Toyota unveils newest Prius model, plug-In hybrid concept
Small Prius c hatchback will get 53 mpg in city driving.
Toyota Prius c
Obviously, Toyota is dedicated to hybrid technology. It builds the best-selling hybrid on the planet, the Prius. The Japanese giant announced plans to expand its Prius lineup last year here in Detroit with the release of the larger Prius v. At the 2012 North American International Auto Show, Toyota unveiled the production version of the next model in that range, the smaller Prius c. It also unveiled the NS4, a concept car for the next generation of plug-in hybrids. Oddly, though, this one is not branded Toyota, but Prius.
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NS4 Advanced Plug-in Hybrid Concept
What is it? A midsize plug-in hybrid, separate from Prius, to study the human-machine interface and the future of safety technology.
What's hot? The NS4 looks at the next generation of Toyota's plug-in hybrid system, which the company says will feature lighter components, better fuel economy, longer all-electric driving range and better acceleration. That's good because the upcoming Prius Plug-in Hybrid has only 10 to 15 miles of electric range. The NS4 also has a full suite of next-level safety features, including cameras in place of outside and rearview mirrors, Adaptive Driving Beam headlights that reduce glare to oncoming traffic but provide nearly as much light as high beams, and a Pre-Collision system with near-infrared beams to prevent accidents at night. The NS4 features solar panels on the roof, and the windshield features new technologies that reduce harmful rays and fogging, lower interior temperature and help whisk away raindrops. The car's cab-forward design optimizes aerodynamics, visibility and interior space. It looks futuristic and a little pie-in-the-sky, but it certainly is distinctive.
What's not? Toyota has made a big deal out of expanding the Prius lineup but says the NS4 would stand outside that growing brand. That doesn't make sense to us. Also, the NS4's center-stack-mounted touch-screen has the look and feel of a smartphone. While this could be a distraction, we'll reserve judgment until Toyota releases a production version. In the meantime, we like that it can learn driver habits.
How much and when? Toyota hasn't said it will build the NS4, but if it would, the car would likely start at about $30,000. The NS4 or a next-generation plug-in hybrid would arrive by 2015, if either gets the green light.
MSN Autos' verdict: We suspect that a midsize production car inspired by the NS4 will indeed hit the streets within the next few years. The design will be less cutting-edge, but the plug-in hybrid system will be more efficient. We expect many of the NS4's safety technologies will be offered in a production car, as well as other Toyota products.
2013 Toyota Prius c
What is it? A smaller Prius hatchback for the city.
What's hot? The fuel economy. The Prius c will get 53 mpg city, the highest city rating for any vehicle without a plug. Extensive use of high-strength steel helps the Prius c come in at just 2,500 pounds. The light weight and strong body structure the steel creates is likely to make the Prius c fairly sporty.
The Prius c will come in four models, with nine standard airbags. Available features will include satellite radio, HD radio and Toyota's Entune multimedia system, which can access applications through owners' smartphones.
What's not? The fuel economy. Despite being 19 inches shorter and 542 pounds lighter than the standard Prius, the Prius c's 46 mpg highway rating gives it a 50 mpg combined rating, which is exactly the same as its bigger brother. Toyota has downsized its Hybrid Synergy Drive system in the Prius c, and mated it to a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine for a total system output of 99 horsepower. That'll make the Prius c one of the slower cars on the road.
How much and when? Starting at less than $19,000. Due in March.
MSN Autos' verdict: We think Toyota is wise to expand the Prius lineup. The low starting price will make Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive accessible to more buyers, but we were expecting about 60 mpg, not 50, from the Prius c. Using the standard Prius' 1.8-liter four and beefier hybrid components would likely improve both fuel economy and acceleration. Would that have been so hard?
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, and currently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.
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I agree that the Prius needs a couple of more inches ground clearance. I also have scraped bottom when driving in a normal commercial driveway. The blue lights for the dash instruments are very difficult to read on a bright sunshiny day. The sunvisors need an extension for use on the side window. The steering wheel needs more extension toward the driver for those who have short arms. The rear vision is very poor when backing up in parking lots. This is the most frequent complaint I have heard from other owners.
On the plus side, the car drives very nice, and gets excellent mileage. I would also suggest more sound deadening material underneath. There is considerable road noise on the "chip and seal" asphalt roads.
From the Toyota website:
Big Whoop. It's just as well to stick with the regular Prius Hybrid.