Twenty years ago, with the Y2K computer glitch reduced to the punchline of the year, technology in another corner took a mammoth leap as a small, unassuming sedan very quietly rolled into Canadians Toyota dealerships. The 2001 Toyota Prius, the world’s first mass-produced hybrid car, had arrived, and it would profoundly change the trajectory of automotive propulsion evolution.

Over the next two decades, Toyota would go on to sell more than six million Prius vehicles worldwide and more than 200,000 hybrid models (including Lexus) in Canada. Toyota Prius family sales in Canada reached 90,000 through 2019, and the model name became synonymous with hybrid technology. (The original Prius went into production for the Japanese market in 1997.)

To honour the 20th anniversary, the 2021 Toyota Prius offers Canadian drivers the latest in safety and multimedia connectivity.

New for 2021: Toyota Safety Sense 2.0

The Prius, which already had Toyota Safety Sense (TSS-P) standard, steps up to the more capable TSS 2.0 for 2021. This latest version of the critical safety system includes:

  • Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection
  • Full-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control
  • Lane Departure Alert with Lane Tracing Assist
  • Automatic High Beams

Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection is designed to offer automatic braking capability, under certain conditions, should the driver not react in time in an emergency situation. Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Intelligent Clearance Sonar with Intelligent Parking Assist are also standard.

Also for 2021, all models but the Prius AWD Technology offer Android Auto compatibility™. Apple CarPlay compatibility was already standard on 2020 Prius models.

The Prius mission was right in its name; it is Latin for “first” or “original,” and can also mean “to go before.” Now, look at all the hybrids that have come since.

The Prius is one of nine Toyota hybrid models available for 2021 in Canada. Others include the first-ever Corolla Hybrid, Camry Hybrid, RAV4 Hybrid, Highlander Hybrid, RAV4 Prime and Prius Prime.

The Shape of Progress

Its 2020 livery gives the 2021 Prius an added edge of distinction on the road. The unmistakable Prius silhouette is still the car’s signature design feature, made to cheat the wind with an ultra-low 0.24 coefficient of drag (Cd). An automatic grille shutter reduces aerodynamic drag by closing when airflow to the radiator is not needed.

Standard LED headlamps and LED rear combination lamps not only provide better light than halogens, but they also reduce energy consumption and give a longer service life. A full-width glass panel beneath the rear spoiler aids rearward visibility while also serving as a distinctive Prius design feature.

The foundation of Prius efficiency is the Toyota Hybrid System II. It operates much in the same fashion as the original hybrid system in the 2001 Prius, but is more compact, more powerful, and more fuel-efficient. In the Prius, the system combines the output of a high-efficiency 1.8-litre four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine with that of two motor-generators through an electronically controlled planetary-type continuously variable transmission (CVT).

The advanced Power Control Unit is the key to extracting the greatest efficiency from the powertrain. In most situations, the Prius launches on battery power alone and then seamlessly starts the gas engine and blends its output once underway, turning it off when its power is not needed.

Thanks to ultra-low internal friction and efficient combustion, the Prius gasoline engine exceeds 40 percent thermal efficiency. The air conditioning system, which uses a quiet electric compressor, works intelligently to maximize energy efficiency, with the Smart-flow (S-FLOW) mode directing airflow only to seated occupants to conserve energy.

More Room Than Some SUVs

The super-low-drag Prius shape is also highly practical. Thanks to its generous cabin room, the Prius is rated as a midsize car by Natural Resources Canada. The front-wheel drive models offer 1,435 litres of cargo space with the rear seatbacks folded down, which is more than in some small SUVs.

All Prius models share the familiar central screen interface, a signature feature in every Prius since the original. The 4.2-inch. color Dual Multi-Information Display with customizable screens includes Energy Monitor and Hybrid System Indicator with Eco Score, Eco Savings Record, Drive Monitor, Eco Wallet, and Eco Diary features, plus displays for climate control, driver support systems, audio system content, and the navigation system.

First Generation: A Huge Leap in Fuel Efficiency

That original Prius combined output of a 70-hp gas engine and 44-hp electric drive motor. A second electric motor-generator served as the starter for the gas engine and also generated electricity for the drive motor and nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery pack.

The first Prius achieved EPA estimated 5.5 L/100 km city / 5.7 L/100 km highway / 5.6 L/100 km combined fuel consumption. The higher figure for city driving reflected the hybrid powertrain making greatest use of the battery and electric motor in urban driving. The first Prius also used an auto stop/start system to shut off the gas engine at stoplights under certain circumstances. Such systems have since become commonplace, including for non-hybrids.

Second-Generation: A Huge Leap in Everything

Arriving as a 2004 model, the second-generation Prius arrived introduced a radical-looking and roomy liftback body, which established the basic design silhouette for the Prius going forward. The clever design yielded the room of a midsize sedan in a compact package, also with generous luggage/cargo room.

A new brake-by-wire system improved regeneration and brake feel. A new air conditioning system used an electric compressor, which allowed it to operate without the gas engine running. Even with its gain in power and larger body for the second-generation model, its combined fuel economy jumped by 12 percent to 5.1 L/100 km fuel consumption.

Third Generation: 4.8 L/100 km and a New Family

The Prius marked its 10th anniversary in Canada with an all-new third generation model, gaining more power and higher fuel efficiency. Its 4.8 L/100 km combined fuel consumption was a new milestone. This generation also brought new models, including the first Prius Plug-in Hybrid, a new compact Prius c and a new, larger Prius v with crossover-like room and versatility. Prius models began offering Pre-Collision Braking and other advanced safety tech.

Fourth Generation: More Choices, Higher Efficiency

Based on the Toyota New Global Architecture-K platform (TNGA-K), the fourth-generation Prius is the most efficient and quietest in its history. The fourth-gen Prius introduced the top-of-line Prius Prime plug-in hybrid (PHEV), and the Prius AWD-e model with all-wheel drive.