2009 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Review

2009 Mercedes-Benz S-Class - 3rd gen hybrid.


In the 2010 model year, Toyota celebrates the third-generation makeover of Prius, a name synonymous with gas-electric hybrid technology...and by far the genre's best seller.

Prius loyalists will applaud this third-generation effort.  Advanced engineering remains reliable while fuel economy keeps growing.

"Prius accounts for more than half the hybrids on U.S. roads today, "said Ed La Rocque, National Small Car Manager for Toyota. The United States is the world's largest market for Prius sales. Since its introduction 9 years ago, more than 700,000 Prius cars have been sold in the U.S. out of 1.2 million worldwide. 

For 2010, the front-wheel-drive Prius registers 51 miles per gallon in city driving and 48 mpg highway, currently the highest-mileage vehicle sold in the United States. Mileage is up from 48 mpg city and 45 mpg highway produced in the previous generation. Production of the 2010 model starts this month in Japan.  Expect the 2010 Prius to hit U.S. shores in late spring or early summer.

 Prius first entered the U.S. market in 2000, a few months after Honda's two-seat Insight arrived.  While Insight was more of a gas-electric novelty, the four-door Prius hit the heart of the family segment ready to embrace this gas-sipping technology.  A second-generation Prius arrived in 2003. Insight returns in 2009 (as a four-door model) after a two-year hiatus.

What's new?
From the outside, Generation III looks strikingly similar to Generation II.  Some aerodynamic tweaks under and to the sides of the vehicle have helped increase fuel economy, but no one will have any trouble recognizing it as a Prius.  While a pinch longer and wider, dimensions are close to 2009 measurements.  The most striking new outside nuance is the apex of the curved roof moves rearward a bit providing more headroom for second-row riders.  

What's noticeable is what's new inside is. More supportive and comfy front bucket seats join a new harmonious instrument panel layout. The short electronic transmission shifter (which resembles a video game joy stick) is now found in between the more ergonomically supportive, back-friendly front buckets. The elongated oval instrument panel, with three digital areas, is not directly in front of the driver, but slightly to the right and a top the center dash. Steering wheel audio controls are now available in some trims.

For those Prius drivers annoyed with poor rear-mirror visibility, no relief is in sight.  The rear spoiler (longer this year) still features prominently when peering into the mirror. While this design helps minimize the coefficient of drag, the extra mile-per gallon gained may not offset what could be missed when backing up or changing lanes because of impeded rear view visibility.

Gen III excels in what most folks don't see... improved technology.  The higher output nickel metal hydride battery is now more compact as are the two motor generators assisting the intricate process.  Motor Generator 2 drives the front wheels and helps recapture power during the braking process.  The smaller Motor Generator 1 acts primarily as a starter for the gasoline engine.  Toyota has refined, not reinvented Prius technology. The nickel metal hydride battery now more effectively charges and discharges. Although the hybrid drive system weighs less, the car is 100 pounds heavier (3,042 pounds).

More combined horsepower is available.   A new 1.8-liter four cylinder 16-valve gas engine replaces an outgoing 1.5-liter. The new gas engine alone cranks out 98 horsepower and the combined hybrid system pumps out 134 horses, 24 more than Gen II. Trunk dimensions are larger, and an 11.9-gallon conventional fuel tank replaces a bladder-type design that caused some concerns in earlier generations.

Mix and match
Prius simplified mix and match equipment packages...a bit.   A single grade is available in four equipment levels: II, III, IV and V.   Trim III features advanced sound system with satellite radio. Trim IV adds leather trimmed interior and heated front seats.  The top trim sports 17-inch alloy wheels and fog lights.    Once digesting the trims, shoppers must decide whether or not to add any of three option packages: Navigation, Solar Roof or Technology.

The intriguing new Solar Roof Package (which must be purchased along with the Navigation option) includes solar sun roof panels able to capture energy from the sun.  This added sun energy  does not juice the battery, but is used to operate a solar powered ventilation system that circulates interior air on hot days.  Shortly after the ignition is turned off, outside air is circulated inside Prius. This doesn't necessarily cool the car, but generally keeps the interior from reaching triple digits. The solar panel (made up of 36 small cells) is the same Poly-silicon type available in home solar systems.

Start and go
Prius' engine comes to life when pushing a 'power' button to the right of the steering column. It's an eerily quiet start as the electric motor comes to life before the gas engine kicks in. Prius can be driven at low speeds (about 15 miles per hour) before the gas-engine rumbles on line.  Another way Prius saves fuel and reduces tail pipe emissions is by shutting the gas engine during prolonged stops, such as a red light or waiting for a Metra train to pass. 

While a combined 134 horsepower may look like a small number, Prius drivers don't get short changed. The gas engine working in tandem with the generators and battery create a surprisingly peppy driving experience especially at speeds between 20 and 40 miles per hour.

While 2010 pricing has not yet been released, expect the same range as 2009 editions with a starting price around $23,000 with a nicely equipped edition at $27,000.

Peace of mind
Hybrid-related components, including the nickel metal hydride battery, in all 2010 models are covered for eight years or 100,000 miles (whichever comes first).  The gas engine is warranteed for five years or 60,000 miles while most other components get 36-month, 36,000 mile coverage.

Having been on the road for eight years now, Toyota can better  abulate data to measure the durability of the Prius hybrid drive system.  Relatively few have needed replacing, and costs to do so have dropped.  During the first few years, the system required $5,400 to replace.  Today, that number has been cut in half to $2,300.

Certified Used Hybrid program
Building on hybrid durability, Toyota announced this past January a Certified Used Hybrid Program, an outgrowth of Toyota's Certified Used Program launched in 1996.

Certified used vehicle programs gained popularity during the past decade to fill a gap between traditional pre-driven vehicles and brand new models.  Not only do these programs add a longer warranty period, but "Certified" vehicles must pass an array of quality standards to be labeled as such. Specifically, Toyota examines key hybrid components, such as the hybrid transaxle, control modules and battery.

This makes good marketing sense since gas-electric hybrids contain intricate propulsion designs.  Used Prius shoppers now have an extra incentive to join the Prius party; and the party's gaining more members.  Every time a satisfied customer purchases a new Prius, one more pre-driven unit joins the ranks of the 'Used."

Each used vehicle comes with a seven-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty. Most Chicago area Toyota and Lexus dealers currently featuring Toyota Certified Used Vehicles also support Toyota Certified Used Hybrid Vehicles.

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.