2011 Toyota Prius Driving
Peter Neilson's picture

Your Toyota Prius Has Serious Boost

If you were to ask most people what the first word they think of is when they hear Toyota Prius, it would probably be slow. What most people do not know is that your Prius was engineered to have boost, in order to make it faster, but maybe not in the way you think.
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The Toyota Prius has a stigma, and one that has really deceived people more than anything. When Prius Generation 1 rolled off the boat into the U.S. It was a slow yet fuel efficient car that did not really turn many heads. Most writers that went and drove it, gave Prius some serious hate initially claiming it to be slow and very lackluster.

They were right. Gen 1 Toyota Prius Prius was seriously anything but exciting, and because of this it earned a stigma pretty quick that all subsequent models were just as awful as the first. The thing is, Toyota had already been gathering data to make Prius better, most people just did not know it.

One of those really neat tech upgrades second generation received was boost. Just not in the way you think, but a better way. First you have to know why first gen Prius earned the badge of slow, then this will all begin to make sense.

Eat My Voltage, Maybe

First Generation Toyota Prius, the "before" Prius that changed our lives did this in many ways. Prius massively cleaned up tail pipe emissions and reduced fuel consumption in a way no one had ever seen before. It was the ultimate "eco" car and people quickly caught on to them, and how slow they were.

Prius in that time had a high voltage battery that touted a little over 300 volts of electric motor pounding fury. It was really peppy and great, until the power ran out like when going up a hill. Prius only had about 58 horsepower with out the aid of the hybrid battery and if you were out cruising around the mountains with your friends, you may encounter the dreaded turtle mode.

This mode meant that you only could use the gas motor because you had exhausted all the useable energy in the high voltage battery. Journalists quickly deemed Prius slow and this was due to the fact that we only had 300 volts of power to work with, so if it was gone the little engine that could, barely could, and that was bad. Even though they were super futuristic, this was just a limitation they had.

Prius just could not make up for its lack of power in the first years due to it not being able to have the boost it needed to have. Until today.

I Will Take Boost With A Side Of Boost Please.

What we are not told as consumers really what makes the differences in our vehicles. All we know is it either works or it does not. Toyota, however, I believe had the foresight to be able to see that gen 1 Prius was not going to be the end all of hybrids. They used gen 1 to gather data to then make a far superior car we all know and love today, Generation 2.

What really makes gen 2 so good though? Why did it build a cult following of Prius owners? It was because even though Toyota utilized some of the same powertrain components from the previous generation, they improved on them. They improved the horsepower output of both the gasoline engine, and the motor generators. Torque was also improved as well. but what really made the difference is the performance aspect. Gen 2 dominated gen 1, and there was no longer a turtle to slow you down.

Watch how Toyota is using a new SIC technology to improve Prius mileage and click to subscribe to Torque News Youtube channel for daily Toyota and Automotive news analysis.

What Toyota had done to Prius to make this generation better, was to think about what the car actually needed to compete with a regular gasoline counterpart. The answer? A boost converter. This is why the Toyota Prius you are driving actually gets up and boogies down the road. Instead of having only 300 volts on tap in a large heavy hybrid battery, Toyota actually made a smaller and lighter battery with the a neat feature called a boost converter. It literally is almost like having a turbo on your vehicle that spools up instantly and gives you more power on demand. So now your Prius can get 650V instead increasing performance and saving the battery.

Toyota was not only able to reduce the overall battery size and voltage, but they were also able to utilize that power better, giving Prius better MPG, lower tail pipe emissions, and something that it really needed, performance. Boost converters are found on all hybrids now because they are needed to make them more efficient.

Conclusion

A Toyota Prius may still have a stigma to some people, but knowing what I know now about all the cool tech that has made up this little car, I am forever a Prius owner. Plus it is cool to think that I get instant boost on my car where others still are waiting for spool.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading about new Prius Technology. Check out my other story 3 Top Tire Brands You Should Consider For Your Toyota Prius to find even more ways to make that fuel sipper go the extra mile.

Also Watch New tech means more MPG from your Toyota Prius and Click to Subscribe to Torque News Youtube Channel for Daily Toyota Prius and Automotive News.

Peter Neilson is an automotive consultant specializing in electric cars and hybrid battery technologies. He is an automotive technology instructor at Columbia Basin College. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Automotive Service Technology from Weber State University. Peter can be reached on Linkedin and at Certified Consulting


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Comments

Great article and very informative!
As an electrical engineer, I can attest that this article is completely incorrect. The author confuses very basic concepts such as battery voltage and battery power. The battery voltage has nothing to do with battery power. Power is not measured in Volts. It is measured in Watts or Kilowatts. Boosting battery voltage to 650 volts doesn't increase battery power. And I'm sorry but the boost converter does not (quoting the author here) "instantly gives you more power on demand". Using authors incorrect logic we can replace Prius battery with a flashlight AA battery. Just add a boost converter that will increase battery voltage to 1000V and Voila! We get a formula one Prius! After all, per the author's logic, higher voltage means more power. When someone gets zapped by static electricity the voltage gets up to 20,000 volts. Following the author's train of thought, it means even more power, and the next generation of hybrids can be powered by static electricity. Just rub a plastic ball with a wool sock and get an instant power boost of 20,000 volts before climbing this hill! The author claims that he is an automotive consultant and a technology instructor who teaches students. I feel bad for the author's clients and his students.
Well, thanks for the input but that is what a boost converter does. It does boost the voltage up from 201.6 to 600+ depending on which Prius generation it is. While true power is measured in kilowatts or watts, as any good instructor knows the job of the boost converter is to aid in heavy acceleration while minimizing losses from the high voltage battery. Stick with electrical engineering, is mechanics fix all your mistakes anyway.
I'm glad we agreed that true power is not measured in volts. it also implies that only fake power is measured in volts. Or better yet, people who don't have a clue what they talking about use voltage for power measurements. Would you please cite any reliable sources apart tribal knowledge of good instructors that a boost converter aids in heavy acceleration? Let's start with physics. Power is calculated by the following formula. P=V*I Where: P is power measured in kWh V is voltage measured in Volts I is a current measured in Ameres To get higher power, engineers can whether to increase a voltage or a current. Both approaches have pros and cons. If the voltage is relatively low a huge current is required to get the needed power. That’s not great, because a high current means a large power loss in the control electronics, and it means that really fat wiring needed to carry that current around the car, which makes it heavy. A very high voltage will require a low current to obtain the desired power. Now, it could be a relatively thin, light wires, which result in less power in the switching electronics. But now, other problems will arise. Such high voltages make insulation difficult (particularly in damp automotive environments), and they’re more of a safety risk. In addition, it’s much more difficult (=expensive) to design electronics that switch at very high voltages. The high voltages tend to break down the components. The result is a compromise to keep the voltage up and current down (to avoid too much loss of energy in the control electronics, and to keep the wiring light and thin), without making the voltage so high that it causes insulation and safety issues, or makes the control electronics too difficult/expensive.
To summarize: The voltage boost converter is not a magical power booster. It is an engineering trick that allows delivering more power from the battery to the electric motor. The reason for using the boost converter is to making voltage switching more efficient and to minimize switching power loss in the inverter.