Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Toyota Prius arrives in Detroit [Live photos added]

It’s the car that started it all. Back in 1997, Toyota introduced the original Prius, which was the first ever mass-produced hybrid-electric vehicle. The car’s name is a Latin word means “to go before” — in this case denoting a car that was the first in what the forward thinkers at Toyota thought would eventually become the norm. Twelve years later, Toyota is rolling out its third-generation Prius, redesigned for the 2010 model year.

For the most part, Toyota is still building upon the basic Prius concept. The car still has a quirky hatchback design, it’s still powered by relatively basic nickel-metal hydride batteries, and performance numbers will likely discourage enthusiasts.
But there are a number of solid improvements and clever new features that will serve to bolster the car’s following and potentially lure new customers. These include a moonroof with solar panels, four driving modes, Intelligent Parking Assist (IPA), and steering wheel touch controls. A multi-information display panel that monitors fuel and energy consumption is also standard.
The first-generation Prius was rated 41 EPA mpg, and the second-generation model pushed that figure to 46 mpg. The 2010 model marks another significant incremental improvement to 50 miles per gallon (combined city/highway).
A larger and more powerful 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle, four-cylinder engine powers the car. Contrary to what one might think, the larger engine actually helps improve highway mileage. By making more torque, the new engine can run at lower average rpm on the highway.
An electric water pump and a new exhaust gas recirculation system also boost efficiency. Furthermore, the engine has no belts under the hood, resulting in better fuel economy and less potential maintenance. The new transaxle and inverter are both 20 percent lighter, reducing the car’s overall weight.
Weight was also saved through use of aluminum in the hood, rear hatch, front suspension axle, and brake calipers. Lighter steel is used in the rocker inner, center pillar, and roof reinforcement.
The new Prius will offer three alternative driving modes. EV-Drive Mode allows driving on battery power alone at low speeds for about a mile, if conditions permit. There is also a Power Mode, which increases sensitivity to throttle input for a sportier feel, and an Eco Mode, which helps the driver achieve the best possible mileage.
Other energy-saving features include available LED low beams and taillights, a more efficient air conditioning system, and a unique ventilation fan that promises to reduce the need for air conditioning in the first place.
The air circulator — which is powered by solar panels — prevents the interior air temperature from rising while the vehicle is parked. This, in turn, makes cool-down time shorter when the driver returns to the vehicle.
The air-conditioning system is also capable of running with the engine off, so the driver can adjust the interior temperature for comfort before getting in the car — an industry first.
Toyota says it listened to customer feedback, and sharpened handling, reduced road noise, increased interior volume, and improved acceleration. The zero to 60 mph sprint takes 9.8 seconds now — an improvement of over one second. Disc brakes are now used on all four corners, replacing the front disc/rear drum brakes in the current model.
Interior space has increased considerably, both by making the car larger and making the cabin design more efficient. The car is 0.4 inches longer and 2.2 inches wider. The battery cooling unit also takes up less space, providing more room for passengers. Rear legroom is further improved thanks to thinner front seats.
Dynamic Radar Cruise Control system is now an available option. The system also enables Lane Keep Assist, which helps the driver stay safely within the lane, and the Pre-Collision System, which retracts seatbelts and applies the brakes in certain conditions when a crash is unavoidable.
The next-generation Intelligent Parking Assist features simplified settings to help guide the car into parking spaces. A backup monitor, which provides a view of rear obstacles when reverse is engaged, is available with an optional voice-activated navigation system. Safety Connect, Toyota’s first safety and security service, will be available a few months after launch.