gas engine and electric motor when needed or when you want a little extra speed to brighten up your afternoon is still possible to provide maximum efficiency for most vehicles. Don’t get me wrong – the new Prius is no sports car. But its appearance might make you think otherwise.
Compared to conventional gas- and diesel-powered vehicles plying on highways around the world, Toyota’s hybrids offer significant improvements in efficiency and, thus, cost savings for customers. But when compared to the electric vehicles and dealership lots that dot the streets of Del Mar, California and beyond, hybrids have a much harder time doing so.
The only saving grace of hybrids is their lower relative purchase price. Prices for the new Prius range from $27,450 to $35,865 (+$1,095 DPH) making it one of the more affordable eco-friendly cars out there. But with the new Chevrolet Bolt EV offering 259 miles of range and a punch of torque for just $25,600, and more options showing up every week, the Prius is getting tougher by the day.
Front wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions of the Prius will hit dealership lots in January 2023 and use Toyota’s signature gas engine and electric motor hybrid system. The system recovers kinetic energy from the vehicle by adding a generator to decelerate the vehicle. This recovered energy is stored in a lithium-ion battery pack. The car is then able to use this stored energy to power electric motors to augment the gas engine’s power. The result is an overall increase in efficiency over a pure gas engine and that’s the magic that has made the Prius so successful for five generations.
The new look will make its way into the plug-in Prius Prime, which will debut in spring 2023. The Prius Prime adds the ability to charge what would normally be a larger onboard battery. The larger power pack enables additional electric-only range at higher speeds, translating into higher total efficiency numbers.
Much like previous generations of the Prius, four driving modes are offered: Normal, Eco, and Sport modes are standard, and an EV mode is also available that provides the ability to drive for a mile or less using only the battery and electric motor. Two it’s a little more than a gimmick, but it’s there. Beyond a party trick, it hints at what Toyota could do if it uses its former position as the ultimate planet-friendly vehicle to build a fully electric Prius and launch Toyota into a new fully electric future.
Toyota isn’t sharing the battery capacity of the pack used in the pure hybrid, so it will be interesting to see how each model handles the power flow. The battery pack boasts a 14% increase in power output and a 13% increase in input, increasing the pack’s ability to drink all the energy coming from the generator when braking.
The design of the new Prius is striking with a lower roofline that tapers up to a sleek aggressive nose. The roofline is 2 inches lower than the previous generation, topped by a panoramic glass roof that provides slightly more headroom than a traditional roof and headliner combination. The glass-encased top of the car contributes to a more open feel to the cabin, which is nice considering the interior volume is somewhat small.
The low roofline and smooth lines around the car’s exterior contribute to its impressive 0.27 drag coefficient (lower is better). Toyota didn’t stop there. Adding additional body panels to the bottom of the car further reduces wind and drag, while also helping to provide an additional sound barrier to reduce road noise.
The seating position in the new Prius is much lower than the previous generation. Along with the lower roofline, the seating position is lowered which, together, translates into less visibility at the front of the car.
From inside the car, its stance seems aggressive and wider than expected compared to the previous generation. Small windows to the right and left of the primary windshield offset some of the lost visibility through the windshield, opening up the blind spot that is normally hidden in the front left and right corners of the vehicle.
Overhead, the default metal roof makes the interior feel a bit smaller than it is, adding to the otherwise two-inch haircut on the roofline. At 6’2″ / 188 cm, sitting in the back seat was less comfortable. With the driver’s seat set for my same frame, my knee went up against the driver’s seat and my head brushed the bottom of the headliner. That’s a function of both the lower roofline and the way the windshield’s more aggressive angle pushes the driver into a more reclined seating position.
An optional $1,000 glass roof can be swapped out on some higher trims and opens up the cabin instantly. Its slim lines add more functional roof space for both front and rear passengers and open up the area with more light and visibility. Visibility to the rear of the vehicle through the rear view mirror is significantly improved compared to previous iterations of the Prius. The new Prius does away with the split rear window which provides more rear storage at the cost of reduced visibility. Overall, it feels surprisingly open and spacious considering the slightly lower headroom.
Handling performance is definitely the star of the show when it comes to driving. When you pound on the pedal, the car kicks back and launches with a renewed force. The suspension is tight and snappy and body roll is significantly reduced from the previous generation. It’s not what you’d expect from a true sports car, but a significant improvement over anything else bearing the Prius badge. The steering is nothing to write home about but it is more precise thanks to the stiffer suspension.
The center console infotainment system uses Apple Play and Android Auto, and while they’re nice, the core system doesn’t really do much more than the last few generations of Prius. With the optional 12.3″ center screen tapped into Android Auto, the car feels very high-tech. It’s really quite surprising and a huge disappointment that it doesn’t come with plug-in capabilities by default. An over-reliance on the embarrassingly loud petrol engine significantly worsens the driving experience.
The combustion engine sounds a lot like previous iterations of the Prius. It’s audible when it’s engaged and always pleasant when it’s disengaged, allowing the vehicle to revert to electric motors.
The new Prius is capable of updating its software via over-the-air (OTA) updates. Pressing for clarity on what can be updated, we learned that anything in the multimedia system and ECU can be updated over the air, but firmware updates must still be installed manually from the jump drive. OTA updates are pushed to the vehicle via the integrated AT&T cellular connection since the vehicle does not have the ability to connect to local Wi-Fi networks.
For major updates, Toyota can still choose or customers can still choose to bring the vehicle to a service center where major updates can be downloaded and applied more efficiently. OTA updates are downloaded to the vehicle in the background To ensure updates are added as they become available, downloads will continue in the background even when the vehicle is not running.
Toyota caught the first drive of the new Prius as a homecoming in California. This was one of the main markets for the Prius, with both early adopters and environmentally conscious consumers finding the Prius a car that would save them money and reduce their overall emissions. But that was years ago. Today, driving the Prius around the hills behind Del Mar, California, the new Prius is surrounded by electric vehicles of all shapes and sizes.
Hyundai Ioniq 5. Chevy Bolt EUV. Mercedes EQS 450+ Nissan Leaf. The Kia Niro EV and of course the flock of Teslas of all shapes and sizes. Model 3’s, Model Y’s, Model X’s and S’s all abound here and make the new Prius feel like the last of a dying breed. A car wanders the hills in search of a mate. The bold new styling of the 2023 Toyota Prius paired with an affordable price compared to many all-electric options is sure to slow the bleeding, but it’s hard to envision it as the car of the future.
Here in Southern California the future feels electric, though that feeling varies greatly as the survey expands to the rest of the country and acknowledges what part of the world you find yourself in. Still, the contrast echoes the debate and discussion. In Toyota’s boardroom they are trying to map out the future of their low and zero emission cars in the coming years.
Compared to every Prius ever built, the new Prius is in a league of its own in style, power and efficiency. But in 2022, this 5th generation Prius isn’t competing with all the other Priuses on the road or even internal combustion vehicles on the road. It is competing against a whole new generation of vehicles, electric vehicles.
Toyota has long hoped for a zero-emissions future in the Mirai, which literally translates into the future, but hydrogen is increasingly looking like it might not happen in passenger vehicles. Ironically, the Japanese word prius literally translates to east or east. In 2022, we can clearly see what came before the Prius and what may come in the future with the Mirai, but it’s not hard to imagine consumers wondering what they should buy from Toyota today.
All image credits: Kyle Field, CleanTechnica
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