Prime time for Prius starts soon

Toyota New Zealand finally has a properly new electric vehicle coming to market.

EXACTLY two years on from its international debut in the United States, Toyota’s latest version of the world’s best-selling hybrid car is to be made available in New Zealand.

Toyota New Zealand has confirmed it intends an imminent start to selling the Prius Prime, a plug-in hybrid which is capable of travelling further pure electric power than any other petrol-engined Toyota.

However, citing that it intends to release the model is the only comment the Palmerston North distributor is prepared to offer. It says it will not comment on pricing and specification until a media event at the end of March.

The brand already has a demonstration unit running from its Palmerston North headquarters, but has not said it that is the sole example running on NZ roads.

The Prime is a version of the latest Prius, but is more tech-heavy. Primarily, it has a more efficient version of the plug-in rechargeable petrol-electric drivetrain that has featured in the Prius PHEV, which has been on sale in New Zealand for more than a year.

The PHEV has been an oddity insofar it has been unavailable to Toyota New Zealand as a brand-new car, as it is a version of the defunct old-gen Prius whose production ceased when assembly of the new shape car began. With TNZ keen to get into the EV field, it has been forced to bring in low-mileage ex-Japan used car stock to retail, setting a price in the mid to high $30,000 zone.

Whether that process continues once Prime goes on sale is unclear – the brand might consider continuing with the ex-Japan used car as well, given that the new gen car is bound to carry a much higher pricetag.

The Prime has been a long time coming. It was unveiled at the 2016 New York International Auto Show. But restricted production and Toyota Japan’s decision to prioritise its home market and North America has meant smaller markets such as ours have had to wait their turn.

Toyota touts the model as the most efficient plug-in hybrid to date, with a claimed fuel economy figure of 2.0 litres per 100km. The lithium ion battery set from the PHEV has been improved to provide 35-40km of pure electric range and an emissions-free top speed of 135kmh.

With its more efficient powertrain, the Prime is said to use 26 percent less fuel than PHEV. Combined battery and petrol range is estimated at 965km.

The 8.8kWh battery can be fully recharged in about two hours using a 240-volt socket.

Toyota's Synergy Drive system has been given a significant upgrade with its first “dual-motor” that allows the generator to temporarily act as a motor in parallel with the main drive motor for boosted acceleration.

Like the standard Prius, combustion power comes from a 1.8-litre Atkinson cycle petrol four-cylinder with a thermal efficiency figure of 40 percent.

The Prime introduces heavily accented nose design implementing distinctive quad LED headlights. The back end has a new tail-light arrangement.

The new model also introduces new construction techniques to the family with a carbon-fibre hatch, aluminium bonnet and greater use of high-strength steels. Overall the Prime is 15mm wider, 61mm longer and 25mm lower than the PHEV.

Interior comfort is improved with reduced wind and air-conditioning noise, which has an electric compressor in place of the mechanical version. With the new pump, owners can remotely turn on the air-conditioning before entering.

The interiors is upholstered in mock leather and the rear seats have a 60/40 split folding arrangement.

The Entune multimedia system is accessed through the 11.6-inch high definition display, offering applications and services such as satellite radio, Doppler weather updates, Gracenote and Pandora.

Smartphone connectivity is available for both Apple and Android devices, along with Bluetooth and USB connection, as is wireless charging.

Safety and driver assistance systems include self-parking for getting into and out of a parking space, eight airbags, reversing camera, autonomous braking, lane departure assistance, adaptive cruise control, self-dipping headlights, blind spot monitoring and rear-cross traffic alert.