Toyota Releases Prius PLUS Performance Package, Rest of the World Asks “Why?”
NOTE: The Prius PLUS package has been out a while now, but this post was forgotten about until just recently. Hopefully you enjoy it even though it’s not as timely as it should be.
The Toyota Prius hybrid has never been synonymous with the word “performance,” unless you are talking about how well the compact hatchback does at the fuel pump. In a seeming effort to get some of that sports car adrenaline flowing amongst those shopping for the Prius, Toyota has announced the availability of the Prius PLUS Performance Package, which can be ordered on any version of the 2011 model.
What does the Prius PLUS Performance Package bring to the table, exactly? A slight suspension drop, a rear sway bay and flashier 17-inch alloy wheels, as well as an aggressive aero kit that actually improves the vehicle’s drag coefficient – not an easy feat for an automobile that already passes through the air with an impressive slicknesss. Power remains the same, so while hybrids outfitted with the PLUS Performance Package might handle better than their stock siblings, they won’t be beating them from stoplight to stoplight.
The biggest question surrounding the introduction of the Prius PLUS Performance Package is “why?” As in, why would Toyota make the attempt to link its conservatively-styled, slow and steady fuel sipper with a sporty image that seems completely at odds with the vehicle’s entire raison d’être. It’s tempting to dismiss the entire existence of the package as a marketing exercise, until you take a closer look at the Toyota press release and realize that the Japanese company intends to introduce a whole line of new TRD hybrid products ostensibly aimed at making it more fun to get 50-plus miles per gallon.
A sporty hybrid would definitely be cool, and such vehicles do already exist. However, performance-oriented companies like BMW, for example, offer hybrid technology that is designed to prioritize power over fuel savings, and price it considerably higher than the affordable compact Prius. The laws of physics dictate that with current hybrid technology, you can have swift speed or frugal fuel economy, but not both. This doesn’t mean that companies haven’t tried to defy this scientific edict – witness the failure of the dull, not-so-efficient Honda CR-Z – but it does suggest that we are probably still a few years away from a truly engaging fuel-conscious hybrid car.
Is Toyota risking the alienation of current Prius buyers, a demographic that by definition prizes fuel economy and eco-awareness above all other vehicle buying criteria? Probably not. Those that want a sexier-looking Prius will undoubtedly make up most of those who check the PLUS Performance Package checkbox on the order sheet, as very few Prius drivers will ever put their vehicles through the paces required to truly test out its newfound handling braggadocio. However, if Toyota’s plan is to start easing its buyers into accepting the idea of a dynamically-interesting hybrid car, and if it can overcome its appliance-oriented inertia and eventually build such a beast, then in 10 years time we might look back on the PLUS Performance Package as the start of a new era for inexpensive battery-powered automobiles.
Filed Under: Auto News