Prius heats up the hybrid wars

Published on August 5th, 2009

Tree huggers, well-off members of the Malaysian chapter of Greenpeace, celebrities hell-bent on painting the town green and of course civilians that just want to reduce their carbon footprint can now rejoice as UMW Toyota Motors have introduced the Prius hybrid here.

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Effectively doubling up the exponents in the local hybrid vehicle segment, the Prius jumps into the ring much later in the game but with a sturdier portfolio to back-up its greener credentials that will undoubtedly give it the edge in the green rush.

The Prius has proven hybrid technology can be viable, durable and reliable. Undeniably, this altered the mindsets of many car makers in adopting hybrid technology as a mainstream vehicle and not just a niche segment anymore.

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The Prius introduced here is the third iteration of arguably the world’s most popular hybrid vehicle. Consuming four and a half years to cultivate, the third generation Prius’s powertrain is 90 percent newly developed with a host of significant improvements over its already capable predecessors, among which are increased torque that is available lower down the RPM-range.

The 1.8-litre 2ZR-FXE VVT-i petrol engine is mated to a 650V electric motor. By itself, the engine will push out 97hp with a respectable 142Nm of torque. On the other hand, if you run the Prius in EV mode (Prius runs on the power of the electric motor only) you will have 79hp and a massive 207Nm of torque at your disposal.

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If both the sources of motivation are run simultaneously, the maximum combined output will be 132hp. The inclusion of a reduction gear unit enables the torque to be boosted up to an earth-rotating 546Nm.

This is precisely what allows the Prius to stand apart from the rest of the hybrid field. While other hybrid vehicles tend to use a petrol engine supported by the electric motor for wide-open throttle situations, the Prius can rely solely on the power of the electric motor to move its lightweight body if there is a sufficient charge. If the need for further motivation presents itself, the petrol engine steps in to assist.

The Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) is the key to the Prius’ capability to function solely on the electric motor or a combination of both.

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All the power is channeled to the front wheels via an electrically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission. To further reduce parasitic drag, a beltless system sees an electrical water pump used to cool the engine as does an electrical air-conditioning condenser to ensure that the car will be kept cool even if the engine cuts off at traffic lights.

Exterior wise, you might be forgiven for thinking that all hybrid vehicles reflect identical silhouettes as the pen strokes that shaped the Prius do bare a striking resemblance to the Honda Insight. Nonetheless, the reason for that is simply airflow.

Aerodynamics is as important in a hybrid vehicle as the battery pack. A primary factor in increasing a hybrid vehicle’s efficiency is by cutting down the drag around the vehicle. That is precisely the reason most hybrid vehicles sport similar designs, there isn’t really much variation that can be applied to an aerodynamic shape.

The boffins at Toyota have however managed to mould some spectacular looking lines onto the Prius that keep it as practical as it is aerodynamic. In fact, the Prius holds the title of the world’s most aerodynamic production vehicle with a coefficient of drag of just 0.25.

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Interior wise, the futuristic dashboard houses a plethora information display modules that feed the driver with up-to-date information about the Prius’s operations. We wouldn’t exactly go so far as to call it luxurious but it definitely feels very plush to the touch with top-notch quality materials utilized.

Amazingly, the weirdly shaped boot is extremely copious and is able to swallow three golf bags with ease. However, the edge is flushed with the top of the bumper and this might prove to be a pinch of a nuisance as the possibility of things stored in the rear rolling out when the lid is popped is decidedly high.

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Globally, the Prius rolls on specially designed 17-inch wheels whereas the local version will get the less-blingy but just as effective 15-inch drag-reducing wheels wrapped in specifically designed Goodyear or Yokohama tyres.

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Thus far, there are in access of 1.2-million units of the Prius rolling around on the roads of 44 countries. Over 200,000 units of the third generation model have already been booked in Japan. For the local market this year however, UMW Toyota Motors are setting a modest sales target of 100 units.

These numbers are very much achievable considering that the competition, the Honda Civic Hybrid has chalked up numbers in excess of 150 units locally so far.

Taking advantage of the government’s waiver on import duty and 50 per cent exemption on excise duty for hybrid vehicles below 2,000cc, UMW Toyota Motors have priced the Prius at a rather steep but still reasonable RM175,000 (OTR w/o insurance).

The Prius will be available in showrooms from 7th August onwards for viewing. It would be wise to take note that as of now, only the service centres in Subang Jaya and Cheras are able to carry out maintenance work on the Prius.

text & pix: Dinesh Appavu

 

 

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