READ ALSO:5 facts on the new Prius
TOKYO: Having made its name as the world's best-selling and best-known petrol/electric hybrid vehicle since its introduction in 1997, the Toyota Prius now enters its fourth generation with the aim of providing better eco-friendliness with fun-to-drive factor and safety.
We sat in on a briefing and a test drive on the new Prius at a recent Toyota media tour in the Fuji Speedway, close to two hours’ drive from the Japanese capital.
For those who loved their third generation Prius, they will be fall in love again with the all-new Prius which is streets ahead in styling and technology.
At a glance, the new Prius has some resemblance to the older car but looks sleeker with a rising belt and character lines.
Curved triangular LED head, tail and clearance light add a new level of aggressiveness to the Prius’ styling.
Despite having the same wheelbase of 2,700mm with the out-going model, the new car is still spacious inside as it is wider and lower.
Although the roofline is lower, the interior height is similar with older car as the new Prius’ floor is also lowered as well.
The new Prius’ body is shaped by wind-tunnel testing and now has lower co-efficient of drag at 0.24 which is better that the previous model’s 0.25.
Built on the latest Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), this integrated development programme for powertrain components and vehicle platforms, the new Prius gets a lower centre of gravity for less bodyroll during cornering.
The body is also much stronger with a redesigned frame, greater usage of laser screw welding and more high tensile steel.
Inside, the new Prius is roomy with ample leg/headroom and comes with a centrally-located colour LED digital instrument panel.
The car also comes with a colour head-up display, a first for a Toyota model.
Powering the car is the same 1.8-litre VVT-i Atkinson-cycle petrol engine (2ZR-FXE) that has been re-engineered for improved smoothness, fuel efficiency and reduced weight.
While producing the same amount of power (97hp) and torque (142Nm) with the older Prius, the car’s peak torque now comes in earlier at 3,600rpm instead of 4,000rpm.
Toyota claims the improved Prius engine delivers a thermal efficiency of 40%, the world’s highest for mass produced engines. (thermal efficiency refers to how much fuel an engine could convert into energy to propel a car.)
This improvement was enabled in part through the use of a large-volume exhaust gas recirculation system and improvements in combustion efficiency.
Meanwhile, the hybrid system comprising the electric motors, transaxle, power control unit and hybrid batteries are now smaller and lighter, improving fuel efficiency and making excellent use of space.
The transaxle also boasts a more compact design, and achieves approximately 20% loss reduction compared to the old Prius.
Probably for better fuel economy, the drive motor outputs 71hp and 163Nm of torque, compared with 79hp and 207Nm in the older Prius.
The end result is a higher fuel economy of 40km per litre versus the old model’s 32.6km per litre under the Japanese JC08 test cycle.
The battery powering the hybrid system could be either the nickel metal hydride or the lithium ion type depending on the sales region.
In our two laps with the Prius on the Fuji Speedway, the Prius took off in electric mode before the petrol engine kicked seamlessly in at higher speeds.
Power delivery was quiet, smooth and linear similar to the performance of larger engine capacity car.
Steering was well-weighted for feel and the new Prius handled itself quite well at a slalom course with traffic cones.
This improved handling could be due to car’s lower platform and its rear double wishbone suspension. The old Prius is equipped with rear torsion beam suspension.
The Prius felt stable and rock planted at 130kph but this was achieved on a super smooth race track.
We look forward to the opportunity to test the car’s handling and ride comfort on normal roads.
The new Prius goes on sale in Japan next month with launches in other markets to follow.
The new Prius would easily cost around RM200,000 if sold in Malaysia without hybrid tax breaks and incentives.
Malaysian hybrid car lovers are sure to be delighted if UMW Toyota Motor is able to introduce this new Prius locally at favourable prices.
READ ALSO: Third-generation Prius driven