Toyota commits to Prius despite hybrid takeover

Toyota commits to Prius despite hybrid takeover

Toyota New Zealand says it is committed to selling the Prius in New Zealand as its flagship hybrid – despite mainstream model hybrids eating into its market.

Prius sales peaked in New Zealand in 2009 with 422 sold. The next year with the launch of the Camry Hybrid, sales went into decline, falling as low as a claimed 28 – NZTA statistics say 22 – units last year.

Toyota NZ general manager of sales Steve Pragnell says their new generation Prius, launched in New Zealand last week, will rebuild sales for the model.

2016 Prius GX Exterior in Glacier White - front third profile departing a driveway on a rural road“I would like to do 200 (this year),” Prangnell told a small group of media in Palmerston North. “This Prius has a far broader appeal than those before.”

But it will have competition from within. It is outsold heavily by the Camry Hybrid and Prius C – and there are more to come.

Toyota confirmed last month a Corolla Hybrid is on the cards for launch later this year, completing the mainstream passenger car segments as far as the technology is concerned. SUVs will get the technology next. RAV4 is likely to be first, although 2016 Prius GX Exterior in Glacier White - rear three quarterthe Highlander is also available as an SUV in its source market, the United States.

“It is a likely candidate,” Toyota NZ general manager of customer services Spencer Morris says of the RAV4.

Toyota has some catching up to do to its luxury brother Lexus. Around 5% of its sales are hybrid compared to 50% for the L-brand.

But despite the move to mainstream the technology, and the impact on the car that started it all, the commitment is that the Prius will stay as the hybrid flagship – and Prangnell can’t see that changing.

Coloured 7 inch screen with reversing camera display with moving guidelines 1He notes New Zealand is behind overall on hybrid ownership, down to our cheap fuel and lack of incentives.

Prius, he notes, needs to not just be seen as a ‘green’ option.

“We need customers to see this as an economical choice rather than just the environmental option.”

The fourth generation Prius is a full redesign from the last generation, other than elements of the drive train, which is largely reengineered.

It is the first Toyota under the ‘Toyota New Global Architecture’ (TNGA) programme, which will become the basis of almost all Toyota passenger cars in the long term.

While technically only two models are on offer, there is really the choice of three – a GX at $47,490, with a GX Touring ‘package’ for $49,990, and the ZR, which replaces the outgoing Prius i-Tech at $54,990.

In ideal conditions, the 2016 Prius can attain a combined fuel economy of 3.4 litres/100 kms compared to the out-going model’s 3.9 litres/100kms. There is also a new feature on board called ECO Score which will rate your driving style and give the driver tips to improve fuel economy.Generous space offered for passengers with updated interior with black soft touch panels, black fabric and piano white accents

The new styling, which will certainly polarise, gives the car the lowest drag of any offered new here – a Cd of 0.24.

The 1.8-litre engine has been revised to reduce friction, while the hybrid package has been made smaller and lighter. The engine battery has been moved from the luggage area to the engine bay and the hybrid batteries have been moved under the rear seat to free up more boot space and help contribute to the lower centre of gravity assisting the improved driving dynamics.

Rear seat with updated black fabrics and a fold down centre seat offering compartments for two cup holdersOverall packaging puts occupants slightly lower – opening up perceived space.

The 1.8-litre Atkinson cycle engine now uses a clever dual cooling system – a separate system generates cabin heat from the engine than the main cooling system, allowing the engine to warm up quicker and be more thermally efficient. Toyota claims thermal efficiency from the unit is 40%, the best in production.

Black upholstery, fabric for GX grades and natural leather seat facings for ZR, are about the most conventional thing in a cabin that features streaks of white plastic highlights.

Wireless charging is also available for Qi compatible devices on the centre console’s dedicated charging pad and for the first time for a Toyota model, the new Prius receives a colour head-up display.

All models get an extensive safety package, including the Toyota ‘Safety Sense’ package of a pre-crash system, lane departure alert, all-speed dynamic radar cruise control and automatic high Beam on top of seven airbags and the usual suite of driver assists.

The ZR gains bling-spot monitoring and rear cross alert.

Standard across the range is a 7” JBL Premium Audio system and control screen with 10-speakers, while two 4.2” screens act as a dash cluster.Versatile cargo area with adjustable parcel tray. More space offered due to revised battery placement and a back door which opens vertically for easier access.

Standard features on the GX model include 15” alloy wheels – oddly covered by a plastic wheel trims – and 195/65 R15 tyres, daytime running lights, an engine immobiliser with wireless remote central locking and Smart Key, climate control air conditioning, electric adjustable lumbar support on the driver’s seat, 60:40 split folding rear seats which can extend the boot capacity from 457 litres to 1507 litres, LED front fog lights and rain sensing variable intermittent wipers and an illuminated entry system which includes the map, step and main interior lights.Supportive driver's seat with lumbar support in black fabric with a urethane steering wheel offset by a striking white centre console

The Touring Package available on the GX adds a leather steering wheel, Satellite Navigation and 17” alloy wheels with lower profile 215/45 R17 tyres.

The ZR includes the Touring Package features and adds leather upholstery, eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat, dual-zone driver’s and front passenger seat heaters, Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.

2016 Prius ZR in Pursuit Red Exterior - front three quarter, grunge graffiti setting

Drive

Auto Media Group had the chance to drive the Prius last week on a lower-North Island run from Toyota New Zealand headquarters via the Wairarapa to Wellington.

While hardly the Prius’s natural environment, the car impressed, and demonstrated it has changed significantly in nature.

The interior feels roomier and almost sporty. Some may see that as a negative as the outgoing I-tech felt slightly more luxurious. I am not sure about the bright-white plastic trim of the centre console, and are glad TNZ did not take the full-white option available in some markets.

While previously in a Prius, and most hybrids, you got a distinct sense of where your power was coming from, the updated drivetrain and transmission makes it difficult to tell. Power delivery is more linear, and the petrol more muted, only making itself significantly known when the car was being pushed to climb the steep Rimutaka Hill road.

Dare we say this hybrid has ‘fun’ handling. Its eagerness to turn in is impressive and rides incredibly well while keeping roll in control. Its no sports car, but nor will you be avoiding the twisty section.

Was it economical? We pushed the Prius reasonably hard all day and returned it claiming 5-litres for 100 km of driving. Not the claimed use, but in context, not bad.

– Read more from the Prius launch online this week, and in AutoTalk magazine, out Friday.

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