Optimus Prime: Toyota’s new Prius transforms the hybrid scene

  • Ultra-efficient plug-in hybrid power train
  • Toyota calls Prius Prime ‘a techno wonder’
  • Best-equipped Prius in model’s history
2016 Toyota Prius Prime
PRIME TIME FOR TOYOTA: The latest version of the brand’s groundbreaking hybrid, the Prius Prime, will be launched on March 25 at the New York auto show. Image; Toyota US

Toyota SA once led the hybrid-car evolutionary race in South Africa with its Prius SUV but now seems to have dropped out of the running completely – which is a pity because, elsewhere, here comes the Toyota Prius Prime.

It’s to be unveiled officially at the 2016 New York International Auto Show on Friday (March 25) and from the images sent to The Corner it looks – and most probably is – the most awesome car from the Japanese automaker in recent years.

It’s described by Toyota as “an ultra-efficient model with a plug-in hybrid powertrain” and the company adds that ‘Prime’, meaning ‘best’, is therefore “the perfect name for one of the most technologically advanced and best-equipped Prius units in the model’s history”.

2016 Toyota Prius Prime
AERO DESIGN, SLIPPERY SHELL: The 2016 Toyota Prius Prime still has shades of its grandpaw but the tech is in another galaxy far, far away. Image: Toyota US

If looks and cabin design are yardsticks, then there’s no argument. And it’s expected to be rated as the world’s most fuel-efficient plug-in hybrid given that it has a lead of 26% over its predecessor thanks to greater battery capacity and an improved hybrid system.

“The Prime,” Toyota says, “is expected to offer double the battery range of the previous model – 35km – and so meet the daily schlepp of more than half of all US commuters. Top speed on battery alone is 130km/h.

“As parsimonious with petrol as the Prime may be, it drives with the same verve as the standard new-generation Prius hybrid.”

The wind-cheating body and strong-but-light structure, Toyota says, are are critical for the car’s “astoundingly low energy consumption”. Its drag co-efficient is expected to be among the lowest for production sedans, helped by grille shutters that close when airflow to the radiator is not required.

It’s also 2.5cm lower than the previous model.

All 2016 Prius hybrid models will have eight crash-bags, including full-length curtains which might be redundant in a crucial situation thanks to an advanced pre-collision package that includes pedestrian detection, auto braking, lane-departure alert, dynamic radar-monitored cruise control and blind-spot monitors.

2016 Toyota Prius Prime
NOBODY’S GOING TO MISS THAT ARRAY OF LIGHTS: The 2016 Toyota Prius Prime is all diode-lit. Image: Toyota US

Premium touches and exclusive tech features include a 30cm high-definition central multimedia screen tha includes satnav and, for the driver, a colour head-up information display.

With a full tank for the conventional engine and a fully charged battery pack, Toyota reckons, this the latest Prius should be good for close to 1000km… “only the passengers will have to refuel”, the automaker cockily suggests.

The car will automatically select electric power wherever possible, particularly in
city and suburban driving and for short trips. Regenerative braking comes with the motor and an overnight (or during the working day) recharge can be done from a normal household plug.

Even the 1.8-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine – the unit in all recent Prius hybrid models – earns “a groundbreaking” 40%-plus thermal efficiency. Most modern automobile engines reach 25-30%.

Proud parent Toyota adds: “The Prius Prime looks and feels far from frugal on the inside, where a four-seat cabin layout with a full-length centre console running looks more like a high-end luxury coupe. Practicality remains with 60/40 folding rear seat backs.

” It’s a quiet cabin, too, thanks to the sound-insulating laminated windscreen and front-doors glass and the aero shape that suppresses slipstream noise.”

2016 Toyota Prius Prime
IF IT LOOKS LIKE LEATHER, IT AIN’T NECESSARILY SO: And yes, it’s faux, but the front pair are headable and everybody can watch the movies. Image: Toyota US

Driver and front passenger get heatable seats and aircon but with fake leather upholstery; the aircon, to save power, only services occupied seats. The driver can activate the aircon from the key fob or through a cellphone app.

The central instrument panel, a Prius hallmark since the model’s inception, seems, Toyota points out, to float above the facia. Its readouts can be changed by the driver through steering-wheel controls.

The display aso provides readouts for hybrid energy information.

Cabin sound and vision also meet the standard of “prime”. Toyota has equipped this top Prius with its best Entune multimedia system accessible through a new 29cm HD tablet display. Satnav graphics are said to be “simply stunning” while “intuitive touch controls make operation a snap”.

2016 Toyota Prius Prime
BIG-SCREEN ENTERTAINMENT’ GOES MOBILE: The 2016 Toyota Prius Prime isn’t short of comms, satnav and entertainment features. Image: Toyota US

There’s also a suite of Prius Prime smart apps to manage remotely the car’s charging schedule and status, locate charging stations and even track and compare your eco driving skill with others through social media.

The Entune bundle includes AM/FM cache radio (pause songs, play later), HD Radio, HD Radio predictive traffic and Doppler weather overlay and SiriusXM satellite radio with a free three-month access trial.

There’s a USB 2.0 port with iPod connectivity and control, advanced voice recognition and hands-free phone, phone-book access and Bluetooth music streaming. For iPhone users, Siri adds yet another in-car assistant.

In the urban jungle, where hunting for a prime parking space is a sport, the Prius Prime uses ultrasonic wave sensors to measure a kerbside space and then, when activated by the driver, steer the car into it. The system can also reverse the Prius Prime into a perpendicular space and automatically steer it out of a parallel space.

The 2017 Prius Prime will begin arriving in US Toyota showrooms toward the end of 2016. Will the Prime mark the return of the Prius to South Africa? Nope, says Toyota SA, afraid not.

2016 Toyota Prius Prime

SHADES OF THE AUDI  i3 AND i8 IN THE PRIUS? Well, perhaps you can see them too. But whatever, the 2016 Toyota Prius Prime is a sweet set of wheels. Image: Toyota US

 

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