The Toyota Prius was a revolutionary car when it was announced in 1995. It was the first gasoline-electric hybrid car to go into production and reach worldwide distribution. Prius is a Latin word that means first, original, to go before, or to pioneer, which was appropriate for the first popular hybrid car.
We will examine the history of the Prius and how each generation of the car advanced, which models are no longer available, and some interesting details on this iconic Japanese hybrid car.
1. Toyota Prius XW10 NHW10
Toyota gave their innovative Prius line a generation designation as well as a model designation. The first generation was the XW10, and the first model in this generation was the NHW10.
The Toyota Prius NHW10 was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1995 and went into production in 1997, with the first models being sold in Japan in December of that year.
The first generation NHW10 was only released for sale in Japan, where it won numerous motoring awards, including Japan Car Of The Year. Some of these early models found their way to the UK, New Zealand, and Australia through private importation.
The Prius NHW10 was produced as a subcompact 4-door sedan, and the gasoline-electric hybrid drive was two years ahead of any other car manufacturer.
Toyota employed similar technology in the electric motor of the Prius to the powerful motors of the extremely fast electric Japanese bullet trains.
The gasoline engine included in this model was the Toyota 1.5L DOHC engine. The styling for this first Prius model was developed by designers in California and chosen by Toyota as the best styling option for their inaugural hybrid.
This early model of the Prius was shown to have some problems with the batteries and electrical power when used in very hot climates.
2. Toyota Prius XW10 NHW11
The Toyota Prius NHW11 was the second model produced under the first-generation Prius XW10 banner.
The NHW11 was an upgrade on the NWH10 and intended for international sales, particularly to the US market.
The Prius NHW11 was launched in 2001 and continued production until 2003. The design of this model was modified to produce more power and durability for the American motoring style, which was typically more speed and longer distance driving than the typical Japanese motorist.
The inclusion of an airconditioner as a standard feature was included in the production of the NHW11, with the airconditioner powered by the gasoline engine.
The Prius NHW11 had a 1.5L 4-cylinder gas motor and a permanent magnet electric motor, with nickel-metal-hydride or NiMH batteries for electrical power storage.
The Prius NHW11 was not the first gasoline-electric hybrid to enter the US auto market. The Honda Insight was introduced to the US motoring public in December 1999.
At a time when vehicle emissions were in the limelight, and car manufacturers were striving to lower emissions, the Prius NHW11 was declared an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle or ULEV, which gained Prius owners a $2000 tax break on their annual income.
The Prius NHW11 was not restricted to the US market and was introduced to Europe in 2000 and to Australia in 2001.
In 2006, Toyota was forced to recall some 8500 Prius models manufactured between 2001 and 2002 due to a manufacturing fault on the crankshaft position engine sensor.
One of the advantages of the Prius, even in the early models, was its fuel consumption. The statistics, according to the EPA, were as follows.
- City driving. 42 miles per gallon or 5.6 liters per 100km.
- Highway driving. 41 miles per gallon or 5.7 liters per 100km.
- Combined driving. 41 miles per gallon or 5.7 liters per 100km
3. Toyota Prius XW20 NHW20
The second generation Prius range, the XW20 series, was announced in mid-2003 and introduced to the American market in 2004. This model was produced till 2009, when the third-generation models were released.
The Prius NHW20 was the model designation for this new release, which showed improvements in its eco-friendliness features, making it more environmentally friendly than any previous models.
Part of the enhancements to the eco-friendly features came from a redesign of the car’s aerodynamics, lowering the car’s drag coefficient. The new body design also saw an increase of 6 inches or 150mm in the overall length of the Prius NHW20 over previous models.
The enhancements to the environmentally friendly aspects of the car led to the Prius NHW20 being crowned with the title Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle or SULEV by the Air Resources Board in California.
The air conditioner in the NHW20 was driven entirely by the electric motor, which was a first for Toyota in the hybrid car market. Improvements in battery technology also saw reductions in the size and weight of the NiMH batteries in the car.
Compared to the total production of the first-generation models totaling a little over 37000 cars, the second-generation Prius was a relative success, with almost 1.2 million cars sold worldwide.
Toyota received some complaints from motorists on the Prius NHW20 due to low-quality lights and associated lack of visibility as well as the headlights suddenly turning off for no apparent reason.
The gasoline engine in the NHW20 was upgraded to a 1.5-liter fuel-injected 16-valve engine which gave significant power enhancements over the older engine.
The EPA fuel consumption figures for the Toyota Prius NHW20 are as follows.
- City driving. 48 miles per gallon or 4.9 liters per 100km.
- Highway driving. 45 miles per gallon or 5.2 liters per 100km.
- Combined driving. 46 miles per gallon or 5.1 liters per 100km
4. Toyota Prius XW30
The introduction of the third-generation Prius, the XW30 series, in 2009 saw the inclusion of 3 driver-selectable driving modes. These included an electric-only mode for slower driving, an eco-mode for best fuel efficiency, and a power mode for enhanced performance.
Toyota further enhanced the environmental benefits of the car by introducing parts of the car made from bioplastics, which are made from plant-based products rather than petroleum.
Photo-voltaic cells on the car’s roof kept the car’s interior cooler and assisted with an alternative method of keeping the batteries charged.
The car’s design was revamped to a subcompact liftback, presenting a more modern and visually appealing look. The gasoline engine was increased to a 1.8-liter engine, giving the car more power and versatility.
Introducing an electric-powered water pump made the gasoline engine entirely beltless, improving the engine’s fuel economy.
The third-generation Prius was plagued by several faults, including software faults, inverter overheating, and safety issues. These problems saw recalls of certain models in 2010, 2014, and 2018.
The EPS fuel economy tests produce the following results on the Prius XW20
- City driving. 51 miles per gallon or 4.6 liters per 100km.
- Highway driving. 48 miles per gallon or 4.9 liters per 100km.
- Combined driving. 50 miles per gallon or 4.7 liters per 100km
5. Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid ZVW35
The Prius Plug-in Hybrid, the ZVW35, was based on the third-generation XW30 series and was displayed to the public in 2009 at the motor shows in Frankfurt, Los Angeles, and Tokyo.
The Prius ZVW35 was the same as the third-generation XW30 but with lithium-ion batteries instead of NiMH batteries. The car batteries could be recharged by plugging the car into a recharge station using normal household electricity.
The Prius Plug-in could drive a distance of 14.3 miles or 23km in electric-only mode before a recharge is required.
6. Toyota Prius Prime (PHEV)
The Toyota Prius Prime was part of the third-generation Prius series and was a second-generation improvement of the Prius Plug-in model.
The model was marketed as the Prius Prime in the USA and the Prius PHV in Japan. The most significant change was doubling the distance the car could travel in electric-only mode. The range increased to 25 miles or 40km.
According to Toyota, the 2023 Toyota Prius Prime is projected to have a 50% increase in the electric-only range.
7. Toyota Prius V
The Toyota Prius V was sold as the Toyota Prius Plus in Europe and was based on the third-generation Prius.
The body shape was redesigned to a multi-purpose vehicle or MPV shape, which gave a 50% increase in the interior cargo space than other third-generation models.
Five-seater and seven-seater models were created in this model, with the five-seater option using NiMH batteries and the seven-seater using newer and smaller lithium-ion batteries which freed up additional internal space.
The Prius V sales ended in 2017 in the USA, and production in Japan ceased in 2021.
8. Toyota Prius c
The Prius c is another model of the third-generation Prius with a different body shape. The Prius c was designed as a hatchback and marketed as a city runabout car, with the “c” in the model name standing for “city.”
The car was intended to appeal to the younger city-dwellers that needed a smaller car more compatible with inner-city life. The car was launched in 2011 as the Prius Aqua and continued production until 2015.
The Prius c was not marketed in Europe since the Toyota Yaris Hybrid was already selling well in this region, and the Prius c was based on the same powertrain as the Yaris hybrid.
9. Toyota Prius XW50
2015 saw the launch of the fourth-generation Prius in Japan, and later in 2016, the new series was introduced to the USA.
The most significant changes in this series were improved efficiency due to technological advancements in electric motors, batteries, and hybridizations with gasoline motors.
Aerodynamic improvements in the body design and a lowering of the center of gravity saw further increases in performance and economy. The body changes resulted in an increase in length to 2.4 inches or 6.1cm and an increase in width of 0.6 inches or 1.5cm.
The Prius XW50 features lithium-ion batteries only, forgoing the older technology NiMH batteries. The new technology batteries provided more power in a smaller, more lightweight package.
The official EPA fuel economy ratings of the Prius XW50 series were as follows.
- City driving. 65 miles per gallon or 4.4 liters per 100km.
- Highway driving. 60 miles per gallon or 4.7 liters per 100km.
- Combined driving. 62 miles per gallon or 4.5 liters per 100km
10. Toyota Prius Nightshade
The fourth-generation Prius received a redesign in 2018 to the car’s outer body, giving it a more angular, sporty look with more public appeal. This car was marketed as the Prius Nightshade in the US market.
A performance feature introduced at the same time was the inclusion of the Toyota E-Four system, which provides the option of all-wheel drive.
11. Toyota Prius XW60
2022 saw the launch of the fifth generation Prius, the XW60 series. This latest Prius generation looks sleeker and more modern and features an economical ride and all the internal functionality you would expect in any modern car.
The range has increased to offer the 1.8-liter or 2ZR-FXE engine and the 2.0-liter M20A-FXS engine, with a range of features in the various models. Some models feature the E-Four all-wheel drive system, and some are plug-in hybrids.
Sales in 2023 will be focused on Japan, where a mix of 1.8 and 2.0-liter versions will be offered, and the US market, where only the 2.0-liter options will be available.
12. Toyota Prius XLE
The Toyota Prius XLE is a model in the fifth-generation Prius series that will be available in the US market in 2023.
While earlier Prius models were viewed with some disdain in purist motoring circles, the Prius has come of age with the XLE. The looks are upgraded to bring the visual appeal into the realm of modern and sexy, which no motoring buff would be too proud to drive!
The XLE is one of the upper-range XW60 models, with more internal features and luxury than the lower LE model.
13. Toyota Prius LE
The Toyota Prius LE is the entry-level range of the Prius XW60 series in the USA car market. It features the same body shape as the XLE, but the car has fewer luxury and convenience features.
The XLE and the LE feature the same 2.0-liter M20AFX gasoline engine partnered with the latest electric power drivetrain Toyota has to offer!
The Toyota Prius was an innovation in car design and engineering when it was first developed in 1995 and brought to market in 1997.
The car has improved with the advancements in hybrid technology and the design genius of the Toyota car company. Toyota will continue to be a leader in hybrid car technology, but it would be interesting to see what the future holds in fully electric versions.