Hybrids hurtin’, but Toyota to forge ahead with 2018 Prius family expanded by new c and v models

2018 Toyota Prius

2018 Toyota Prius

What changes will make the 2018 Toyota Prius different?

Little if any for the mainstay Prius four-door compact hatchback – known as the Liftback – but expect all-new versions of its two offshoots: the Prius c subcompact hatchback and Prius v midsize wagon. That’s our best guess about Toyota’s plans for its family of gas/electric vehicles. It added a plug-in-hybrid version of the Liftback for model-year 2017, called the Prius Prime. And the next-generation Prius c and v are poised to adopt the automaker’s new “Toyota New Global Architecture” (TNGA), which will underpin many of the brand’s future products, including the upcoming all-new 2018 Camry midsize sedan.

The Liftback is the best-selling hybrid of all time and was last fully redesigned for model year 2015. It greatly outsells the c and v, but low gas prices in the United States are suppressing demand for hybrids of any stripe. Prius Liftback sales are off more than 12 percent through November 2016 and Prius c and Prius v are down nearly 50 percent.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

To be among the first to get your mitts on an all-new Prius c or Prius v. The tiny c should remain among the least-expensive gas/electric hybrids available. The voluminous v should remain a surprisingly versatile hauler. Their migration to TNGA will give them a lighter yet stronger structure. Combined with more aerodynamic new bodies and mechanical enhancements, these cars should see at least a moderate boost in fuel economy. Toyota could offer the first look at the redesigned Prius c as early as January 2017 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

As for the Liftback, we don’t see a compelling reason to wait for the 2018 model. It should be unchanged from its 2016 redesign and, along with the just-introduced Prime plug-in, gained some key safety features as standard. Any updates to the styling, mechanicals, or feature set probably won’t come before model-year 2019 — or even later if demand doesn’t pick up.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

We wouldn’t argue you out of one. The Prius line truly has something for anyone in the market for a super-fuel-efficient car. The subcompact c, which was still being sold as a 2016 model in late December 2016, gets an EPA-rated 50 mpg city/highway/combined and starts under $21,000.

The roomier and more refined Liftback has a thoroughly modern design with driving dynamics light years better than any Prius predecessor. It rates 52 mpg combined and comes in six model grades, called Prius Two, Two Eco, Three, Three Touring, Four, and Four Touring.

If you want to curb your fossil-fuel consumption even further, consider the Prius Prime plug-in. It can travel up to 22 miles on pure electric power, compared to the regular Liftback’s 1 or 2 miles, and it rates 54 mpg combined. It comes in three model grades: Plus, Premium, and Advanced.

The v is the most practical of the bunch, boasting more cargo room than many compact-class crossover SUVs. Like the other Prius models sold in the U.S., it’s front-wheel-drive only, so lacks a crossover’s traction-enhancing all-wheel drive (AWD). But no crossover its size comes close to matching its 41-mpg city/highway/combined EPA rating. The v comes in four model grades, called Two, Three, Four, and Five.

Will the styling be different?

Most certainly, if the Prius c and Prius v are redesigned for model-year 2018. Expect their design language to mimic the current Prius Liftback or even the slightly more aggressive look of the Prius Prime. That means a more sharply angled front fascia and a more aerodynamic shape overall. Toyota’s plan is for its future products to be more aesthetically exciting on the outside, more functional on the inside, and more engaging from behind the wheel.

The current Liftback, which should be a virtual re-run for 2018, hits the mark on the first two points, at least. It still looks like a Prius to be sure, but its angular styling gives it a more modern appearance while retaining its spacious cabin and cargo area.

Any mechanical changes?

Most certainly, if the Prius c and Prius v if they get a clean-sheet redesign. Their TNGA platform is a modular design with fewer components than previous Toyota architectures while being up to 65 percent stronger.

All Prius models will continue to combine a four-cylinder gasoline engine with a battery-powered electric motor and continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Liftback and v models would have a 1.8-liter engine and produce a total of 121 horsepower. (Toyota does not publish combined torque figures for its hybrid vehicles.) These power numbers are unimpressive on paper, but the lighter TNGA platform should result in more responsive acceleration, aided by the instant torque available from the electric motor. You’re not going to win any drag races, but these vehicles are more than capable of keeping up with modern traffic, including highway passing and merging. Drivers should retain the ability to switch among different modes, including mileage-boosting Eco, Normal, and throttle-quickening Sport.

The Prius Prime would continue to be a plug-in vehicle whose battery would take about 2 hours to charge from a 220-volt charging station or about 5-1/2 hours from a standard 110-volt household outlet. It can travel up to 22 miles purely on the battery, after which the gasoline engine would take over, giving the Prime more than 600 miles of range. This particular model is unique for its use of an 11.6-inch multimedia screen to govern audio, climate, and navigation functions. Its portrait orientation is reminiscent of the Tesla Model S and Volvo XC90.

Will fuel economy improve?

Almost certainly for a redesigned Prius c and v, thanks to the lighter-weight TNGA platform. The 2016 Prius c received EPA fuel-economy ratings of 53/46/50 mpg city/highway/combined. Expect a redesigned model to improve on these by at least 2-3 mpg across the board.

Being the largest and heaviest Prius, the 2017 Prius v rated 43/39/41 mpg city/highway/combined. Still, that’s much better than any similarly sized, conventionally powered compact station wagon or crossover SUV. Again, expect a redesigned 2018 Prius v to improve on these numbers.

The standard Liftback and the Prime should see no changes to their fuel-economy ratings. Most Liftback models rate 54/50/52 mpg city/highway/combined. The Liftback Two Eco has extra aerodynamic and mechanical enhancements that boost its ratings to a stellar 58/53/56 mpg. Full EPA ratings for the 2017 Prius Prime were unavailable in time for this report, but Toyota claims a city/highway/combined figure of 54 mpg overall, with 133 MPGe, or miles-per-gallon-gasoline equivalent when its electric-only range is included. MPGe is a measure of the average distance traveled per unit of energy consumed an EPA metric for all battery-powered and plug-in hybrid vehicles. All Prius variations should continue to use regular-grade 87-octane fuel.

Will it have new features?

Again, the Prius c and Prius v should include some new features, most notably the inclusion of Toyota Safety Sense-P (TSS-P) as standard on every model. TSS-P, which is included on all Liftback and Prime models, includes radar-based adaptive cruise control that can maintain a set following distance; autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection; lane departure warning with automatic steering correction; and automatic high-beam headlight control. For 2017, these features are only available as part of a $3,335 option package on the flagship Prius v Five model. Adding TSS-P to every Prius c and v should allow the entire model range to achieve the coveted “Top Safety Pick+” award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

All Prius models would continue to include Bluetooth connectivity, a rearview camera, and Toyota’s Entune infotainment system. Expect some models to offer GPS navigation through a connected smartphone app while others would have a dedicated system that would work without need for a phone. Higher-end models would have heated front seats, Toyota’s SofTex leatherette upholstery, and a JBL-brand audio system.

Most 2017 Prius models offer few or no packaged and standalone factory options. We expect this to be the case with the ’18. The Prius c Three and Four offer optional 15-inch alloy wheels in place of standard steel ones for $690. The Three also offers the wheels bundled with a power sunroof for $1,540. The Prius Liftback Three and Four have a $1,350 Advanced Technology that includes a color head-up instrument display. Liftback Four and Four Touring models also have a Premium Convenience Package for $3,055 and $1,705, respectively, that includes front- and rear-obstacle detection, automated hands-free parallel parking, and Toyota’s Safety Connect Telematics.

How will 2018 prices be different?

Prices for the Liftback and Prime models may increase a bit; the redesigned Prius c and Prius v could increase by a greater percentage, depending on how much, if any, extra content Toyota decides to include. Estimated base prices in this review include Toyota’s destination fee. It was $865 for the 2017 Prius family (the company’s destination fees may vary by region of the U.S.)

Expect 2018 Prius Liftback base prices to range from about $25,000 to $30,500. Estimated base-price range for the 2018 Prius Prime is $27,500-$33,500. We project a $21,000-$26,000 base-price range for a redesigned 2018 Prius c and a $27,000-$32,000 range for an all-new 2018 Prius v.

When will it come out?

Release date for the 2018 Toyota Prius Lifback and Prius Prime is in fall 2017.

Introduction of the Prius c and v will likely follow by some months their unveiling at a major 2017 U.S. auto show, Detroit in January, Chicago in February, even New York in April. If the Prius c and v are not redesigned for model-year 2018, they’ll likely appear alongside their hatchback counterparts in fall 2017.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid, Chevrolet Volt, Ford Fusion Hybrid and Energi, Ford C-MAX Hybrid and Energi, Honda Accord Hybrid, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid, Kia Optima Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid

What change would make it better?

We hope that a redesigned Prius c and Prius v will include TSS-P as standard equipment. Even better fuel economy would be welcome. Also, it would be great if Toyota can hold the line on Prius c pricing, as it represents a solid choice for budget-conscious fuel misers.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at chuck.giametta@carpreview.com