What It Is: Pictured here is the all-new, fourth-generation Toyota Prius that will arrive soon as a 2016 model. But the spy photos of the prototype are secondary to the information we’ve gathered on Toyota’s green, money-printing machine. Whether you read this as an amendment to a Taiwanese website’s alleged info dump on the 2016 model, or this is your first time dipping into the next Prius’s secret waters, we have you covered.
Why It Matters: The Prius has been sold in the U.S. since 2000, and it has established itself as the wheeled totem of the eco-minded set. As the model transitions into its fourth generation, though, Chevrolet is churning out its second-gen Volt plug-in hybrid and the wealthy continue to embrace the fully electric Tesla Model S. Toyota needs to keep the Prius chic and at the forefront of green buyers’ consciences.
Platform: A big part of Toyota’s plan, then, includes a cosmetic shot in the arm for the car we’ve long referred to as “tadpole-shaped.” Style has never been a strong suit for the Prius, and its oddball looks never became endearing like those of, say, a Subaru. For 2016, the Prius may get a longer wheelbase, is expected to be slightly wider, transitions to Toyota’s new TNGA modular architecture, and gains an aluminum independent rear suspension. (The Prius currently uses a simpler twist beam in back.)
Between the spy photos shown here and our own intel, we’ve learned that the renderings published by the Taiwanese website may not have been entirely correct. (Same goes for our early rendering.) Those illustrations depicted a regular Prius hybrid with a mouthy front fascia, slit-like headlights, and a tall, clipped tail; also included were drawings of what was claimed to be the uniquely styled Prius plug-in hybrid, which vaguely resembled Toyota’s odd-looking Mirai fuel-cell vehicle.
As we now understand it, the look of the 2016 Prius as a whole falls somewhere closer to that of the Mirai, minus that car’s hideous front air intakes, meaning that the plug-in model won’t look vastly different from the standard Prius. Some of its extra overall length will be dedicated to a stubby, pseudo decklid intended to fool onlookers into thinking the Prius is a sporty sedan. However, careful observers will note the car still has a rear-window wiper and still is, in fact, a hatchback. Toyota will black out the A- and B-pillars, and the swept side-window profile is decidedly more dapper than the daylight opening on today’s Prius.
The Prius will ape the Mirai’s big, triangular LED taillights, but pinched, somewhat amorphously contoured LED headlamps and triangular LED running lights will be used on the car’s face. A lower intake element shown on the prototype might be for show, as we hear the car’s front end will be almost entirely free of openings, save for a thin cooling slot immediately below the front Toyota badge. Inside, the Prius will offer highly improved materials and a large Qi inductive wireless charging pad for compatible mobile devices, and the cabin will eschew today’s “cockpit” layout in favor of a more open feel.
Powertrain: There has been much back-and-forth over what type of batteries the 2016 Prius might offer. We’ve learned that the plug-in version will utilize a lithium-ion pack as standard. Automotive News has previously reported that the base model will carry on with nickel-metal-hydride batteries; it’s not yet clear, but a Li-ion pack may be optional. Either way, the cells will power an electric motor that augments a four-cylinder engine (likely displacing 1.8 liters) in driving the front wheels. A CVT remains the sole transmission choice, and total system output is said to rise from 134 horsepower to around 150. Toyota is looking to achieve 60 mpg in EPA city fuel-economy testing for the regular model, while the plug-in’s certified all-electric range is expected to increase to at least 20 miles (and possibly as high as 30).
Competition: Chevrolet Volt, Ford C-Max.
Estimated Arrival and Price: The new Prius is expected to debut in time for the 2015 Los Angeles auto show in November. We have no word on pricing, but with gasoline costs and hybrid demand being what they are, it would make sense for Toyota to hold the line and keep the starting sticker right around $25,000.