2010 Toyota Prius
Since the debut of the second-generation Toyota Prius in 2003, the quintessential gas-electric hybrid has risen from a niche product to become Toyota’s third-best-selling model in the United States. The car inspires a cult-like devotion from its drivers. Satisfaction rates, consistently at about 98 percent, are unparalleled.
The third-generation 2010 Toyota Prius, officially unveiled at the Detroit auto show in January 2009, went on sale in April. The updated Prius is bigger and more powerful. The engine grew from 1.5 liters to 1.8 liters—giving a boost in horsepower from 110 to 160, and thereby reducing zero-to-60 time by a full second. In addition, the body is about four inches longer and about an inch wider. Despite the added power and size, the 2010 Toyota Prius becomes the only vehicle available today to offer 50 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving.
Toyota achieved this level of fuel efficiency by keeping the vehicle’s weight down, maintaining the best aerodynamics of any production vehicle in the world, and re-engineering the powertrain to extend the range of all-electric gas-free driving. (Despite rumors over the past year, the new Prius does not offer plug-in capabilities and continues to use nickel metal hydride batteries, rather than switching to lithium ion batteries.)
Toyota added a slightly sportier feel and more aggressive stance to the 2010 Prius—perhaps to disarm criticism that the Prius looks like a corrective appliance on wheels. The logo shifts from the hood to the top of the point of the grille. The crease in the doors has shifted lower, but a more pronounced angle is added above the door handles. The overall effect is to make the 2010 Prius stand taller—not as rounded and squat—as its predecessor.
The distinct space-age shape of the Prius is still apparent: a deliberate effort by Toyota to maintain the Prius’s essential and iconic appearance. Its large, diamond-cut headlamps and snub-nose front-end are the starting point for the Prius’s quasi-flying saucer appearance. The angled hood seamlessly flows into the windshield, then to a flowing roofline that is sleek and low. Short overhangs and a sawed-off rear section finish off the hybrid’s futuristic hatchback character.
Of course, beauty is subjective, so the Prius continues to receive mixed reviews on outward show. There are many who think the Prius looks gimmicky, if not entirely ugly. But for many hybrid owners, the distinctive look of the Prius sends a message, which declares that we must take steps to reduce our voracious thirst for oil—with all its negative consequences in terms of the environment and geo-politics. For this camp, the Prius is like a middle-finger-on-wheels aimed at Hummers, Suburbans, Escalades, and the like.
In 2006, the toy and game-maker Hasbro added a game token in the shape of the Toyota Prius to the “here and now” version of Monopoly. In other words, the Prius is an official icon of our times.
Bells and Whistles
The previous Prius had loads of gizmos—including keyless entry, joystick shifter, high-tech energy monitor, and a rear-view camera system. Toyota throws even more technology at the new model.
For the first time, the Prius offers a moonroof and heated seats. The sliding glass moonroof, packaged with a slick-looking solar panel, provides power to a new ventilation system that doesn’t require help from the gas engine. Not only does the AC system keep the interior air temperature from heating up when the vehicle is parked (thus reducing the time/energy needed to cool things down), the system can be operated remotely to heat or cool the cabin before getting into the car. (That’s a neat trick even if the rooftop solar panels don’t produce enough energy to power the wheels.)
Three driving modes are now available: Power, Economy and EV. Power improves throttle response; economy reduces throttle response for better gas mileage; and with a flip of the dashboard EV button, the car can go about one mile at low speeds without using any gasoline.
An optional radar system using advanced millimeter waves enables “Lane Keep Assist” to help the driver stay safely within the lane, and the “Pre-Collision System” retracts seatbelts and applies the brakes in certain conditions when a crash is unavoidable. Intelligent parking offers settings to help guide the Prius into parking spaces. A backup monitor, which provides a view of rear obstacles when reverse is engaged, is available with an optional voice-activated navigation system.
The new touch sensor system on the steering wheel helps keep the driver’s eyes on the road. Images of the switches and their positions are shown on the instrument panel directly in front.
The past success of the Toyota Prius has been its ability to combine great fuel efficiency and utter practicality. Five adults can fit comfortably, with more than 16 cubic feet of cargo room left over in back. The 60/40 split rear seats also can be folded flat, creating a surprisingly large cargo space for hauling groceries, strollers, large boxes, and gardening supplies—all at the same time.
Short and tall drivers should feel equally comfortable behind the wheel. The back seat is roomy, beating the Toyota Camry by a few inches and providing a little more legroom than the Civic Hybrid—and a lot more than found in the Honda Insight.
Interior storage spaces are abundant and flexible. The sound system is adequate, but not groundbreaking compared to other cars in this class. The stereo's most-used functions are easy to see, read and use. Many of the Prius’s standard features are either optional or unavailable on comparably priced competitive vehicles.
Some Prius drivers complain that the hatchback design limits the visibility through the rear window. They refer to this drawback as the "Prius blind spot."
You have to take a test drive to see how it feels to you. The new generation's rear view has improved a bit, even if the backseat headrests and spoiler continue to partially obstruct the view. Hatchback visibility makes some people crazy and is a non-issue for others. Take a test drive to see what you think.