(CNN) Toyota unveiled an all-new version of its famous Prius hybrid car Wednesday just ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show. It's lower, longer and sleeker looking, with just less than a 10% improvement in the model's vaunted fuel efficiency. Bigger gains come in terms of power and performance.
The hybrid Prius, which produces electricity to recharge its own batteries while it drives, will produce up to 196 horsepower, 62% more than the current model's 121 peak horsepower. It will also manage to get about 57 miles per gallon of gasoline, according to Toyota's estimates, compared to 56 mpg in the 2022 model year Prius Eco L.
As with the current Prius, the new version will be available with all-wheel-drive with a separate electric motor powering the back wheels.
Toyota also revealed a new version of the plug-in hybrid Prius Prime. The Prime uses more powerful batteries that, in addition to being charged by the car itself, can also be charged through a plug. With its batteries fully charged, the new Prius Prime will go at least 50% farther without burning any gasoline as today's Prius Prime does, according to Toyota. That means it should be capable of 37.5 miles or more of electric-only driving -- compared 25 in today's Prius Prime model -- after which it will operate as a standard hybrid switching between gas and electric power. It will be able to produce up to 220 horsepower, 100 horsepower more than today's Prius Prime.
The roofline is two inches lower than the current model and the car is also an inch wider. More expensive Prius XLE models get bigger 19-inch wheels for a flashier look. Inside, the new Prius has a gauge screen in front of the driver, as in most cars, rather than in the middle of the dashboard as in past Prius models. There is a large center touchscreen, as well.
The added power comes from new lithium-ion batteries as well as a slightly larger gas engine. The new battery pack is smaller and lighter than the ones used before but still more powerful, according to Toyota.
When it first came to the United States as a 2001 model, the Prius -- the name is Latin for "go before" -- helped introduce America to the idea of fuel-efficient hybrid driving. The basic idea is that the car can be driven by electric motors sometimes, especially at lower speeds or when high power isn't needed, allowing the gas engine to be used as efficiently as possible.
The 2001 Prius got a combined 41 miles per gallon using modern EPA rating standards. (It was rated at 48 miles per gallon when it came out but the EPA used a more forgiving rating system at the time.) With its gas engine and electric motor, it managed just 70 horsepower. Both horsepower and efficiency improved over the subsequent four generations of the car. The Honda Insight hybrid was available in America a year before the Prius and got significantly better fuel economy, but the Prius was a more popular and practical car, and it became the standard bearer for hybrids.
Toyota executives have insisted that hybrids, which are less expensive and easier to own than fully electric cars, provide a better opportunity than EVs to reduce global vehicle emissions. Almost every vehicle in Toyota's line-up is now available with hybrid power. There are hybrid versions of the Corolla and Camry sedans and Highlander and Rav4 SUVs. Even the huge Tundra pickup and Sequoia SUV are available as hybrids, and the Sienna minivan is sold in the US only as a hybrid.
While Toyota has introduced more hybrid models, Prius sales have gone from representing 9.5% of Toyota's US sales ten years ago to just 1.4% now, according to data from Edmunds.com.
Toyota has been seen as a laggard in fully electric cars. The automaker only recently introduced its first mainstream fully electric vehicle long after others like GM, Ford, and Volkswagen Group had been offering them. The Toyota BZ4X electric SUV was developed in cooperation with Subaru which sells an almost identical model. Shortly after it went on sale, though, the BZ4X had to be pulled from the market over safety concerns. It was found that the wheels could loosen and even fall off. That issue is now being fixed following months of investigation to find the root causes. Reuters has reported that Toyota is now rethinking its EV strategy.
Along with the Prius, Toyota also unveiled the Toyota BZ Compact SUV concept. Toyota has said it plans to one day offer 30 different purely electric vehicle and to be carbon neutral by 2050 with a mix of electric and "alternative fuel" models.