TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. has finally pulled the wraps off its fourth-generation Prius hybrid, after pushing back the launch sixth months to tweak its styling, among other things.
Are the car’s more dynamic looks worth the wait?
Remember, at a key milestone meeting in 2013, Mitsuhisa Kato, Toyota’s executive vice president for r&d, said the proposed design didn’t cut it. He ordered Prius chief engineer Kouji Toyoshima to try again. The rework finally got the, green light in April 2014.
Early media reaction to the car’s unveiling this week in Las Vegas has been largely positive.
And to be sure, Toyota’s design team delivered a much flashier car. From the rear’s heavily creased tailfins to the wincing, knife-slit headlamps, the new Prius oozes attitude.
It’s an important course correction for the nameplate after three generations of meandering.
The squat, bulbous first-generation was arguably the most mainstream. But back at its launch in 1997, simply going electric was avant-garde enough. Styling didn’t need to hammer it home.
With the second generation, Toyota broke the mold. Its triangular silhouette and clean futuristic sheet metal set the standard for what a green car should be. Sure, it wasn’t pulse-pumping. But it turned plenty of heads because when you saw it coming, there was no doubt it was a Prius.
The main drawback, however, was the quirky styling only underlined its dowdy handling.
Toyota revamped it again for the third iteration. Its raked windshield, wedge-shaped profile and sportier back end helped energize the looks while staying true to its green persona.
Enter the fourth generation -- Toyota is going for gusto.
Indeed, Toyota says the longer, lower, sleeker Prius is “inspired by a runner in the starting blocks.” It “has never had such a powerful presence,” the company said.
Toyota may have made even bigger strides on styling than environmental performance. It has yet to release powertrain details, but promised a 10 percent improvement in fuel economy.
But frumpy design was only part of the Prius’ problems. Critics ding it just as often -- and perhaps more -- for dull driving, part and parcel with its super-efficient Atkinson-cycle engine.