[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he introduction of the all-new fourth generation Prius is the next milestone in the history and achievements of Toyota’s hybrid power technology.
The new Prius builds on the strengths and achievements of its predecessors and establishes new benchmarks in fuel economy, emissions and efficiency.
Each successive Prius has delivered improvements in these areas, but the new Prius makes the biggest leap yet, with CO2 emissions falling to a historic low of 70 g/km.
This achievement is only one aspect of a car that has evolved to acquire new capabilities, more engaging styling and new fun-to-drive character, adding new and compelling dimensions to its customer appeal.
Powered by a new generation of Toyota’s full hybrid powertrain, the new Prius makes significant advances in fuel economy (combined cycle fuel economy from 3.0 l/100 km) and provides a much more rewarding driving experience. Acceleration is smoother and more responsive, quieter and has a more linear feel that is better aligned to engine speed.
The new car’s dynamic capabilities are rooted in its use of the first platform developed under the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) philosophy.
At a stroke, this endows the car with a lower centre of gravity (-2.5 cm), securing better handling response and stability.
It has also given the designers a freer hand to craft a car that has richer visual appeal, with lower lines overall and a more athletic profile.
TNGA also helps define the “peace-of-mind” interior, with its excellent packaging, a lower and more engaging driving position and higher comfort levels.
Load space is improved thanks to the use of a smaller, more energy-dense hybrid battery that is located entirely beneath the rear seats and a new double wishbone rear suspension system – features which do not intrude in trunk capacity.
The Prius remains Toyota’s technological ambassador, a showcase for new, relevant technologies that raise levels of safety, convenience, performance and comfort.
Safety remains a priority, with the TNGA-based chassis optimised for excellent impact performance.
The scope of the Toyota Safety Sense package is extended in the new Prius with addition of radar-managed Adaptive Cruise Control with Full Speed Range Following Function and a Pedestrian Detection function for the Pre-Collision Safety system.
The full hybrid powertrain has undergone extensive revisions to improve efficiency, reduce weight and sharpen performance. Detailed design changes to the engine have resulted in a 40 per cent thermal efficiency – a world-best performance for a petrol unit.
Other hybrid system components have been made lighter and smaller and have been repositioned for optimum packaging, further contributing to the car’s lower centre of gravity.
The new nickel-metal hydride hybrid battery is more compact than in the previous generation model, with an even better durability and charging performance.
In combination, these changes and innovations confound the popular notion of what an eco-car should be like to drive and to look at.
They reflect how, now that hybrid technology has moved in 15 year from the fringes to become a mainstream choice, customers expect more than exceptional environmental performance – they equally require a car that offers style, ease of use and real driving pleasure.
The new Prius demonstrates the genuine rewards that remain to be enjoyed from Toyota full hybrid technology, together with appealing new characteristics in terms of performance, convenience and fun-to-drive quality, advantages that will steadily feed through to new generations of other Toyota hybrid models.
In 1997 the original Toyota Prius was launched with the declaration “just in time for the 21st century”. As the world’s first mass-produced hybrid-powered car, it was true to the Latin roots of its name in being ahead of its time.
That first car was a compact four-door sedan, powered by a new hybrid system featuring a combination of 1.5-litre VVT-i Atkinson cycle petrol engine and 33 kW electric motor.
Headline efficiency figures were 120 g/km CO2 emissions and an average 5.1 l/100 km fuel consumption. This initial package was comprehensively redesigned and improved in the second generation model in 2003, with considerable gains in power and efficiency, plus a larger, more stylish, comfortable and practical hatchback design.
The improved hybrid system adopted a smaller and lighter hybrid battery with a higher energy density.
The fuel economy improved by 15 per cent to 4.3 l/100 km and CO2 levels fell to a new low of 104 g/km.
The 3rd generation Prius made its debut in 2009, delivering an even stronger combination of power and efficiency.
The hybrid system’s output was now more than a third greater than in the original model, while at the same time CO2 emissions had fallen by a quarter and fuel consumption was 23 per cent better.
The first generation Prius created the hybrid vehicle market, the second generation raised the model’s popularity with a more advanced image, and the third generation secured mass-market success, helping Toyota progressively roll out hybrid power into its mainstream model ranges.
In its first 18 years, the Prius has reshaped the motoring landscape, bringing hybrid technology into the mainstream market and helping focus the attention of industry and consumers on how cars can be made cleaner and more efficient.
The way in which people have come to understand, appreciate and adopt Toyota hybrid power is witnessed by more than eight million cumulative sales of Toyota hybrids worldwide since 1997, including more than 3.5 million Prius.
The growth rate has accelerated in line with the technology’s higher visibility and the availability of an increasing range of vehicles covering different market segments.
The fourth generation Prius will add further impetus to hybrid’s market appeal, achieving its strongest environmental performance yet, while delivering much improved styling and driving dynamics.
Toyota’s experience with the Prius has been central to its development of hybrid as a foundation technology for alternative powertrains, not just with conventional petrol and diesel engines, but with biofuels and hydrogen fuel cells as well.
The basic technical premise that gave Toyota its breakthrough with Prius continues to support development of new mobility solutions, from the all-electric urban i-ROAD to Mirai, Toyota’s first hydrogen fuel cell sedan.
The new car market has changed greatly in the 18 years since Toyota introduced the original Prius and set in motion its hybrid technology programme.
Growing awareness of environmental issues and the need to protect natural resources have not only shifted people’s perceptions of how a vehicle should perform, they have been reinforced by national and international legislation requiring manufacturers to reduce vehicle emissions.
These changes have helped Toyota hybrids establish themselves in markets worldwide and have also given impetus to other manufacturers in the development of rival hybrid systems and other alternatives to conventional petrol and diesel engines, such as all-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.
Hybrid has become Toyota’s key competitive advantage, the principal quality that differentiates it from other manufacturers and which gives it a specific strength in the marketplace.
This is reflected in the fact Toyota hybrids make up more than 50 per cent of all the alternative powertrain vehicles sold in Europe – more than all the other hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles combined.
The way in which hybrid has become a driver for Toyota’s success in Europe’s core new car market segments is evidenced by sales figures for 2015 which show hybrids accounted for 55 per cent of all Auris sales and 36 per cent of Yaris sales.
Furthermore, hybrid is bringing more new customers to Toyota, with these models attracting significantly high levels of conquest sales from other brands – up to 63 per cent for Yaris Hybrid and 51 per cent for Auris Hybrid.
Toyota believes hybrid’s market potential will increase further, with more people taking up the technology as the emissions performance of all vehicles comes under closer scrutiny and legislative control.
At the same time, more manufacturers are following Toyota by introducing their own hybrid models, increasing competition and giving customers a wider choice.
Toyota will continue to enjoy the advantage of offering a full hybrid system, in which the electric motor can operate independently of the petrol engine.
This allows the car to be driven in all-electric EV mode when possible, with zero fuel consumption and zero tailpipe emissions.
These benefits are not available in “mild” hybrid systems, in which the electric motor can be used only to support the performance of a petrol or diesel engine.
Toyota believes that continuous improvement of its full hybrid technology will enable it to strengthen its market position, ahead of the wider uptake of alternatives such as plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles.
Key challenges in securing this growth are to strengthen environmental performance while increasing the attractiveness of hybrids as desirable cars that are fun to drive.
These qualities are fundamental to the new Prius, which sets new benchmarks for environmental performance while making a stronger emotional connection with customers through improved styling, quality and driveability.