The Toyota Prius is a revolutionary car that put hybrid vehicles on the map when it first debuted in 1997. It is somewhat of an icon when the word hybrid is mentioned as it has become one of the best-selling hybrids in America. As trends towards electric vehicles (EV) ramp up and hybrids are becoming standard in all models, where does that leave the Prius? The Prius holds strong in the Toyota lineup with unique styling and a size that slots just under the best-selling Corolla (also available as a hybrid). The Prius is currently in its fourth generation which debuted in 2015 and received a mild facelift for 2018. Recent reports suggest an all-new fifth generation is expected by the end of 2022 for the 2023 model year.
For 2022 it is offered again as both a hybrid and as a plug-in hybrid (Prius Prime). The Prius Prime is available exclusively as a front-wheel drive model in three trims known as LE, XLE, and Limited. The standard hybrid model is available in either front or all-wheel drive and comes in five trim levels known as L Eco, LE, XLE, Limited, and Nightshade Edition. New to the hybrid lineup is the Nightshade Edition that gives the Prius a sporty attitude. Special exterior accent features include black headlight accents, mirror caps, door handles and a shark fin antenna. This one rides on black 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels on the FWD model, and 15-inch alloy wheels on the AWD-e version, paired with black lug nuts. Nightshade adds features from the XLE grade, including 3-door Smart Key system, standard SofTex-trimmed, heated, adjustable front seats and SofTex-trimmed heated tilt/telescopic steering wheel. Prius prices start at $24,525 for a FWD L model and climb to $32,650 for a Limited FWD model. Prime models range from $28,220 to $34,000. Competition includes cars such as the Honda Insight, Hyundai Ioniq, Kia Niro hybrid, and the Nissan Leaf. After a week in a Prius XLE AWD-e, here's what stood out...
Powertrain (+ /-)
All Prius models come standard with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that pairs with an electric motor to deliver a combined 121 horsepower and 120 lb-ft of torque. With an engine like this paired to a continuously variable automatic, expectations for "performance" are minimal. It has some pep for a lightweight subcompact car, but generally delivers a mediocre driving experience. While driving primarily in the suburbs I found the ride to be smooth with enough pep to merge in traffic. It felt grounded and composed in normal driving conditions. Steering was light and it's a great car for scooting around urban areas.
AWD was added to the Prius lineup in 2019 offering a sense of added control and security for owners concerned with traction. The system uses a dedicated rear electric motor to power the rear wheels only when needed, such as to confidently pull away from a stop or when front wheel slippage is detected up to 43 MPH. This automatic on-demand system can recognize when all-wheel-drive traction is not needed and can disengage it to maximize fuel economy.
Fuel Economy (+)
On the flipside of the mediocre performance is outstanding fuel economy. When the Prius arrived with a full 10.3-gallon tank it offered over 460 miles of range. EPA estimates are 51/47/49 city/highway/combined MPG and after a week of driving I averaged 48.6 MPG. Dropping $10-15 at the gas station won't get you far in many cars, but with this one, it easily added 150+ miles of range. It also includes gauges to monitor your driving habits and fuel economy to help you best maximize your range.
Exterior Style (+ / -)
The Prius has slowly evolved since it first debuted as an odd-looking disproportionate sedan in the late 90s. The silhouette of the Prius remains iconic since the second generation debuted in 2003 with an aerodynamic, wedge-like design that aids in directing air flow and ultimately maximizing fuel economy. Proportions are good with comparable overhangs in both front and back. Up front the Prius looks somewhat angry with extra-large Bi-LED headlights that stretch up more than half the length of the hood into the fenders that give it more of "snearing" look than a welcome smile. The hood features character lines that draw your eyes to the center of the front fascia with a blue-outlined Toyota emblem at its nose flanked by a slim black grille. Vertical LED accent strips were added to each side of the front fascia and small round fog-lights are in the lower portion of the fascia.
Around back, the dual pane glass hatch carries on with a vertical piece between and above the lights. LED tail lights are angular adding to a very geometric looking rear. The Prius continues to deliver quirky looks that have aged well with a sporty look to it. There's a lot of new flashy EVs coming that utilize LED lights and other design cues to stand out so the next generation Prius may need something a bit more radical to catch consumer attention.
This is one of a few cars that still come with wheel covers. Standard on most models are 15" covers that cheapens the overall vibe of the car and give it a very rental car look. The basic wheel designs feel like an afterthought compared to the rest of the car. XLE FWD and Limited models get 17" 5-spoke alloys that change the whole dynamic by giving it a much sportier look. And the Nightshade Edition models offer black wheels, 17" 5-spoke alloys on FWD and 15" alloys on AWD models.
Interior Overall (+/ -)
Hopping inside, drivers will face a different layout (but traditional for the Prius) that includes a digital cluster that is centered on the dash rather than behind the steering wheel. Controls for the screen are on the steering wheel and take some getting used to. There's a 4.2" multi-information display that highlights information such as energy monitor, hybrid system indicator, eco score, eco savings, climate control, and more. It has an available head-up display that projects onto the windshield behind the steering wheel. At the center of the dash is a standard 7" touch screen on all models except for the Limited which gets a vertical 11.6" screen. Everything is put together well, but the material quality feels a bit lower than expected. There's a lot of dash to look at making the generic hard plastics stand out even more. Both quality and character could use some improvement for a car still priced over $32k.
Gear Selector (+)
Toyota continues to maintain actual gear selectors which I personally like more than push-button electronics. The Prius places that shifter under the digital touchscreen as if it's a joystick in a video game. The actual shifter is blue which ties nicely to the hybrid emblems, although I do wish it illuminated at night. It's quirky execution that I think gives the Prius some necessary character inside.
Park Button (-)
The downside to the gear selector is the placement of a PARK button which is to the left of the shifter rather than embedded as a gear to select. When parking, you have to hit this button which is not too far off from the power button. After a week of driving, I was constantly hitting the park, but forgetting to turn off the car. We're now conditioned to hit a button to turn off a car, but the way this one is executed it will require hitting park and then remembering to hit power in the same general vicinity. I imagine it's something an owner will get used to over time and it's certainly not a deal-breaker type of quirk.
Toyota has done a good job of keeping its vehicles current with all of the basics such as a digital touchscreen that integrates with Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, and Apple CarPlay via a cord connection. Qi-compatible wireless charging is available in the center console but when connected to a cord for Apple CarPlay, my iPhone 12 Pro did not fit in the charging tray. The system is intuitive and easy to use.
Prius also offers a good back-up camera which is useful because the design of the car creates some blind spots. Intelligent clearance sonar with parking assist is also available which will scan for objects and emit audible and visible warnings to prevent collisions. And with the available intelligent parking assist automatically controlling the direction of steering, parallel parking will be much easier. While you control the gas and brake, IPA helps guide you into an open parking space.
The Prius seats five comfortably with more than expected passenger space. The front seats are comfortable and supportive. There is plenty of head and legroom to find a comfortable driving position. Heated and ventilated seats are available on most models and they worked well. Either fabric or a SofTex synthetic leather material are available. Top trims will come with an eight-way power adjustable seat and heated steering wheel.
The hatchback design gives it extra utility in the form of cargo space. Behind the rear seats is 27.4 cu.ft. and with the seats folded down it increases to 50.7 cu.ft. AWD models vary slightly with 24.6 and 47.9 cu.ft. of space. The wide opening makes it easy to load in or out and the overall ride height is lower than comparable crossovers.
All models are equipped with Toyota's Star Safety system, which includes Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, Anti-lock Brake System, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Brake Assist and Smart Stop Technology.
The standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 (TSS-2.0) system includes:
* Pre-Collision System with Low-Light Pedestrian Detection
* Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control
* Daytime Bicyclist Detection
* Lane Departure Alert
* Automatic High Beams
* Road Sign Assist
Blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert is also standard on all models except for the base L Eco. This system will detect vehicles approaching from either side and provide a warning if one is detected. Also available is an adaptive front-lighting system with auto-leveling headlights which provide overall better visibility.
It's an originator of the hybrid segment that has become synonymous with hybrid technology. Despite hybrids becoming common in all segments, the Prius carries on with a reliable reputation and good value. Fuel economy is phenomenal making it a great option for those looking to save at the pump. It's sense of style is unique with an edgy, but sporty feel. Starting prices are reasonable giving the Prius a great value proposition for prospective buyers.
First Impression Summary:
Test Vehicle: 2022 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e
Exterior Color: Supersonic Red
Interior Color: SofTex Synthetic Leather
Notable Options: Advanced Technology Package ($800) and Special Color ($425)
MSRP as tested: $32,084 (with destination)