All-wheel drive could help the next Toyota Prius gain traction in snowy regions

Some Subaru thinking may have rubbed off on its former collaborator, Toyota.

The fourth-generation Prius hybrid will be unveiled next year, and a new report suggests it may have an option that’s new to everyone’s favorite hybrid: all-wheel drive.

Powering all four wheels requires more energy, and the hardware adds weight. Neither is good for fuel economy but, in an interview with Automotive News, Toyota senior managing officer for powertrain development Koei Saga said it was a possibility.

Saga didn’t go into detail, but it seems likely that all-wheel drive would be offered as an option, with front-wheel drive still standard for those looking to pursue ultimate mpg.

Adding all-wheel drive could help broaden the Prius’ appeal, especially in snowy regions. That would also fit the theme of the rumors and reports regarding the new Prius that have trickled out so far.

Attracting a wider range of buyers and offering a wider range of options seems to be the goal of the fourth-generation model. Toyota will even offer it with two battery packs, a low-cost nickel-metal hydride unit, or a lithium-ion version.

The trademark Prius styling may also change, gaining some elements that people who aren’t stereotypical Prius buyers will find appealing.

All of this kowtowing is necessary because, after three generations, the Prius is no longer the cutting-edge symbol of sustainability it once was.

Hybrid powertrains are now available in everything from family sedans to supercars, and many of the early adopters that initially flocked to the Prius have likely moved on to plug-in hybrids and electric cars.

Yet the fourth-generation Prius is a very important car for Toyota, and not just because of the image it projects. Its modular platform and hybrid powertrain will be used in numerous future models, so the company can’t afford a flop.