Aimed squarely at attracting Prius fans who previously couldn't afford one, Toyota is launching New Zealand's cheapest new hybrid car that's$4500 less than its competition.
Priced from $30,990, the Prius c hatchback gains new looks that are also expected to attract younger buyers to the hybrid range.
In the past five years, hybrid sales in New Zealand have grown 150 per cent, compared with a growth of just 25 per cent for passenger diesel vehicles.
"Prius c is the first of the next generation of styling that Toyota will introduce over the next 12 months, and the objective was clearly to inject the mojo back into our design studio," said Toyota NZ's general manager of product planning, Neeraj Lala.
"It's clear to us that the 'c' in Prius c really does stand for cool - this is the coolest car we've seen in a long time. This is the hybrid for people who haven't considered a hybrid before."
The 2012 range also retains its two-grade line-up - Prius and Prius i-Tech - while in June, Toyota will add the seven-seater Prius V.
The vehicles have maximum power of 100kW from the hybrid system, which combines a 1.8-litre petrol engine, a 650-volt electric motor/generator and a 201.6-volt nickel-metal hydride battery.
With a full hybrid powertrain, Prius continues to deliver the lowest CO2 emissions in its class at 89g/km (combined cycle). It also delivers fuel efficiency at 3.9 litres/100km (combined cycle).
Inside the Prius, the Drive Information screen shows average running speed, driving time, percentage of EV (electric vehicle) driving distance, cruising range and outside temperature.
A first for Toyota, the "Eco Drive" monitor incorporates "ECO Score" and "ECO Savings" records. The "ECO Score" display gives the driver a score out of 100 for how economically they start off, cruise and stop.
Toyota New Zealand chief executive officer, Alistair Davis, said: "The expanding Prius family reflects the growing maturity of this technology in the global marketplace and the Prius c sets a new entry point for hybrids in New Zealand."
Prius sales globally have surpassed 2.5 million, including more than 2200 in New Zealand. The revised Prius hatch and c model will be available in Toyota showrooms from April 1.
The Prius c is bigger than the conventional Yaris hatchback but smaller than big brother Prius, the car that pioneered hybrids in New Zealand in 2003.
It is a whopping 246kg lighter than Prius and its battery pack of 120 cells is 12 per cent smaller and more than 1kg lighter than the pack in the bigger car.
A trip of 145km on mostly motorway roads around Wellington showed up a car that will definitely change the way New Zealanders look at hybrids.
The Prius c makes the strongest case yet for hybrid power as a genuine alternative. It briskly steps off the line under electric power before seamlessly linking with the petrol engine.
The ECO Savings mode showed it used $6.70 worth of 91 octane on the 72km run from Wellington and Waikanae and $5.21 on the return trip.
The Prius c might just be Toyota's most practical hybrid.By Alastair Sloane Email Alastair