We’ve learned a lot about the nuts-and-bolts technical advances Toyota has made with new Prius, but the work invested in the car’s design and packaging has also had a big impact on its performance and its practicality as day-to-day transport, helping it tick all the right boxes for motorists in terms of cabin space, comfort and load-carrying ability.
On the outside there is no mistaking Prius’ design heritage, its smooth one-piece ‘monobox’ design is a clear development of the second-generation model. It hasn’t simply been a case of fitting new lights and doorhandles, though. Every detail has been reassessed to help achieve the most aerodynamic design, with the result that new Prius cuts through the air more efficiently than its predecessor, and better than any other hatchback on the market.
This is acknowledged in its drag coefficient (Cd) – the industry standard measurement of aerodynamic efficiency – which is 0.25, down from the 0.26 of the previous model.
Allied to the use of tyres with low rolling resistance and the weight-saving benefits of the aluminium and high-tensile steel used to make the car, this aerodynamic efficiency makes a major contribution to Prius’ fuel economy and reduced CO2 emissions.
Toyota describes its design thinking as ‘minimum outside, maximum inside’. Working on the basis of its ECO-ICON concept model, it has produced something we think looks sleek and contemporary, without being bland.
There are plenty of neat touches you might not notice at first glance. For example, although the car has the same overall height, the highest point of the roof has been moved further back, which means more headroom for rear seat passengers. Even the shape of the corners of each bumper has been finely calculated, to keep a smooth flow of air over the car and prevent efficiency-sapping turbulence. Out of sight beneath the car there is an array of covers and spats, each playing a part in the smooth flow of the air passing under the vehicle.
At the car’s media launch, Chief Engineer Akihiko Otsuwa was particularly proud of the way clever design and packaging has made the interior more roomy: although Prius’ wheelbase is the same as before at 2.7 metres – the same as an Avensis – there is more usable space inside.
The new dashboard design adds 10mm to the overall cabin length, while the front seats have new, slimmer seatbacks that help produce 20mm more rear seat legroom. The boot is bigger, too, thanks in part to the Hybrid Synergy Drive battery being more compact. With seats up there’s 445 litres available, while flat-folding the rear seats frees up a huge 1,120-litre total.
In golf bag terms I’m told that’s space enough for three sets of clubs; for non-golfers we have yet to discover what that means in terms of loading white goods or supermarket shopping, but we reckon it will more than meet the needs of a family of four.