Toyota is pushing its Prius into new territory —specifically, places where seasonal snow and ice have prevented folks from embracing the popular hybrid sedan.
The 2019 Prius will be offered for the first time in an all-wheel-drive configuration, and the new car will get its global debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
The Japanese giant says its new AWD-e system will boost traction needed for driving in winter conditions and will also improve fuel economy. The EPA hasn’t weighed in yet, but Toyota’s figures put the AWD’s miles per gallon at 52 in the city, 48 on the highway and 50 combined.
That’s well below the 52 mpg combined figure claimed by the standard front-wheel-drive Prius, but very high for an all-wheel-drive vehicle.
The new AWD system employs an electric motor, attached to the rear axle, to apply power to the rear wheel on takeoff from a dead stop and any time extra traction is required. The electric motor stands down when it’s not needed.
The rest of the power comes from the same system used by the other Prius hybrids — a combination of a 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and two electric motors.
The battery that powers the new rear-wheel electric motor will be parked under the rear seats and will not impinge on luggage capacity, which Toyota puts at 65.5 cubic feet, with those seats folded flat.
The AWD model will feature some exterior upgrades, as will the other models, which in a complicated effort to become simpler will all lose their numeric names (One, Two, Three, Four) and be known by their grade levels: L Eco, LE, XLE and Limited. The new model will be offered only in LE and XLE grades.
And like the other models in the Prius family, the AWD model will make a special hybrid noise to warn pedestrians and cyclists that it’s coming.
No word from Toyota when the new Prius will be in dealerships, or what it will cost.