2010 Toyota Prius
The Toyota Prius has long been considered the frontrunner in this decade’s automotive eco technologies race. The current generation has already gained worldwide popularity, and the newest iteration doesn't disappoint. Even with the improved suspension and steering, the drive still feels like a non-too-sporty hybrid car, but that shouldn't bother 99.8 percent of interested buyers. What does matter is that Toyota listened to complaints about limited rear head and legroom, about an uncomfortable driver's position and about the unusual fuel tank setup – and changed it all. They didn’t stop there. The entire Prius, starting with the exterior design and culminating with decidedly vital alterations to the level of interior comfort – like a tilting and telescoping steering wheel! – have improved an already successful car. But its pièce de résistance
are the fuel economy numbers, which have hit the magic 50 mpg mark thanks to cutting-edge aerodynamic feats and a 90 percent new hybrid synergy system. Now all it needs is a set of solar panels. Oh wait, it has those too.
What's to Like
Little adjustments to the seating make for big improvements in comfort, and the larger engine means passing slow moving trucks is actually a viable option. Always a leader in the green movement the Prius is now offered with a solar panel roof, which cools the interior for enhanced efficiency.
What's Not to Like
Steering is as vague as ever – despite it being more effectively weighted now. The heads-up display strip is information overload. It’s enough of a distraction to see animated gauges and bars in constant motion, but the text is sometimes just difficult to read as well. Those who need reading glasses will have trouble navigating through it all.
DriverSide Driving Impressions
Two key changes have made the Prius marginally more enjoyable to drive than the last model. A larger engine improves acceleration and a Power mode button can be pressed to quicken throttle response – because when you're late for that meeting, sometimes mileage isn't your primary focus. ECO mode was developed with the exact opposite goals in mind. It primarily derives power from the hybrid motor, only allowing the gas engine to kick in when truly needed and seriously diminishing all throttle response. Hypermilers
, are you paying attention? If you like the idea of ECO mode, you'll love EV mode, which will solely use the hybrid motor up to 25 mph – even when swift acceleration occurs. There are now disc brakes on all four wheels, but with the overwhelming influence of the regenerative brakes, slowing to a stop still feels like there’s a Driver's Ed instructor riding a second pedal. The folks at Toyota say the suspension has been firmed up. Maybe so, but it’s still too sloppy around corners for our liking. Eco lovers though, may not notice the sloppiness.
Engine and Drivetrain
A 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and Toyota’s newly revamped Hybrid Synergy Drive with a nickel-metal hydride battery moves the Prius down the road. Together, they produce 134 horsepower – just enough to counteract the added weight of the hybrid system. It drives just the front wheels and regenerates battery power during braking and when the gas engine is active.
Interesting Vehicle Features and Options
The optional rooftop solar panel is really the star of the show. Right now it doesn’t produce enough juice to do much of anything except power a fan to cool the interior while you're running errands on a sunny day. But, once again, this is the innovation that stands out. Remote control air conditioning – the first of its kind – cools down the interior for a maximum of three minutes before you set foot in the Prius, all from a touch of the key fob. Denizens of the Snow Belt can skip that option box; instead find the model that includes heated front seats.
Key Technology Evaluation
The tech features on the Prius aim to reduce the need for driver input. Radar-based cruise control varies the car’s speed depending on surrounding traffic. Lane Departure Warning (something usually found only on high-end vehicles) beeps to let the driver know if the car is drifting out of the lane and will even correct the error if necessary. A Lexus-first innovation – sonar-supported park assist – will literally parallel park your car while you man the brakes. Though by the time you've lined up just so, you may as well have parked it yourself.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
The PZEV emissions-rated Prius defined the green evolution so it's only natural that they've improved on their already impressive eco-friendliness. With a reduced coefficient of drag and some neat – and highly technical – energy-saving innovations, the Prius kills the competition with 50 mpg city and 49 highway, despite its larger engine. Three driving modes maximize fuel economy, and the cautious driver shouldn't have a problem seeing mileage in the upper 50s or lower 60s.
A Closer Look: Vehicle Details
With an estimated $3-4,000 premium over the Honda Insight
, the Prius should have made major improvements to the interior. Not so. Cheap plastics and cloths swathe every surface, and scratches show up clearly on the dash. The styling cues are clean though, with strong lines and updated ergonomics. The cluttered heads-up display is now featured prominently in the middle of the dash, instead of directly in front of the driver. These emit less CO2 during the production-to-end-of-life cycle. The driver’s seat cushion, door scuff plates and rear luggage plate are made out of bio-plastics now, which emit less CO2 over their lifetime and are more easily recyclable than the previously-used materials.
Most of the exterior changes reflect a concern for improving aerodynamics. The front grille is smaller to let in less air. The front and rear bumpers have been angled more severely and the beltline is more pronounced, all to allow for more directed airflow. Overall styling returns the Prius to a more ‘Toyota’-influenced look.
Market Segment and Pricing
Exact MSRP remains a mystery as of now, but we're assuming a range of $22-23,000 – very similar to current pricing. The Insight
– starting at $19,800 certainly throws a wrench in Toyota's plans for world domination, though the full hybrid setup and large lineup of tech options should keep buyers flocking to dealerships. Other cross-shops include the $21,900 Volkswagen Jetta TDI
and $22,600 Honda Civic Hybrid
What We Think
Make no mistake about it, the Insight will attract some Prius buyers, but head-to-head competition seems more likely to create a larger consumer base than drastically reduce Prius sales. And we suspect that with 700,000 Priuses currently on the road, Toyota doesn’t pay much mind to those who were never interested in an efficient, midsize hybrid to begin with. The redesign – which updated everything between the two bumpers – speaks directly to their fans, and as a side effect, the extra offerings – like newly available tech options – will undoubtedly convert some non-believers.