All-New 2016 Toyota Prius: What We Know So Far

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2013 Toyota Prius liftback

2013 Toyota Prius liftback

The next-generation Toyota Prius hybrid may retain the same shape as its predecessors, but it's likely to be different in several important ways.

With spy shots of 2016 Prius prototypes now emerging, it's time to follow up on a piece we did six months ago.

So, let's look at all the confirmed facts and swirling rumors about the next edition of the world's most popular hybrid car.

For one thing, it will likely make the switch to a lighter lithium-ion battery pack.

For another, it'll be built in the United States, one of its largest markets.

And according to persistent rumors, it may even offer all-wheel drive.

Shape stays the same

The Prius is by now a visual icon, the quintessential hybrid, and instantly recognizable on streets all over the world.

But more than that, it's an extremely aerodynamic shape, with its rounded front, steeply raked windshield, gradually sloping roof, and high, truncated tail.

Toyota will, if anything, retain that shape and work to make it even slipperier to slice through the air using less energy than ever before.

Some styling cues may be found in the NS4 plug-in hybrid and FT-Bh compact hybrid concept cars displayed at auto shows over the last year or two--but you'll still recognize it as a Prius.

Sayonara, flying buttress?

It may well lose the polarizing "flying buttress" console design of the 2010 version, however.

2013 Toyota Prius 5dr HB Three (Natl) Dashboard

2013 Toyota Prius 5dr HB Three (Natl) Dashboard

While visually striking, that high slash of hard plastic dividing the front passengers made the car less usable, requiring a stretch to reach floor bins underneath it for mobile phones, toll tickets, money, sodas, and all the rest of the stuff we carry when driving.

It's signficant than neither the larger Prius V wagon nor the smaller Prius C subcompact hatchback continues the flying-buttress console design.

Based on the use of a dashboard in the development cars that's very similar to that of a Lexus CT 200h, we're betting the buttress bites the dust.

Lighter lithium-ion battery

Since the very first Toyota Prius arrived at dealers in Japan in 1997, the Prius has used nickel-metal-hydride cells in its high-voltage battery pack.

The chemistry is durable, well-known, and at this point, Toyota can probably build it for less than any other maker due to its volume.

2010 Toyota Prius high-voltage battery pack

2010 Toyota Prius high-voltage battery pack

The current Prius, launched for the 2010 model year, was meant to have a lithium-ion pack.

But in January 2010, Koie Saga, a senior managing director for drivetrain research, told journalists that Toyota had bet on the wrong lithium chemistry--so it fell back on tried-and-true nickel-metal hydride cells.

Still, the inexorable trend in battery packs for hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles is toward lithium-ion cells, which hold almost twice the energy per weight that NiMH cells do.

Toyota now offers two cars with lithium-ion packs: its Prius Plug-In Hybrid, and a version of what U.S. buyers know as the Prius V wagon, which can be ordered with a small third-row seat in Europe and Asia.

Made in America

Another facet of the 2010 Prius that never materialized was a plan to build it in the U.S., in a Mississippi plant that had originally been targeted for the Highlander crossover utlity vehicle.

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