Toyota's new gas-electric hybrid Prius doesn't just come with more power, acceleration and range. It's sleeker, too, ditching the rather heavy angular body for an elegantly futuristic look.
Simon Humphries, Toyota's senior general manager of global design, which unveiled the car in Tokyo and Los Angeles on Wednesday, stressed that the company was still challenging skeptics who kept asking how much longer the Japanese automaker would stick with hybrids in a industry that is electrifying quickly.
“Simply because the Prius is an ecological car within everyone's reach. To achieve carbon neutrality, everyone in the world must participate,” he told reporters. “We need ecological solutions within the reach of many. And it has to start today, not tomorrow.”
The fifth-generation Prius hybrid models will go on sale this winter first in Japan and then in the US. A plug-in version will hit the market next year, according to Toyota Motor Corp. Pricing was not announced.
The automaker swapped out an older nickel-metal hydride battery for a smaller, lighter lithium-ion battery that generates 15% more power. The engine grows from 1.8 liters to 2, and horsepower increases from 121 to over 190. As a result, acceleration from zero to 60 mph (97 kilometers per hour) drops from over 10 seconds to around 7 seconds depending from the Prius version.
“That will really make driving safer,” said Stephanie Brinley, principal automotive analyst at S&P Global Mobility.
The Prius, which first went on sale in 1997, alternates between a gasoline engine and an electric motor to provide a cleaner drive than models with regular combustion engines.
Toyota estimates the 2023 Prius will get 57 mpg in combined city and highway driving, calling it the most efficient Prius ever.
Electric cars are zero emissions but need to be recharged. Some consumers are concerned about running out of juice on the roads. A hybrid always has the gasoline engine as a backup.
Toyota has cumulatively sold more than 20.3 million hybrid vehicles, including Prius cars, worldwide to date. The Prius, which means “pioneer” or “first” in Latin, has defined Toyota as much as a brand as its Lexus luxury models.
Still, environmentalists have sometimes criticized Toyota for delaying electrification, though some analysts say that's a bit unfair given that other automakers also have few electric cars in their lineups, and many others have developed various hybrid models.
“The sale of more hybrid vehicles, including the Prius, drags us further into the climate crisis,” said Daniel Read of Tokyo-based Greenpeace East Asia.
Read said that electric vehicles and fuel cell models are better solutions to climate change than hybrids.
Humphries said the new Prius was designed to be more stable, with a lower center of gravity, larger tires, curvaceous lines to its overall design and a sleek interior.
“We really believed that the next step for the Prius was to become a 'no compromise car' to increase its customer appeal,” said Humphries.
The Prius, with its refreshed styling and efficiency, will better compete not only with other hybrid models but also with the available generation of all-electric vehicles.
Prius models have always served as something of a bridge to a time when there are more charging stations for electric vehicles, said Brinley, who believes the new Prius compares better with hybrids and add-ons from Hyundai, Kia, Ford and Jeep.
By adding 50% to the battery's range, which translates to about 38 miles (61 kilometers), it can go far enough to cover the commute and around-town errands of the average American driver. The hybrid powertrain allows for road trips without worrying about a charging network that isn't yet complete, Brinley said.