Toyota might have been one of the first on the hybrid scene with the Prius in 1997, but recently its gasoline-electric powertrain has been looking decidedly old-hat compared to the new wave of plug-in hybrids that offer long-range full electric running. To bring its hybrid hero up to speed, Toyota has used the New York Auto Show to launch the second-generation plug-in Prius, called the Prime.
Whereas the first-generation Prius plug-in could only manage 20 all-electric kilometers (12 mi), the new car uses an 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery pack to extend that figure to a far more respectable 50 km (31 mi). With that extra range comes an improved fuel economy figure of just 1.4 l/100 km (168 mpg) and CO2 emissions of just 32 g/km.
Charging the battery takes just 2.3 hours on a 230 volt outlet, which means owners should be able to enjoy more time in electric-only mode without having to wait all day for a battery to fully recharge afterwards.
As well as offering a longer electric-only range, the new Prius leans more heavily on its electric motor in urban driving and on shorter journeys. To make sure the car doesn't need the gasoline engine to run the climate control, the Prime has even been fitted with a gas-injection heat pump able to heat or cool the cabin without.
Backing the electric motor up is a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine. Thanks to a large-volume exhaust gas recirculation system, improved combustion efficiency and a raft of nifty heat management tricks, Toyota claims a world-best thermal efficiency figure of 40 percent.
It might seem odd for us to be talking about handling and hybrids in the same sentence, but Toyota claims the car's new chassis has a low center of gravity which, combined with the car's double wishbone rear suspension, provides a sharper drive than the out going PHEV.
The car's 0.24 Cd is impressive, but with the squinty headlamps, rising beltline and dual-level tail lights you could be forgiven for thinking it looks a bit awkward, especially when you put it alongside Hyundai's Ioniq lineup.
Even if it's not the prettiest car going around, there's no doubt the new Prius body has been designed with weight savings in mind. The bodyshell uses high-strength steel wherever possible, and there's an aluminum bonnet and CFRP tailgate to make sure the car's hybrid powertrain isn't lugging any more weight than it absolutely has to. There's even a flap behind the front grille that closes to provide slicker aerodynamics when the engine doesn't need cooling.
Opening a door reveals the Prime's basic dash architecture to be the same as the regular Prius. This means the driver controls the car's infotainment through an 8-inch screen, which sits below two 4.2-inch TFT screens displaying information about speed, range and revs. To cut down on unwanted noise, Toyota has fitted a sound-insulating laminated windscreen and front door glazing, while the car's slippery shape probably won't hurt in this regard either.
According to Toyota, the Prius Prime is the most efficient plug-in hybrid on the market, although we'll be interested to compare it with the new Hyundai Ioniq to see how that claim stacks up in the real world. It will be available "towards the end of the year" in Europe, and is on show at the New York Auto Show, where Gizmag is on the ground covering all the action.