It’s the car that arguably thrust the word hybrid into the petrol-head’s everyday vocabulary and has evoked more than its fair share of choice words from the motoring masses over the years. The Toyota Prius is back for a fourth generation and although it may have grown up a fair bit since its UK debut back in 2000, like a slightly tipsy elderly relative at a Christmas party, it’s innate ability to polarise opinion continues unabated.
Two things have contributed to the Prius’s unique ability to ruffle the feathers of drivers and journalists alike throughout its relatively short existence. For one, it’s a hybrid. Secondly, it has a reputation for somewhat ‘off-the-wall’ styling.
The first point may have been an issue back in the early days, as hard-bitten gas-guzzling petrol-heads turned their collective noses up at this obscure green crusader. However, the celebrity cult which quickly built up around the Prius in its formative years, making it the go-to car for the eco-conscious (or at least self-conscious) great and good of Hollywood, soon saw off any hint of a hybrid image crises. Today, even the most diehard gas-snorting traditionalist must acknowledge the need for cars to ‘do their bit’ for the environment – indeed hybrids have in some senses been eclipsed by the meteoric rise of full electric power.
Toyota says that the new Prius isn’t just about MPG anymore, although it does promise a ten percent improvement over its predecessor in that department. Instead, the onus falls unequivocally and unashamedly on styling, as the official press release reveals: “Today’s customers want all the traditional benefits of a hybrid, but don’t want to compromise on looks and performance. So Toyota upgraded the Prius inside and out to deliver the complete package”.
So here it is; the complete package. An entirely reimagined exterior features a longer and sleeker profile, supposedly inspired by a runner in the starting blocks. It’s slightly wider than the outgoing model too and sits 0.8 inches closer to the ground. At the front, the bonnet is now lower and the distinctive roof peak is shifted further forward. Key changes at the rear include a lower rear spoiler and highly eccentric boomerang-shaped light clusters. However, the overall design remains largely based on the body of the outgoing model and will no doubt continue to polarise opinion as much as its predecessor did. The 2016 Prius is the first global production model to adopt Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA) but it’s hard to shake off the undeniable parallels with the intensely aggressive angles of the company’s pioneering new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, the Mirai. Let’s just say there’s no lack of opinion as far as that model is concerned.
Moving the considerable elephant in the room to one side, the new Prius promises to stick more closely to the road than ever whatever the conditions underfoot thanks to an all-new rear double wishbone suspension design. As previously alluded to, the non-plug in Prius hybrid ups the MPG stakes and promises best-in-class fuel economy, although no official numbers have been made available to crunch. A soon-to-be unveiled ‘Eco’ variant will up the MPG ante still further.
Traditional power comes from the 1.8-litre petrol engine with two electric motors, one at each axle, providing the new Prius with its e-4WD hybrid credentials.
The hybrid revolution, so successfully championed by Toyota, may have been washed to one side by the building momentum of the EV tidal wave. However, there is certainly still a place for a reimagined Prius in today’s increasingly EV-dominated eco car market. It may just be that the marquee hybrid of the last decade and a half has to evolve into a car that’s as friendly on the wallet as it is on the environment.