For the better part of two decades, the Toyota Prius has been a pioneering force in hybrid driving and the green automobile movement at large. With the all-new fourth-generation Prius, Toyota focuses a little less on the car's established eco-conscious drive technology and a little more on its newly developed personality. The 2016 Prius features a thorough makeover and enhanced driving dynamics aimed at kicking off a "new hybrid era."
Toyota held the world premiere of the new Prius in Las Vegas this week. While Sin City has made some efforts, its extraneous lighting, obligatory air conditioning, sprawling hotel complexes, and 24-hour gaming machinery keep it from being the archetype of eco-friendliness you might expect Toyota to use for a Prius debut. Las Vegas is, however, the capital of fun and style of all shapes, sizes and costs, and the location highlights Toyota's focus on style over substance.
Don't get us wrong. The Prius has the substance part covered. Its 50-mpg combined rating has made it a natural-born green leader and the most fuel efficient car without an external charging port, as measured by the US EPA. The fuel-sipping hybrid design has driven more than 3.5 million sales.
Prius substance only improves in the new generation; Toyota estimates a 10 percent boost in EPA-estimated fuel economy courtesy of lighter, sleeker powertrain components, improved battery energy density and increased thermal efficiency. The math's not too hard, but just in case: that's an expected 55-mpg combined. Toyota also plans a new Prius Eco model for even higher fuel economy.
What separates this new Prius from its predecessors - or at least what Toyota wants us to believe separates it - is more style and more fun. Toyota is hoping to bring to end the days of the Prius being the go-to example of why hybrids are too slow, boring and fugly.
"Prius set the global benchmark for hybrids, but now is breaking its own boundaries with more engaging style and fun-to-drive dynamics," explains Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager for Toyota Division. "What was once a rational purchase that for many customers focused on fuel economy, is now so much more. This Prius will invite new drivers into the category by delivering an impressive look and feel, built on the foundation of safety and eco-consciousness that define the vehicle’s heritage."
The question of just how well the design succeeds will ultimately be decided by the buying public (and those that continue or stop ridiculing them), but Toyota makes its case by giving the Prius a stronger, sportier identity. It all starts with the sharp, angular LED headlamps and cavernous surrounding structure. That face sets the tone for a design that's more sharply defined throughout, its dual character lines sweeping rearward like the wind itself helped shape the car.
Toyota says that the rejiggered Prius dimensions follow the image of a runner in the starting blocks. The car is 2.4 inches (6 cm) longer, 0.6 inches (1.5 cm) wider and 0.8 inches (2 cm) lower than its predecessor, giving it a svelter, more athletic presence. The forward positioning of the roof peak redistributes mass into a more sedan-like profile.
As with older Prius models, all the styling comes to an abrupt halt at the chopped off rear-end, a functional component of Prius aerodynamics. The new tail benefits from new combination lamp and spoiler designs. A little higher up, blackout inserts create the intriguing look of a reverse-wrapping glasshouse.
The Prius will never be a Porsche or an FR-S, but Toyota promises a more dynamic drive related to the stretched dimensions, all-new double wishbone rear suspension set-up, more rigid body structure and lowered center of gravity. The architectural changes are part of Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA), which also improves occupant protection.
The focus on increased driving pleasure is represented inside, too, where an optimized captain's area keeps the driver engaged. Toyota promises body-hugging seats, improved visibility and intuitive controls.
The Prius will be offered with the available Toyota Safety Sense suite, which packages features including the pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, full-speed dynamic radar cruise control and automatic high beams.
There's one final component of Toyota's newfound focus on fun and style over substance: a major lack of important details. Toyota's rather light, superficial press release is all but devoid of the hard facts that auto junkies and general car buyers alike crave: powertrain specs, infotainment system details, options, pricing, etc. It didn't reveal those details at the live premiere, either, so we'll just have to wait for the fuller info kit to go public.
In the meantime, you can get better acquainted with the new Prius styling in our gallery. Let us know if you think Toyota has achieved success or missed the mark.
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