With 2016 Prius, Toyota seeks to lure eco-conscious drivers who’ve moved on to greener pastures

The Toyota Prius was once the darling of the green-car set, but it’s been supplanted by even greener electric cars, as well as newer hybrid models with more up-to-date tech. The current-generation model may be showing its age, but that’s the perfect setup for a comeback.

At least, that’s what Toyota hopes. The Japanese carmaker has been in the process of redesigning its signature model for some time now, and it looks like we may see the results soon.

The fourth-generation Prius will be unveiled before the end of the year, Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz told the Detroit Free Press. He wouldn’t say exactly when, but a fall debut at either the Tokyo or Los Angeles auto shows seems likely.

Lentz said the new car is better looking than before, and better to drive as well, thanks to its lower center of gravity. It will be the first model to use the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform, which will underpin the majority of Toyota models from here on out.

Toyota is expected to give the new Prius a much sportier appearance, in order to broaden its appeal and shake off the car’s geeky image. A complete styling change was reportedly responsible for a six-month delay in development. Rumor has it the Prius will borrow styling cues from the C-HR concept unveiled at the 2014 Paris Motor Show.

Of course, the most important feature of the Prius will still be fuel economy. The new model will probably beat the current Prius’ EPA-rated 50 mpg combined, but Lentz said previous media reports of a 15-percent increase were too high.

Lentz didn’t address rumors that the next Prius may be offered with all-wheel drive, or discuss the fate of the rest of the Prius “family” of models, which currently includes a plug-in hybrid, the Prius V wagon, and the Prius C subcompact.

Toyota has already discounted production of the current-generation Prius Plug-In Hybrid in anticipation of a new model, while the Prius V and Prius C soldier on following a light 2015-model-year refresh.

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