When the first Toyota Prius arrived in the late 1990s, its hybrid engine was at the forefront of technological development. It may not have been the most stylish vehicle ever, nor the most exhilarating to drive, but it was a remarkable achievement and set the standard for a whole generation of greener automobiles.
Today, while it’s still the market leader, it’s a lead that has been seriously eroded by competitors from virtually every other manufacturer. In an increasingly important sector, that’s not a trend Toyota are keen to see continue. Some serious effort is going into the 2014 Prius to ensure it stays on top.
The Prius “family”, as it has become, has been criticized by many for it’s somewhat staid appearance. There may be many things it does well, but it’s never leaped out of the showrooms on looks alone.
It’s an area Toyota are keen to address and, while details are sketchy this far ahead of release, it’s highly likely that a number of elements from the NS4 concept car will make it to the production vehicle.
We can expect a much sleeker looking 2014 Toyota Prius with a more purposeful stance. It will be less of a wedge shape and more the svelte hatch/saloon idea that is becoming increasingly popular. The hood will drop – by as much as 3.5 inches (90mm) – and the waistline will come down with it. Not only will the new car look better, it will be more aerodynamic. While it probably won’t match the 0.235 drag coefficient of the amazingly slippery FT-Bh concept, that’s the kind of ball-park the engineers are targeting. It will be lighter too. Although the original plan for an all-aluminum body is unlikely to proceed due to cost, the steel and composite version will still shed upwards of 150 pounds.
Of course with less weight and less air resistance you should also expect better performance and increased fuel economy. In Europe it’s rated at over 90mpg, while in the US, where the gallon is smaller (and some would say the tests are tougher) it should approach 60mpg. Not only is that an extra 10mpg over the existing model, but it also ups its green credentials with 20% lower CO2 emissions.
The Toyota Prius has always been a leader in bringing truly practical, everyday green automotive technology to the public. The next-generation Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive (THS) system will continue to build on that reputation, delivering more efficient propulsion that should increase both power, and viable range while in EV mode.
On the subject of motive power, the existing engine will be heavily modified, with the electric motor and inverter also being pared down – though output will actually be increased. Rear suspension is changing from torsion beam to double wishbones which, from a design point-of-view, suggests increased luggage capacity, while from a driver’s perspective it should add stability.
There is one question that remains unanswered, and that’s the nickel-metal hydride versus lithium-ion battery conundrum. While many commentators see lithium-ion as the way forward, Toyota engineers are currently finding NiMH is giving superior power management in real-world situations. If they can get the chemistry right, it’s likely lithium-ion will eventually take over, but we don’t yet know when.
When the first Prius was launched it was with the slogan “Just in time for the 21st Century”. We may be comfortably into that millennium now, but the designers and engineers are far from resting on their laurels. The 2014 Toyota Prius promises not just to continue to deliver the highest possible environmental credentials but to combine it with real driving pleasure. Words like “passion” and “excitement” might not have been part of the car’s vocabulary to date, but it looks like all that is about to change. If you’ve been attracted to the Prius’ green credentials but put off by its style and driving dynamics, you might want to call your dealer and get your name down about now!
Gillian Kearney enjoys keeping up with the latest advancements in environmentally friendly cars. Her articles mainly appear online. Try the driving theory test online and see how you score.
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