LAS VEGAS — Toyota Motor Co. took the wraps off the redesigned 2016 Prius here Tuesday evening, revealing a hybrid that looks pretty much like a standard midsize hatchback sedan wearing a "Hybrid" badge and crossed with Toyota's new fuel-cell car.
Details were not disclosed, but Toyota executives did confirm the new Prius will deliver at least a 10 percent improvement in fuel efficiency. So look for an EPA combined city-highway rating of at least 55 mpg. An "Eco" model may come in closer to 60 mpg. Both the standard and Eco models will go on sale in early 2016.
Although its design — leaked to the world in a series of spy photos late last month — hasn't ignited a firestorm of demand, Toyota Division General Manager Bill Fay says the new Prius is "the whole package now, designed to appeal to a broader audience" than just those looking for an alternative to a conventional car with a gasoline engine.
He promised that the new model, built on Toyota's new global small car platform, will not only deliver better fuel efficiency and a different look, but will also have improved performance and handling. One oft-repeated criticism of present and past Prius models is that while efficient, they are severely lacking when it comes to driving engagement.
Acknowledging that Toyota now faces the task of marketing the Prius at a time of relatively low gasoline prices and improved fuel efficiency across the passenger vehicle fleet, Fay said the company is certain it will sell well as "a more exciting, better-looking car" than the Prius it replaces.
He would not comment on pricing or on the timing for redesigns of the Prius C compact and Pruis V wagon or the Prius Plug-in Hybrid. Speculation has it that new versions of those models are about a year away.
The 2016 Prius debuted on the rooftop party deck of the Linq Hotel on a sweltering 97-degree evening. It was lowered by cables from a tall podium and then driven about 20 feet across a stage to a turntable that gave the audience, mainly automotive press and Toyota employees, a 360-degree look at the exterior.
It seems modeled on any number of contemporary sedans but with a strong family relationship to Toyota's new hydrogen fuel-cell car, the Mirai.
Inside, the materials and design seemed fresher and of higher quality than in the present generation Prius. But while the new car is 2.4-inches longer and 0.6-inch wider, it didn't feel appreciably larger inside. The backseat headroom, for example, was quite cramped for a 6-footer, and with two adults in back there was scarcely room in the center seating position for a small child.
The 2016 model's sharply sloping rear hatch seems to cut down on available cargo space, although we'll wait for Toyota to reveal the specifications before passing judgment.
One jarring interior touch was a bright white plastic center console tray and white plastic trim and buttons on the steering wheel — an Apple computer-inspired design touch that was reminiscent of the last-generation Chevrolet Volt — and is being abandoned by Chevy in the redesigned 2016 Volt.
One big plus, and Fay acknowledged that Toyota's flagship hybrid needs all the plusses it can gather, is that the new Prius will be the first Toyota to market with a new bundle of safety technologies including a front collision alert and pedestrian detection system, lane departure alert with lane-keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control.
Edmunds says: Despite a recent slowdown, the Prius remains the world's best-selling hybrid. Toyota is betting an even broader cross-section of car shoppers will love the new model.