Toyota has announced a redesign of its best-selling hybrid, the Prius, and expansion of its hybrid offerings by the end of 2015.
With the best fuel economy of any current car that doesn’t need to be plugged in, the distinctive Prius is not an easy car to redesign. But Toyota promises a wide range of improvements in everything from fuel economy to driving dynamics. (See our Prius, Prius Plug-in, Prius C, and Prius V road tests.)
To start with, the company says it is working on new battery technologies that should boost the electric capacity of standard and plug-in versions. Toyota said it was improving the energy density of its nickel-metal hydride batteries (what’s now in the standard Prius) and lithium-ion batteries (used in the Prius Plug-in). Beyond that, it is working on next-generation lithium-air and magnesium batteries. Those improvements will give the new Prius thermal operating efficiency of 40 percent, a record for gas-burning cars, Toyota engineers said. (This would be up from 38.5-percent efficiency in the current Prius, according to Toyota’s numbers.)
With physically smaller batteries and motors, Toyota says the new Prius will have additional space inside, despite having an even more aerodynamic shape. The current Prius, with a claimed drag coefficient of 0.25, is one of the slipperiest cars on the market, a big factor in its getting 55 mpg in our highway fuel economy test. (Visit our guide to hybrids and EVs.)
The redesigned Prius will be based on a new platform, the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), which the company says has a lower center of gravity and improved stiffness over the outgoing Prius. That might go toward helping to address one of our few gripes about the current car: It really is dull to drive. Toyota is also addressing criticisms of the interior with “significant refinements in design, layout, and ease of operation.”
Prius Plug-in buyers have apparently also complained that the car’s 11-mile electric range is inadequate and that plugging the car in is tedious. Toyota says the new Plug-in will offer more electric range and have built-in inductive charging, so drivers can just pull the car over an electronic coil in their parking space and it will automatically begin charging.
All these changes should bring a 10 percent improvement in the Prius’ primary attribute, fuel economy. If Toyota meets that goal, that could give the new Prius an overall average of close to 50 mpg in our tests, tying the original two-seater Honda Insight for the best gasoline fuel economy we’ve ever recorded.
The Prius has long been a poster child in our ratings for efficient transportation, with impressive gas mileage and reliability leading to low operating costs. With more space and efficiency, the next Prius could improve on the formula and continue to set a high standard.