Although details won't be forthcoming until it formally bows in at the 2009 North American International Auto Show in Detroit next January, the first images of the all-new 2010 Toyota Prius have already surfaced online. Equally surprising, the normally circumspect troops at Toyota have confirmed that a series of unauthorized leaked images originally posted at www.priuschat.com are in fact, the real deal.
While retaining the same basic body type and proportions, the next-generation of the world's best-selling hybrid appears to be slightly larger, with a sleeker overall profile, more aggressively contoured sheetmetal and sportier detail touches. Inside, the cabin offers a more contemporary take on the existing Prius theme and should offer at least a bit more people and cargo space. The dash layout, in particular, has been significantly cleaned up, keeping the main instrument cluster at center stage but repositioning the large, multi-function display screen to a lower and much better integrated spot in the console stack.
For the moment, powertrain specifics remain mostly qualified rumors. However, expect the third-generation Prius to arrive packing a 1.8-liter gasoline engine in place of the current 1.5-liter motivator and have an even more powerful electric motor fed by the latest incarnation of nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery technology. That enhanced drivetrain combination promises not only better performance but is expected to deliver significantly better fuel economy, as well. Production of the new Prius is scheduled to being sometime in early 2009 both in Japan, and for the first time, here in the U.S. at Toyota's new facility in Blue Springs Mississippi. The automaker has already confirmed plans to introduce a plug-in version of this new Prius by late 2010. That version is slated to be equipped with a smaller, lighter and even-more-efficient lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery, a component that will also become part of the standard Gen III Prius package as part of its normal mid-cycle refresh.