PROS Great fuel economy, Roomy interior, Versitile cargo area
CONS Lackluster acceleration, Hard to read instruments, Stark interior
The saying goes, "Nine out of ten drivers surveyed mention Prius as the only hybrid on the market." That's far from the truth, but, to many, the Prius is the most noticeable gas-electric on the road today, and while the Prius may not be the only gas-electric hybrid on the road today, it was the first mainstream passenger car to carry that designation.
Being first has its advantages. It allowed the Toyota brand to get the "jump" in consumer awareness of practical gas-electric hybrids. It allowed Toyota to collect vast amounts of "real world" engineering data. And, it gave Toyota the perception of being a "green" car company at a time when others were hyping hyper performance.
That first Prius, introduced in 2001, wasn't a very good car and it wasn't a huge seller. However, Toyota stuck with it, listened to owners and introduced a new and larger Prius in 2004. That model got the public's attention and quickly sold out at dealerships across the nation. Toyota hopes to catch that same lightening in a bottle with a freshened Prius for 2010.
Prius remains a five-passenger four-door hatchback and still rides the same 106.3-inch wheelbase as its predecessor. It's sized slightly smaller than traditional midsize cars, on par with vehicles like the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, and Volkswagen Passat. Highlights of the 2010 Toyota Prius include new exterior styling, a redesigned interior, a more powerful hybrid system, and better EPA fuel-economy ratings.
The heart of every Prius is its hybrid gas-electric drivetrain. Using a system proprietary to Toyota and Lexus products called Hybrid Synergy Drive, the Prius utilizes a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine (up from the 1.5-liter unit last year) and two electric motors to drive the front wheels. All three are connected to a continuously variable transmission and can produce roughly 134 horsepower when the batteries are fully charged. The electric motors are powered by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack and allow the Prius to operate in electric-only mode in low-speed driving. When coasting and cruising, the electric motors charge the batteries, so there is no need to plug Prius in an electric outlet.
Five Prius models are offered: I, II, III, IV, and V. All include antilock four-wheel disc brakes with brake assist, stability control, front-seat active head restraints, tire-pressure monitor, and dual-front, front-side, curtain-side, and driver-knee airbags. A rear-view camera is part of the optional navigation system that's offered on Prius III, IV, and V. Optional on Prius V are a pre-collision system, lane-departure warning, and lane-departure prevention.
The Prius I lists for $21,000 and includes automatic climate control, tilt-telescope steering wheel with radio and climate controls, cruise control, front bucket seats, height-adjustable driver seat, center console, split folding rear seat, heated power mirrors, power windows, power door locks, digital-media player connection, trip computer, variable-intermittent wipers, illuminated visor mirrors, cargo cover, rear defogger, intermittent rear wiper, automatic-off headlights, theft-deterrent system, rear spoiler, 195/65R15 tires, and alloy wheels.
2010 Toyota Prius V
Base Price: $27,270
As-Tested Price: $32,720
Built in Japan.
Advance Technology Package
Carpet Floor Mats
Engine: DOHC 1.8-liter I4 / electric assist
Transmission: CVT automatic
Drive Wheels: front-wheel drive
The $22,000 Prius II adds to the I remote keyless entry, keyless access and starting, and
AM/FM/CD/MP3 player. Prius III lists for $23,000 and adds to Prius II JBL AM/FM radio with in-dash six-disc CD/MP3 changer and Bluetooth cell-phone connection.
Prius IV starts at $25,800 and adds to Prius III leather upholstery, heated front seats, driver-seat lumbar adjustment, interior air filter, upgraded keyless access, automatic day/night rearview mirror, and universal garage door opener. Finally, the line-topping Prius V lists for $27,270 and adds to the Prius IV LED headlights with washers, fog lights, and 215/45R17 tires.
Options include a navigation system package that includes voice recognition, real-time traffic information, satellite radio, and rearview camera. Also available are sunroof with solar-powered ventilation, hands-free parallel parking, and adaptive cruise control. All Prius are build in Japan and carry a $805 destination charge.
Get Up and Go Compared to the previous-generation Prius, the 2010 model is substantially more powerful. Toyota claims that the 0-60 mph time drops from 10.5 seconds to 9.8. The biggest gains aren't in straight acceleration runs though. The larger engine provides more torque in low-speed driving and in high-speed passing situations. Still, when paired up against other four-cylinder midsize sedans, the Prius feels pokey, almost a little lethargic.
Driver's can choose between ECO and PWR modes via center-console-mounted buttons. In ECO mode the throttle response is blunted, requiring a harder stab at the gas pedal for acceleration. In PWR mode, the Prius seems to come more alive at low speeds, but this is at the expense of fuel economy.
Toyota's also added an EV mode for 2010 that keeps the vehicle in electric only mode when driving at slow speeds. This is most useful when driving in parking lots and in highly congested stop-and-go traffic. It automatically deactivates if the battery charge is too low or the vehicle speed is too great.
Driving a Prius is a simple as figuring out the alarmingly different shift lever and stepping on the gas. True hypermilers will note that are plenty of tricks that must be employed to get the best fuel economy. None of the tricks are too earth shattering, but they do relegate Prius to the slow lane most of the time.
EPA fuel economy numbers of 51 mpg city and 48 mpg highway are impressive and make Prius one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles on the road. In reality, mileage numbers are dependent on two factors: Your driving style and the environment. Given a light throttle foot, proper hypermiling techniques and a temperate climate, it's easy to exceed the EPA estimated numbers, perhaps hitting 58 mpg. However, lead-footed drivers or extreme hot or cold temperatures are likely to drop the average fuel economy numbers to well below the advertised ratings. Still, the Prius easily out-economies all competitors except for the Ford Fusion Hybrid which will likely average about 10 mpg less, depending on driving style.
On the Road Prius doesn't ride like your typical midsize car. The ride is quite firm and there's scant impact absorption from the suspension and tires. This is exacerbated by the V model's 17-inch tires, but even base models ride with an unexpected firmness. Though the ride isn't sports-car hard, it's annoying enough for back-seat passengers to complain on long highway jaunts.
Conversely, the skinny tires don't offer a lot of dry-road grip and there's a fair amount of body lean in quick maneuvers. While not unexpected, the Prius isn't as competent as most mainstream compact-to-midsize sedans. If you are looking for the best handling, stick with the V model as it has the largest wheels and tires. Thankfully the steering is accurate and nicely weighted and the brakes don't have any of the touchiness so common in hybrid vehicles.
Road and wind noise are not as well isolated as in more conventional models. That's likely because Prius has high-efficiency tires tuned for gas mileage than for quietness. The V model's 17s exacerbate the problem somewhat. The engine sounds a bit gruff in hard acceleration, but it cruises quietly and doesn't surge and bog when traversing hilly terrain.
Behind the Wheel Despite a complete redesign, the interior of the Prius remains an exercise in minimalist design. As before, the speedometer and fuel gauge are located in a pod at the center of the dashboard that's both hard to read at a glance and incongruous with limiting driver distraction. Models without the optional navigation system get a simple set controls for the radio and climate control system. Navi models have somewhat jumbled controls that can take a while to learn.
The gear shift remains a flipper located to the right of the steering wheel. It takes some getting used to and isn't at all intuitive. Toyota has toned down some of the techno displays for the hybrid systems operating status, but the readouts pale in comparison to the display in the artistic design found in the Ford Fusion Hybrid.
NHTSA Crash-Test Results, 2010 Toyota Prius
|Front Impact, Driver ||4stars|
|Front Impact, Passenger ||4stars|
|Side Impact, Driver ||5 stars|
|Side Impact, Rear Passenger ||4 stars|
|Rollover Resistance ||4 stars|
Despite its compact dimensions, the Prius is quite roomy on the inside. Front-seat passengers are treated to generous head and leg room. New for 2010 is a tilt and telescope steering wheel that makes it easy to find a comfortable driving position. The seats are soft, but comfortable. The leather seats offered in IV and V models are firmer and more form fitting. Outward visibility is OK, but hampered by thick rear pillars and the twin rear-window setup.
There's ample room for two adults in the rear. Though the seat isn't wide enough for three across, the floor is flat, giving ample foot room. Seats are firmer than expected but still quite comfortable.
Cargo space is quite good, if you don't mind the hatchback design. The rear seats fold 60/40 and there's an underfloor bin for securing items out of site. Interior storage is plentiful, highlighted by twin gloveboxes and a two-compartment center-console box. Unfortunately, there are no door map pockets.
Bottom Line While many compare the Prius with the new Insight from Honda, that is not a fair matchup. The Prius is much more substantial, with good room for four adults. Though Prius can get expensive, it's still a fair value. Obviously, the selling point is fuel economy. Where the old model struggled to keep up with traffic, the 2010 Prius is considerably sprightlier and that's a big plus.
That said, it's clear that Prius is a hybrid from both a design and execution standpoint. Conversely, a vehicle like the Ford Fusion Hybrid is a conventional vehicle with a hybrid powertrain. Prices between the two aren't as great as you'd expect, giving midsize buyers with en eye for efficiency two distinct choices. You'd be a fool not to shop both.