2011 Toyota Prius Expert Review:Autoblog
When car buyers think of hybrids, the name that most often springs to mind is the Toyota Prius since it was the first really practical hybrid to come to market and has sold more than any other examples. Yes, of course, the original Honda Insight beat the Prius to market in the U.S. by about six months, but the tiny two-seater sold in equally tiny numbers and had limited appeal beyond hard core hyper milers.
In the coming weeks, Toyota dealers will start getting their first allotments of the all-new third-generation Prius, and while we got to spend a few hours with one on the west coast in March, we just spent a whole week with the new version of this iconic Toyota. While the efficiency of the Prius has never been in dispute, like many other cars from Brand T, its appeal as a driver's car has been, to say the least, limited. For its generation three model, Toyota has not given up on minimizing fuel consumption, but it has sought to make the Prius a bit more appealing on other levels. Read on to find out if the company has succeeded.
Photos copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
Many of the most avid fans of the Prius have been people who view cars as nothing more than a means of conveying occupants to a destination with the least amount of fuss. Minimal fuss often means minimal involvement, as well. That typically means finding the most direct route with the fewest number of directional changes. For those operators (we hesitate to call anyone who prefers to remain uninvolved in the process a driver), the first two generations of the Prius were utterly up to the task.
However, there is a fringe group of us who actually prefer roads with some twists and turns and enjoy the challenge of carrying momentum through corners without scrubbing off speed. Doing that effectively is aided by a car that transmits information about cornering forces back through the steering wheel and doesn't feel like it will scrape its door handles at moderate speeds. This is where the previous Prius was severely lacking, falling far short of other thrifty vehicles like Honda's new Insight and VW's Jetta TDI.
Somehow, Toyota has managed to muster its prodigious resources over the last several years to create a new model to address both of these extremist camps. Under the hood, the Prius now includes the latest iteration of Hybrid Synergy Drive, which operates more efficiently than ever. The basic architecture has not changed and includes an electronically variable transmission that acts as the power split device and a pair of electric motor/generators to provide drive torque and kinetic energy recovery.
The internal combustion engine remains a four-cylinder running on the Atkinson cycle to optimize its thermodynamic efficiency. However, the displacement has grown from the previous 1.5 liters to 1.8 liters, which has dual benefits. When the driver actually needs extra power in order to merge onto a freeway or complete a passing maneuver, the propulsive force is now readily available. The extra displacement means that it's available without unduly straining the engine so the impact on fuel consumption is actually reduced.
Inside, the new floating center console features a trio of buttons to help manage the powertrain behavior, one of which was previously available only in overseas markets. For the first time, U.S. Prius buyers now have an EV button available that sometimes allows the driver to force the car into electric drive mode. Since the Prius is designed as a parallel hybrid, the electric drive portion of the vehicle has limited capabilities (although far more than most current hybrids) to drive the vehicle. Therefore, the EV mode only allows the Prius to troll around silently at speeds below 25 mph. Of course, you can get kicked out of EV mode if the battery level is too low or the accelerator is applied with too much verve. With sufficient energy in the battery and an extremely light right foot, we were regularly able to go over a mile without the engine firing up.
To the right of the EV button is the ECO button. Like the similarly labeled switch in the new Insight, this one moderates the driver's commands before sending them to the various powertrain elements. The ECO mode essentially applies a slow filter to everything, smoothing responses to avoid the sort of sudden transient reactions that cause increased fuel consumption. During our time with the Prius, even these slower reactions proved to be sufficient for almost all day-to-day driving needs. For those times when you need just a bit more get up and go such as merging onto a crowded freeway, to the right of the ECO switch sits the Power button.
This one does the opposite of the ECO switch and speeds up throttle responses. While the 134 horsepower of the new Prius certainly doesn't give it the feel of a sports car, the 24 hp boost over the previous model means that it also never really feels inadequate. The biggest dynamic complaint about the old Prius, however, was the suspension and steering. Our own limited exposure with the prior model demonstrated excessive body lean and steering more in keeping with a video game that uses a non-force feedback steering wheel. The steering in the new model no longer feels so over-boosted and has at least a semblance of feedback about the cornering forces at work. It's not great but it no longer qualifies as scary, so that's a good thing.
As for the suspension, it actually has some roll control now, and the whole car feels tighter than ever. In fact, if anything, it might be a bit too tight in terms of damping. Small road inputs (on the rare occasion that you can find such a thing in Michigan) are transmitted a bit too directly to the driver's back side. While the ride and handling balance is certainly more geared to enthusiasts than before, it could still use a bit of tweaking. The Prius still understeers at the limit like most mainstream front-wheel-drive cars, but it never feels out of control.
The interior of the Prius now has a much more modern appearance than before with the high center console sweeping down from the dash between the front seats. The shift lever has the same basic functionality as before: a pull to the left and down engaging drive and left/up bringing on reverse. The shape of the console means all the controls fall readily to hand. Like the previous generation, Toyota has opted to use some unusual textures on the plastics to replace the usual faux leather graining. Since the simulated leather is typically exaggerated anyway and really doesn't fool anyone, that's a good thing in our books.
Much of the center console has a finish that looks something like brushed metal and is actually rather attractive. The leather seats in our level IV trim model have perforations in a sine wave pattern rather than the usual grid that gives it a bit more visual interest. The front seats themselves were reasonably comfortable during our driving time and never exhibited any unusual pressure points. The rear seat was also adequate for two passengers with plenty of leg room and improved head room thanks to the re-profiled roof-line. Behind the seats, the Prius has an ample 21 cubic feet of space available to carry all your stuff.
The Prius, of course, is all about fuel economy, and the new model has received some big numbers from the EPA. With ratings of 51 mpg city, 48 mpg highway and 50 mpg combined, one would expect it to be thrifty in the real world... and it is. During our week, the Prius returned a healthy 47 mpg with a driving style that was modest but could not be described as hyper-miling. It took comparatively little effort to get some very impressive numbers.
While a Prius can be purchased for as little as $21,000 for a stripped down model, our test example came to $30,150 including the leather interior, navigation system and solar roof panel. This pricing strategy will appeal to an even wider range of buyers than before, and the lower base price should attract a few cross shoppers from the less expensive though less frugal Honda Insight.
The new Prius is no longer just an appliance for commuting. It's almost fun to drive. Toyota just needs to apply some more of its Kaizen philosophy of continual improvement to the ride and handling and we can call it good.
Photos copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
When you sit in the 2010 Toyota Prius, you notice all those little things that provide the "Prius experience" – the shift lever, information screen, center-mounted instrument panel – are all present, but they're slightly different and noticeably improved. The time it takes to adapt to the revised interior is emblematic of the new Prius experience. It's the same oddly shaped hybrid that almost two million buyers love, but it gets better mileage, looks sharper and is packing more technological whiz-bangery than any vehicle this simple to drive has the right to.
We recently tested the 2010 Prius at its North American launch through the vineyard-covered fields and hills surrounding Napa, California. Through it all, the hybrid, officially rated at 50 mpg, performed well and delivered better-than-expected fuel economy. In fact, when we pushed the car's eco prowess by using the EV mode as much as possible and employing a few other tricks, we blew that EPA estimate out of the water by almost 15 mpg. And we weren't alone.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Brad Wood / Weblogs, Inc.
The Prius' chief engineer, Akihiko Otsuka, drove a 33-mile route in and around Napa and averaged 62.9 mpg. During the drive week, he levied a Beat-The-Chief challenge to anyone who wanted to take him on. AutoblogGreen was able to get the in-dash display to read in the mid- to low-70s for most of the route, but the last ten miles on a busy 55-mph road dropped that to 64.5 mpg. Not bad, but only good for a standing near the absolute bottom of the rankings among other journalists. Overall, the best score was 94.6 mpg, although that involved some less-than-real-world driving behaviors and conditions. The best "honest" score was 75.3 mpg. In all, about half of the journalists were able to get over 70 mpg, while the rest, save two, were able to get more than 66 mpg.
Increased fuel economy is one of many ways the 2010 Prius has evolved, but the driving experience is similar to the last generation. Despite a slightly longer wheelbase, wider track and new low-rolling resistance tires, you don't notice any serious changes from the driver's seat. The front MacPherson struts and improved body rigidity keep the ride smooth around town and on the highway. Overall, it's the same commuter-friendly conveyance you'd expect and, thankfully, rearward visibility is vastly improved over the outgoing model.
However, one small change we did notice was the absence of that infernal beeping when the car is shifted into Reverse that plagued the outgoing model. After asking Otsuka about the change, we were told that the pre-production models we were testing had the feature removed, but when the production model goes on sale, the beep will return. The good news? Otsuka said dealers can turn off the sound at the customer's request.
Speaking of current Prius owners, the automaker is convinced they'll trade up. In fact, Toyota's Bob Carter said the company expects 20-25 percent of third-generation Prius sales will be repeat buyers. So where will the other 75-80 percent come from? It's clear there's a hybrid sales fight brewing between Toyota and Honda, and Toyota needs to convince buyers that paying a few thousand dollars more for the Prius over the new Honda Insight is worth it.
The Insight, which starts at $20,470, is smaller and has fewer features than the Prius, but it's obviously a direct competitor. Based purely on aerodynamics, the Prius beats the Insight (0.25 versus 0.28 Cd). Honda was understandably proud of its "world-leading coefficient" number when the Insight was announced earlier this year, but Toyota has clearly bested its Japanese rival in this department. Does it matter? The Insight is a fun drive that won't attack your wallet at the pump or its point of purchase, while the Prius gets better mileage, is larger and comes with a cache of green cred that would fill the Grand Canyon.
Throw in the new 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid, which is even larger and starts at $27,270, and 2009 is shaping up to be a good year for potential hybrid owners. With plug-in vehicles supposedly coming in 2010 (and pure electric vehicles not long after) and the poor economy, all bets are off on which hybrid will come out on top. Still, Toyota polled current Prius owners and 90% said their next car will be a Prius. The automaker wanted to offer these repeat buyers some upgraded technology, so it has included two new features on the 2010 Prius: Lane Keep Assist and Intelligent Parking Assist.
Lane Keep Assist (LKA) is triggered by pressing a steering wheel-mounted button that turns on the Lane Departure Warning system. The system looks for yellow and white lines on the pavement and lets the driver know if he or she starts to leave the lane. Lane Keep Assist is used in conjunction with the Prius' Dynamic Cruise Control, but it won't drive for you. The system knows if you let go of the wheel and using a turn signal will disengage LKA entirely.
Another fancy feature is Intelligent Parking Assist (IPA), which makes quick work of parallel parking. When pulling up to an available parking spot, you push a button above the driver's right knee to activate a sensor that can see where parked cars are sitting. When the system finishes its calculations, the rear-view camera turns on and displays a grid that estimates the intended parking position. If the grid is correct, the driver presses "OK" and then the system takes over. From this point, all the driver does is control the speed of the car using the brake pedal. If the driver takes his or her foot off of the brake pedal, IPA will shut down when it reaches its speed threshold. As smart as the new Prius is, however, it's not smart enough to know if a person suddenly appears in the designated parking spot. We were able to test IPA, and it works as advertised. Both LKA and IPA are available as part of the 2010 Prius' Advanced Technology Package (pricing TBD).
|2010 Toyota Prius ||2009 Toyota Prius
|Length||175.6 inches||175 inches
|Width||68.7 inches||67.9 inches
||1.8L Atkinson 4cyl
||1.5L Atkinson 4cyl
|98 @ 5,200 rpm
105 @ 4,000 rpm
82 lb-ft of torque
|Elec. Motor Power
153 lb-ft of torque
295 lb-ft of torque
|Hybrid Net HP
|EPA Fuel Economy
||49 city/50 highway
||48 city/45 highway
All new Prius owners will enjoy three new driving modes -- eco, power and EV -- along with a fourth when the other modes are off (you can read an in-depth description of each mode here). While Toyota cites an official EV mode (electric-only) top speed of 25 mph, we discovered that it's easy to get the gas engine, which now checks i at a larger 1.8 liters producing 94 hp, to kick in at a much lower speed if the battery has three or fewer bars. This information is available in the new multi-information display instead of the touch-screen on the current model. Volume and climate controls are redundant with a nifty new feature on the steering wheel called the Touch Tracer Display.
We noticed when cruising in EV mode, with plenty of juice in the battery, that when you go over 25 mph the EV mode does not re-engage when the car dips below the magic mark again. Otsuka didn't have an answer for why they designed the system like this, but it seems like Toyota intends EV mode to be used sparingly, likely to preserve the battery pack's longevity. Turn EV mode on when you're leaving your driveway and, when it clicks off, focus on Eco mode if you're into saving fuel. During the Beat-The-Chief drive, we engaged the EV button every chance we had, and while 65 mpg isn't bad, it does require constant attention to maintain.
In the end, Toyota knows most people drive a Prius because it makes saving fuel super simple. With the outgoing model, owners put up with abysmal rearward visibility because they got 45 mpg. They put up with the reverse beeping and the spaceship look because they can drive by gas stations without stopping more often. Now, with 50 mpg – or better – new Prius owners have even more reasons to quietly deal with any negatives the new car might have to offer. We have to wait until Toyota announces pricing to determine just how good a deal it is, but for the myriad of fuel-conscious consumers, the 2010 Prius could be their best option available.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Brad Wood / Weblogs, Inc.
2010 TOYOTA PRIUS MEDIA "BEAT THE CHIEF" FUEL ECONOMY CHALLENGE FINAL RESULTS
New Car Test Drive
Recently redesigned hybrid easy on emissions, gas.
The Toyota Prius was redesigned for 2010, sleeker and more powerful, while delivering an improved EPA-rated 51/48 mpg City/Highway. It's unchanged for 2011.
For 2010, the hybrid mechanicals were lightened by 65 pounds and made stronger. But the Prius still gained 110 pounds overall, mostly from its stiffer body structure. The 1.8-liter gas engine was new, more powerful and efficient. Top speed flew up to 112 miles per hour from 103 mph, on aerodynamic improvements. Acceleration performance is lethargic: 0 to 60 mph in 9.8 seconds. The CVT, or continuously variable transmission, is smooth.
There are three driving modes: EV, ECO and Power. EV is all electric, for very short distances at speeds under 25 mph; ECO provides the best fuel mileage, without noticeably compromising performance; and Power, the default mode, is needed for brisk acceleration.
For 2012, there will be a PHV model, or plug-in hybrid; it's a standard Prius with extra batteries that provide an all-electric range of 13 miles after a three-hour charge at home. We drove a prototype around town for one week, and got about 11 miles to a charge, but the range might be increased for the production model.
Driving the Prius is easy. Handling is easy if not nimble at slow speeds, and the brakes are sensitive while being stacked with electronic capabilities for safety. The ride feels stiff, most noticeable over jagged slow bumps, and interior noise is surprisingly high despite increased sound insulation. Many owners might not notice, but others will, those Prius buyers in search of tranquility.
In the back seats, there's 36 inches of legroom, not great for a midsize car, though we view the Prius as a compact car, and the 60/40 split rear seats have a folding center armrest with two cupholders, for when there's not a third passenger back there.
Cargo space is generous with nearly 40 cubic feet of capacity when the back seats are dropped flat, and the big liftgate makes loading easy.
Technology is in abundance. The Touch Tracer Display projects information before your eyes, so you can keep them on the road. Input comes from the pilot at the controls on the steering wheel, including not just audio and cruise control, but also climate control and trip computer, with telephone and other controls available. A solar-powered ventilation system is available, with remote pre-cooling to cool the car down to ambient temperature before you climb in on a hot day. There's a warning beep when you're unsteady in your lane; radar cruise control; Intelligent Parking Assist that will parallel park the Prius with no steering or throttle input from the driver; and pre-collision emergency braking to slightly reduce the impact when you don't see an accident coming but the car's radar does.
The 2010 Prius was recalled for the accelerator pedal getting trapped under the floor mat, which was fixed with a modification to the shape of the pedal; and a second time because a relatively few owners complained about the way the brake pedal felt when the ABS was activated, so software was changed. Both these changes are on the 2011 model. On the brake issue, Toyota took a bum rap because nothing was found to be wrong except the drivers' experience, not to mention the media blow-up.
The 2011 Toyota Prius comes in five trim levels, counting the stripped-down fleet model, Prius I ($21,650). (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
Prius II ($23,050) is fully equipped and is expected to be the most popular. Along with the Touch Tracer display, it includes cruise control, rear wiper, tonneau cover, and four-speaker AM/FM/CD with MP3/MWA capability.
Prius III ($24,050) adds a premium six-speaker JBL sound system with 6CD, Bluetooth and a rearview camera. The Navigation Package ($1,930) includes touchscreen, rearview camera, voice-activated DVD navigation with Bluetooth, XM traffic. The Solar Roof Package features a solar powered ventilation system.
Prius IV ($26,850) adds leather seats and upgraded trim, heated front seats, water repellent window glass, plasma instrument cluster, HomeLink, and a Smart Key system for three doors. Navigation with Safety Connect is optional.
Prius V ($28,320) adds 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps, and foglamps. The Advanced Technology Package ($5,080) features a pre-collision system that automatically dabs the brakes and reduces crash impact speed by a slight amount, radar cruise control, Lane Keep Assist, Intelligent Park Assist, and the Navigation Package.
Safety equipment standard on all models includes dual-stage front airbags, side airbags in front, airbag curtains, and driver's knee airbag; active headrests; tire pressure monitor with warning light; anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist and Brake Force Distribution; and a sophisticated stability control system working with traction control. Optional safety equipment includes a pre-collision system that uses the same radar antenna as the radar cruise control. It applies the brakes harder than the driver does if a collision is imminent and applies them even if the driver doesn't to reduce the collision impact by 0.7g.
There were significant changes in the 2010 redesign of the Prius, resulting in a sleeker car. The coefficient of drag was reduced to 0.25 from 0.26, enabling the Prius to continue its rein as one of the world's most slippery passenger cars. It's about half an inch longer, all in the cowl, a result of A-pillars that are moved forward to radically rake the windshield; and about 3/4-inch wider. The roof is the same height, but its apex was moved back 3.9 feet, smoothing the aerodynamic wedge. It's got a discreet double hump that adds character and curiosity.
The upper grille opening is smaller and tidier to more efficiently move air over the hood. A new lip over the rear deck not only improves air flow, it eliminates the chopped-off-tail look of the previous Prius. The fender arches are a bit more aggressive, almost bulkier looking, but they reflect additional aero improvement. The bumpers are sharper and squarer at the corners than before. You can't see the underbody covers with splitters, but they too are part of the aerodynamic scheme, to achieve that 0.25 Cd.
The blue-tinted headlights are elegant wraparound trapezoids, with optional LED lenses consuming 17-percent less battery power. There's a styling tweak, like a wave or a lip or, with a stretch of the imagination, a lightning bolt at the top, and it works, to deliver distinction. The taillights are standard LED, reducing power draw by 88 percent.
The rear wiper is huge, and effective in keeping rain off all that glass back there. The matt black trim around the windows on the Prius II and III trim levels doesn't do much to complement the car; the satin black finish on the Prius IV and V is nicer.
The Prius interior is satisfying, at least with the optional leather we tested. There's a nice cozy cockpit feeling in the driver's seat, nestled by a stylish center console that runs from dashboard to between the seats at a gentle slope. The CVT shift lever is located there, just ahead of the world's easiest-to-reach cubby. Inconveniently, the seat-heater button is located on the floor under the console, as if they ran out of wire and it couldn't reach.
The front seats are comfortable with good bolstering and adjustability. The trim looks nice, ecologically friendly plastic made of plant-derived resin with excellent recycling characteristics. The upper and lower gloveboxes hold a magnificent 12 liters.
There's 36 inches of rear legroom, not bad at all, and the 60/40 split rear seats have a folding center armrest with two cupholders, for when there's not a third passenger back there.
When the seats are dropped flat, there's nearly 39.6 cubic feet of cargo volume, easily accessible through the big liftgate. We hauled seven 16-inch wheels shod with Dunlop racing tires in the back. The eighth had to ride in the front seat, but we were impressed with the cargo capacity.
And there's another 2 cubic feet in the tray for tools and laptops, hiding under the floor of the cargo area. The compact spare tire is another level down. A tonneau cover for the cargo area is standard.
There's good forward visibility even over the long dashboard, stretched by the steeply sloped windshield, although, as with other aero cars (the Honda Fit comes to mind), you can't see the front corners. And visibility out the rear glass is compromised by the aerodynamically sloped roofline and the bar that separates the two pieces of glass.
The four-spoke steering wheel with many controls is interesting and not ugly. It's fun to watch the multi-function display of the instrument panel, although the novelty might wear off. On a 5-inch screen, there are graphs and images, including an Energy Monitor, displaying the battery charge in real time; a Hybrid System Indicator that reveals the efficiency of your driving technique; fuel mileage in 1- or 5-mile increments; past fuel mileage; and a Touch Tracer Display that projects steering-wheel-control information upward so you can keep your eyes on the road. Curiously, the USB port isn't standard equipment.
The four-cylinder was increased to 1.8 liters for 2010, and horsepower went to 98. Combined with the electric motors, there's a total of 134 hp. The larger engine provides more torque, allowing the Prius to maintain freeway speeds at lower rpm, boosting fuel mileage. It's an Atkinson Cycle engine (different valve timing and breathing). CO2 emissions have been reduced from a score that already tops the charts.
The Hybrid Synergy Drive system, with two compact motor generators within the transaxle, delivers operating voltage of 650V. It uses gear drive, allowing the motor to turn 13,500 rpm. The Power Control Unit (inverter) is compact. The Nickel-Metal Hydride battery pack is compact and powerful. The accessory drive belts have been eliminated, with such things as the AC compressor and water pump now driven electrically. This means the air conditioner works, though not full blast, even with the engine turned off.
There are three driving modes: EV, or all-electric, with a very limited distance at 25 mph or less (if there's enough juice in the battery), most useful for underground parking garages; ECO, which minimizes fuel consumption by reducing the throttle opening and restricting the air conditioning; and Power for full acceleration.
The difference between Power and ECO is 4.1 seconds from 50 to 70 mph, versus 5.8 seconds. If you're in ECO and floor it, it will kick itself into Power, which is also the default mode when you start it up. So you have to set ECO mode at every stop, to get the best mileage. But we wonder why anyone would drive around town in Power mode, because ECO feels no slower. The Prius accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 9.8 seconds, usually fast enough though slow by modern standards.
When you accelerate hard and it kicks into Power mode, it can be abrupt, like a transmission kick-down. But like all hybrids it uses a CVT, continuously variable transmission, which is technically not an automatic because it doesn't have gears. Most of the time you're not aware the Prius CVT is there, which is how they're supposed to work.
The Prius is EPA-rated at 51 city and 48 highway, for a combined 50 miles per gallon. We got 54 mpg driving gently but still sometimes using Power mode, over 23 miles of city-highway driving; and later 70.5 mpg over a 34-mile street course in a competition with other automotive journalists. We averaged 28 mph, about average for the group.
The winner, a specialist hypermiler, got 94.6 mpg driving by all the tricks. He averaged 19 mph, moving at about 30 mph in the far right emergency lane of the 50-mph highway, showing that it takes travel in an unreal world to achieve those big numbers. An opposite leadfoot extremist managed to get 26.8 mpg. The other 26 of 28 drivers got between 63.3 and 75.3 mpg.
Later, during our one-week drive of the prototype PHV, we got 41.8 mpg for about 180 miles, 26 of them on full electric, and most of the rest at 65-70 mpg in Power mode.
One flaw in the Prius is its bumpy ride: pretty rough over patchy stuff, we noted during our test drive. The suspension was given a slightly wider track and increased roll rigidity for 2010. The pre-2010 Prius didn't feel as harsh. The 15-inch wheels are fitted with low-rolling-resistance tires (195/65R15), and maybe that explains it.
We also drove a Prius with the optional 17-inch wheels and 215/45R17 tires, which felt slightly smoother although theoretically they should be firmer; we got better mileage with them, 57.4 mpg, although the Prius chief engineer said the 17s deliver about 5-percent less mileage.
We thought road noise was high.
The four-wheel disc brakes are sensitive, and we could hear rubbing at low speeds with ours, partly because there was no engine noise when backing off, and possibly because of the regenerative braking component: the more you use the brakes, the more battery juice you build up, enabling you to use EV mode more. On our 70.5-mpg run, we gently used the brakes a lot in city traffic, so we would get as many blocks as possible out of EV mode.
The handling is light enough around town, but out on the road, if you try to drive it aggressively in corners, it turns heavy and slow. The slower you drive it, the better it is. That said, cornering is much improved over pre-2010 models with the redesigned chassis and suspension.
We tested the optional Intelligent Parking Assist, part of the Advanced Technology Package available for Prius V, which parallel parks the car for you, if the space is big enough. It needs a margin of 7 feet 9 inches, more than half the length of the car; most drivers can handle a space that big with no worries, so it's fair to ask what's the point, unless you're not at all competent at parallel parking (and we know skilled race drivers who fit that description). Like many high-tech innovations, it does it because it can. You can set the distance you desire to the curb. Pull up, line up, press the button, it tells you when to go; then release the brake pedal and take your hands off the steering wheel and let it do its thing.
The 2011 Toyota Prius achieves an EPA-estimated 51/48 mpg. It's practical, with plenty of cargo space. The interior design is futuristic without being out there, and the front seats are comfortable. The available leather and upgraded materials are classy. The suspension is sharp over patchy pavement, and road noise is surprisingly high.
Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the Prius in California's Napa Valley and of a Prius PHV prototype near Portland, Oregon.
Prius II ($23,050); Prius III ($24,050); Prius IV ($26,850); Prius V ($28,370).
Options As Tested
Navigation Package ($1,930) includes voice-activated touch-screen DVD navigation system with JBL AM/FM/MP3 four-disc CD changer, eight speakers, integrated satellite radio capability, XM NavTraffic capability, hands-free phone capability and music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology and integrated backup camera.
Prius III ($24,050).