New Toyota Prius promises tech advances but details still murky

Photo: 2016 Toyota Prius Photo 1

Toyota still light on specifics about their latest Prius hybrid

We saw the new Toyota Prius hybrid about a month ago and reported on the automaker’s promise of improved driving fun and a bigger, better interior. We also reported the car has several as-yet-unnamed technology improvements, including to the hybrid powertrain. Toyota has now given us a few details, but the automaker is still being coy about specifics.

For starters, Toyota says the new Prius has the highest fuel economy of any car without a plug. The 1.8-liter four has been redone and now has 40 percent better thermal efficiency. The hybrid system (electric motor, transaxle, power-control unit, battery) is smaller and lighter, and Toyota says it expects a 10 percent mpg improvement, minimum.

The displacement stays the same, but the engine is redone with improved combustion efficiency, a redesigned air intake port for better combustion-chamber airflow and lower-friction pistons. Fuel economy is also boosted by an active grille shutter — it opens and closes as needed, depending on temperatures. Toyota didn’t give system-horsepower numbers, but we hear it’s in the 145 to 150 range, up from today’s 134.

Photo: 2016 Toyota Prius Photo 4

Toyota says the redesigned transaxle and electric motor are lighter (it didn’t say how much) for a better power-to-weight ratio. Parallel gears replace the planetary gears in the reduction gear, and the power-control unit is smaller (Toyota didn’t say how much smaller).

The Prius is available with either a new lithium-ion or nickel-metal hydride hybrid battery. While the batteries’ technology carries over, Toyota says it increased their energy density for more power from smaller batteries. Being smaller (again, it didn’t say how much), they’re now relocated under the rear seat, increasing cargo space.

Toyota says the new Prius handles better thanks in part to a 60 percent stiffer chassis. The platform is laser-screw welded, and there are more structural adhesives throughout the frame. High-tensile-strength steel use is up from 3 percent to 19 percent.

Photo: 2016 Toyota Prius Photo 5

The new car has a lower center of gravity. It’s three-quarters of an inch lower in height, and the nose is almost 3 inches lower. Combine these changes with the car’s new double-wishbone rear suspension and hybrid-system software updates for better throttle response, and Toyota says the result is a sportier Prius.

We’ll see. We drive it in about a month, and we’ll bring you more comprehensive details about the brand’s best-selling hybrid as soon as we get them.

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