Since the turn of the 21st century, the Toyota Prius has contributed more than any other vehicle to popularizing the electrification of mass-market models. It gave hybrid powertrains a raison d'être.
Casually, in 2020, the Prius celebrates 20 years on the Canadian market. This Toyota has long been “THE” hybrid vehicle par excellence; a vehicle that could be recognized by its misshapen silhouette. But in two decades, a lot has changed. Hybrid motor vehicles have become common: all manufacturers offer them and their sales have exploded.
Toyota alone has sold over 15 million such vehicles around the world over the past 20 years, and not just Priuses. In Canada, for example, this manufacturer currently offers nine different hybrid models and Lexus, seven.
It's no surprise that the Prius’s notoriety fades. In fact, its manufacturer did not find it necessary to renew the Prius c subcompact and the Prius v wagon, two separate models that added scale to the name. Toyota has even created a new name, "Prime", to designate the new plug-in hybrids: the Prius Prime and RAV4 Prime. A logical decision, since these two vehicles feed a niche in the making.
Perhaps the coup de grace for the Prius was to lose its status as the best-selling Toyota hybrid in 2019. The RAV4 Hybrid is now the frontrunner in this field with 14,246 units sold nationwide last year. The Prius found only 8,696 buyers. But still, three quarters of these cars were in fact … Prius Prime!
In Prius, Prius and a half
The Prius and the Prius Prime are not completely identical. The first is a regular hybrid and the second is a plug-in hybrid. In addition, despite a common design, their aesthetics differ in several details. However, they share the same powertrain. It consists of a 1.8L Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder engine and two electric motors, the first serving as a generator and the other as a drive motor. Added to this is a continuously variable automatic transmission that transmits the 121 hp produced by these engines to the front wheels (hence the term "net power").
The big difference is the battery. The Prius has low capacity batteries that cannot be recharged manually: the engines do. The two-wheel-drive Prius have a 0.83 kWh lithium-ion battery, while the four-wheel-drive Prius AWD-e share the 1.31 kWh nickel metal hydride battery used for the Corolla Hybrid, another attractive novelty from Toyota in this category.
For its part, the Prius Prime has an 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery that the driver must recharge manually using a high-speed 240 V charging station or a wall outlet of 120 V. Thanks to this battery, the Prime can travel 40 km in electric propulsion, when conditions are favorable. This is a distance close to the average daily round trip (less than 60 km) that 89% of Canadians would make to get to work, according to a study published by Statistics Canada in 2016. And what happens when the charge of this battery reaches its minimum threshold? In this case, the gasoline engine takes over, as if nothing has happened, and the Prime operates like a regular Prius, without any intervention from the driver. Then, when possible, we recharge the battery to give it back its 40 km range.
On long trips, such as a Montreal-Quebec return trip, the average fuel consumption of these two cars will be very similar. EnerGuide gives a rating of 4.3 L / 100 km for the Prime and 4.5 L for the two-wheel-drive Prius, which is also given to the Corolla Hybrid. The Prius AWD-e, on the other hand, has an average of 4.7 L.
The integral: the most interesting
The Quebec motorist who is considering buying a vehicle with a regular hybrid drive will undoubtedly consider the all-wheel-drive Prius to be the most attractive of its range. First, because the base price of the two-wheel-drive Prius ($ 28,650) doesn't favor it much.
It even makes it more expensive than the Corolla Hybrid ($ 24,990), which is also fuel-efficient. The two-wheel-drive Prius is also more expensive than a Corolla Hatchback (base price $ 22,050). This hatchback, which is not a hybrid, has comparable dimensions and such a large trunk. On the other hand, it consumes a little more gasoline: 6.7 L / 100 km with an automatic transmission, according to EnerGuide.
Besides, the Prius no longer has a monopoly on its niche. There are now several more affordable or simply more interesting rival models such as, for example, the Hyundai Ioniq hybrid, which has the same size, but a more attractive starting price ($ 25,399), and the Kia Niro hybrid, a very spacious with a large and practical trunk at a comparable price ($ 28,755). Finally, judging by the success of the Prius Prime ($ 33,150) last year, its electric range seems to be sufficient for many buyers, at the expense of the regular Prius!
However, no other manufacturer offers a regular hybrid with four-wheel drive (for now at least). The Prius AWD-e has a high-torque electric motor that drives the rear wheels as needed. The manufacturer explains that it has been developed to activate at a standing start and up to a speed of 10 km / h, as well as between 10 and 70 km / h when the sensors detect a road with poor grip. (snowy or wet asphalt, soft ground, etc.). Light and compact, this propulsion unit does not include a cardan shaft or central differential and it does not reduce the useful volume of the boot. In addition, its influence on consumption is negligible as evidenced by the difference of 0.2 L / 100 km between the average consumption of two and four-wheel drive Prius.
In 2020, however, some buyers might be put off by the gap of around $ 1,000 between the two-wheel and four-wheel drive versions of the Prius. However, at the time of this writing, the automaker tells us via its website that the 2021 versions of the Prius Technology and Prius AWD-e Technology, which have a very substantial endowment, are offered at the same price: $ 32,050. In such conditions, no need to dwell on a Prius which has only two-wheel drive!