Toyota’s new Prius is the best argument yet for hybrids

(CNN) After parking a new 2023 Toyota Prius and walking away, I turned to look at it. Not because I checked my parking job, but because it just looked so good. Turning around to look at a Prius is seriously something I never thought I would do.

The car’s sloping nose, low roof and sharply angular rear end resembles a sports car rather than an inverted devil’s egg like previous Priuses. It’s a shape that’s clearly spent a lot of time in wind tunnels, but with subtle bulges around the rear wheels and hidden rear door handles, it looks exciting rather than just usable.

Which is good, because hybrids, which were considered modern when they were introduced decades ago, are passé today and are often treated like the clamshell phones of electrified locomotion. Although electric vehicle sales have risen sharply and are expected to grow even faster this year, the market share of hybrid vehicles has remained relatively flat. Hybrid manufacturers could take advantage of the refreshed image offered by the Prius. And it’s about more than looks. The new Prius drives just as well.

Toyota’s new Prius has a lower, slimmer design.

Within its strikingly different exterior design, the interior of the new Prius is more traditional than previous models, but in a generally good way. There’s a large screen behind the steering wheel, right where it’s found in most cars. And there’s a touchscreen in the middle for less driver-oriented stuff. The gear selector is a nice size, a comfortable shape, easy to operate without looking at it, and it’s located low between the front seats, again in a traditional and easy-to-reach place. (Yes, I absolutely loved the Prius’ gear selector, which was one of my favorites in any car.)

Read  The 10 best blankets and throws on Amazon: Bedsure, Big Blanket

Driving the Prius might not be quite as exciting as looking at it, but it’s not bad at all. It feels good on the road, planted and balanced. Even its acceleration – a weakness in previous Priuses – is pretty good. According to Car and Driver, the new Prius can accelerate from a stop to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds. The all-wheel-drive Prius, with more traction and a little more power, is probably a little faster. That’s far better than the 2022 Prius, which took almost 11 seconds.

If it weren’t for the Prius’ mournful, booming engine sound, which is a result of the car’s hyper-efficient transmission, I would have thoroughly enjoyed driving it. It is also comfortable and practical with its hatchback body. There will of course also be truly remarkable fuel economy. The four-wheel-drive model I tested gets an EPA-estimated 54 miles per gallon, while the front-wheel-drive model gets 57.

If anyone cares, there’s a sport mode that makes the steering more responsive and changes engine and electric motor operation to provide more power at the expense of fuel economy. I tried it but to be honest it felt a bit silly. The engine didn’t sound happy at all with this kind of work and the body leaned uncomfortably in hard corners. Either way, driving a Prius in Sport mode is like walking to a racetrack meeting in nurse’s shoes. The Prius is excellent in many ways and this might not be one of them.

The interior design of the new Prius is more “normal” than previous models, but still attractive.

For years, Toyota executives have argued that hybrids can do more to reduce global warming than pure electric vehicles, at least in the short term. This is due to the fewer raw materials required for the smaller battery of a hybrid compared to pure electric cars. But the argument may be partially self-serving, as Toyota has plenty of hybrids for sale and the brand’s biggest foray into electric vehicles to date, the BZ4X, has drawn tepid reviews and been the subject of a particularly embarrassing recall since its wheels came off.

Read  Last Drop: February's Best Beauty Launches

But Toyota’s arguments are logical. And they’re ones that some others in the industry, like Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares, have made as well.

It may sound counterintuitive. How could hybrids, vehicles that burn gasoline, reduce greenhouse gas emissions more than vehicles that burn no gasoline at all?

While electric vehicles don’t use fuel, they can be viewed as a waste of other things, namely battery materials like lithium. Americans have proven reluctant to buy electric vehicles with ranges under 200 miles. But the average American drives less than 40 miles or so on a typical day. This means that most of the battery materials in a long-range electric car are essentially there for marketing purposes. They don’t really reduce CO2 emissions most of the time simply because they are not used at all.

What if automakers like Toyota said the batteries in an all-electric vehicle were split into 100 smaller battery packs and used to make 100 hybrid cars? Hybrids make a lot of use of their batteries, and in the case of the new Prius, it’s a lithium-ion battery of the same type used in all-electric vehicles. An electric motor propels the car at low speeds or whenever little power is needed to move it, allowing the petrol engine to be switched off most of the time. The batteries are then recharged when the vehicle brakes or when necessary by taking some extra power from the engine while driving.

When used in a hybrid, the battery material actively drives real vehicles for miles. Reducing emissions, rather than just serving as an incentive to buy an electric car, pointed out Jason Keller, Toyota’s US director of dealership policy.

Toyota hopes that the new Prius’ sharper looks and better appearance will attract new buyers.

In addition, hybrid cars with their smaller batteries are significantly cheaper to buy. For example, prices for the Toyota Prius start at just $27,000, a price few electric vehicles like the Chevrolet Bolt can match. (However, many electric vehicles qualify for tax credits, which the Prius doesn’t.) That means affordable hybrids could have the ability to reduce emissions faster because they can more easily replace pure gas-powered vehicles.

Read  The Best Massage Oils in 2023: Maude, Chillhouse, More

“If you reduce CO by 50%2 emissions on the big volume [of vehicles] because you protect affordability, your impact on the planet is very strong and very fast,” said Tavares, CEO of Stellantis, in a recent meeting with the press.

Toyota executives like Keller don’t deny that electric cars will one day take over the car market, and neither does Tavares. Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand, is expected to sell only electric vehicles by 2030. Toyota also plans to add more electric vehicles. But they warn against leaving excellent and fuel-efficient products like the Prius behind too soon.

Hopefully the latest version will persuade more people who might not be ready for an electric vehicle to take that smaller step instead.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button