• May 27th 2009 at 11:58AM
  • 79
2010 Toyota Prius – Click above for high-res image gallery

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.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      sexy rims what are they 14s?

      I'll take my v8 on 20s thanks but it indeed looks better than the gen 1 rental I was unlucky enough to get saddled with recently.
        • 6 Years Ago
        sure a side of global warming with dubious science and some bitch ass punk in tie dyed shirt whining like a stuck pig and enough nicklel pollution to further deform your lineage.
        • 6 Years Ago
        AA - my fuel is paid for.

        I'll keep my SRT8.
        • 6 Years Ago
        @d4rez: How about the fact that the production of a prius is more damaging to the environment than the production of a gargantuan H2 hummer?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Hey Tricky...

        Take that fuel money and invest it into getting a brain.
        • 6 Years Ago
        V8 Indeed. There is nothing like the thrill of starting up a V8 Explorer or Mustang, revving the engine a little and punching it down the street. Only 6% of the oil we use in the US goes to cars, so why not focus on increasing our wind and solar energy production so we don't use as much oil in power plants?
        • 6 Years Ago
        How about a side of Global Warming with that V8?
        • 6 Years Ago
        I agree with Tricky Dicky. What does 98% of the scientific community know? Besides, the environment is far less important than me driving a muscle car occasionally for pleasure.
        • 6 Years Ago
        @stuka: You mean the "fact" that CNW Marketing claimed the energy to produce a car is 80 - 85 % of the total lifetime energy use of a car?

      • 6 Years Ago
      Still don't like it, but I think it looks best in black. $30k fully loaded is a bit too much IMO, even though it does offer more premium features than the Insight (leather, heated seats, sunroof etc.) If I absolutely had to have a hybrid, I'd rather give up the few mpg & get a Civic or Ford Fusion.
        • 6 Years Ago
        To be fair the fully loaded Prius has insane stuff in it like lane keep assist, radar cruise control (the kind that'll automatically brake your car for you if the car in front stops), the parallel parking feature that you see in lexuses, pre-collision system, LED headlights (again only found in a few ridiculously expensive luxury cars like the R8 and LS600h), features you usually only find in higher end Mercedes/Lexus/Audi vehicles. And then it has a few more insane Prius-only things like the remote A/C, solar roof, etc.

        Somewhat obviously nobody actually needs any of these features, but if you're going to talk about the fully loaded Prius you can't really just compare it to the fully loaded Fusion since the options you'd have to add to take the Prius over 30K are only otherwise found on cars that cost several times it's loaded price. At $23.7K or so it's already decently loaded with an upgraded sound system, and even the base comes with the smart key feature. Throw on the solar roof/remote a/c moonroof and you're looking at about $25K. Unless you insist on getting those S-class type features there's no way you can push this thing over $30K.
        • 6 Years Ago
        It looks best in a dark room.
        • 6 Years Ago

        On the other hand, I test drove a '10 Fusion 4-cylinder with a 6-speed manual a couple weeks ago that the dealer happened to have on the lot (and still has on the lot). The MSRP on that was about $23000, and their no-dicker price was just north of the same $21000 number that this Prius supposedly starts out at. Still, I agree that prices are getting pretty high. That same money bought me a shiney new Contour SVT a decade ago.
        • 6 Years Ago
        $30k is definitely too much and the ugly looks don't help either

        possibly the new Ford Verve would be better considering that it will likely cost only ~15k and ~20k loaded

        this the insight the HS250 are all ugly as they get in my eye.

        The Aztec looks better than all three of these
      • 6 Years Ago
      Fugly but functional. At least the Prius makes sense, unlike the Lexus HS 250h. But looks aside, at $30,150 loaded, I would have a hard time justifying this instead of a Fusion Hybrid.

      One feature I'm not sure I understand the point of the roof-mounted solar panel that powers an electric fan to dissipate heat. It would be just as effective and less resource intensive to suggest customers simply crack open the windows or roll them completely before getting into the vehicle when it's hot. Or just park in the shade if possible. My point is that some of the engineering excess designed to be eco-friendly is just that -- excess and waste in it's own right when common sense measures can be just as effective.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Also, a fully loaded Fusion Hybrid apparently MSRPs for $31,940.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I configged one to $32,435, you missed a $500 paint job option. Remote start is another $360 extra, but is listed under accessories (along with floor mats) so I left it off.
      • 6 Years Ago
      The only reason I would buy a hybrid - Prius or otherwise - was if I lived in a place that I could use the HOV lane as a sole occupant.


      Ive been looking at possibly moving from Chicago to the DC area, and getting a hybrid makes a lot of sense there to shorten the commute. The HOV lane flies, while regular drivers are crawling (on I-66 anyway).

      Here in Chicago however, there are no HOV lanes. I can't see any reason not to purchase a more enjoyable economical car like a diesel VW, or a sporty hatch like a Fit.

      The current Prius is awful - you owners really need to try a real car some time. It has absolutely zero charisma, its ugly, and it has all the design excitement of a hanger. The one looks a lot better, but at 30k there are too many other really nice cars to consider (for instance a new diesel Golf, and a used '94 Miata). The new Insight is far too fidgety and coarse to justify its fuel savings over a Fit or diesel VW. The Civic hybrid is a dog: 0-60 in 13.5 is unacceptable merging onto a highway.

      Until then I will do my part by taking buses, trains and simply maintaining my 03 WRX and 04 9-3 linear for as long as I can.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Don't forget motorcycles. A substantial amount of bikes average 45 - 50 mpg and typically do 0-60 in 4 seconds - in many cases they're capable of the sprint to 60 in less than *3*.

        Admittedly, there is the safety issue, but safety gear and proper training can mitigate that risk.
      • 6 Years Ago
      While I won't be buying one any time soon, 134 hp is a pretty good amount of power for this car. It's got nearly as much as the 2nd-gen Eclipse GS, but weights in a few hundred pounds less than the 2nd-Gen Eclipse, which means this car could actually keep up with lower-tiered sports cars, like the Eclipse RS/GS, the first-gen Miata, and a few others.

      Looks like Toyota did a good job.

      I just want to see if they finally made it reliable enough to keep that dreaded orange triangle from lighting up. My experience with a Toyota Prius ended after about a year, when it repeatedly gave me issues that caused the orange triangle to light up. I am NOT one to enjoy having to make multiple visits to the service department for a vehicle that's supposedly reliable, which is why I'm sticking with wvo-converted diesels until EVs become a major force on the market. At least that technology is proven (to me, anyway), for the most part, reliable, and is a truly sustainable way of driving.

      My alternative energy source doesn't come from a mine in Canada, thank you.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I don't need to read the farticle. It is still a Prius. About as wonderful as the Camry Hybrid pace car for the NASCAR race last weekend.
        • 6 Years Ago
        or the LF-A at the 'ring. zing!
      • 6 Years Ago
      It's close, as the Insight has a better interior and is more fun to drive, but I would take the Prius because it's bigger, faster, gets better fuel economy, and isn't considerably more than the Insight. It's not typical of me to pick a Toyota over a comparable Honda, but this time I have to do it.
      • 6 Years Ago
      While I do think the new Prius looks better and am glad they did some suspension work ("scary" is a good way to describe Gen2 Prius), I am still one who knows first hand that -

      1) 2nd generation Prius driven by a normal driver will have a hard time breaking 40mpg, hypermiling aside.
      2) More power means frequent application of the go pedal and these same normal driver will more than likely not see much of improvement.
      3) Add a few adult sized passengers and this Prius, like the last will be a hard pressed to put up anywhere near 47mpg unless you hyper-mile AND live in a place without elevation changes.

      On a side note, few people are complaining about the $30K price, EV's and the Volt don't look so expensive anymore do they?

      Anyone who wants to prove me wrong, you bring the car - I'll bring the video equipment and the passengers. I will get a Gen2 Prius for comparison and a good GPS to track our elevation changes and distance. Just promise me you won't dispute the results :)
        • 6 Years Ago
        I have a Prius and I averaged 50.0MPG. My commute (2 passenger) is 13 miles highway and 2 miles local. All I need to do is to keep driving around 60 - 65mph on highway, and keep driving around 30-41mph on local to keep the Prius in all-electric mode. I live in San Jose.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I'll be renting a Prius asap and doing a little video...thanks for the input.
      • 6 Years Ago
      It REALLY pains me to say this.

      If that sheetmetal, with a sporty front end, and a bit more substantial of a rear bumper (it looks... odd.)

      The glasshouse profile, the general aero shape, the chevron shaped LED tails... look...

      .... good.

      Why can't a normal, non-smug-inducing performance-oriented mainstream car, with a credibly sporty drivetrain and power level, without the hybrid gimmick... have a slick shape and good aero like this?

      Everything that is 'smug-econobox-hybrid-mmm'kay' about this, I could care less about, and I am not the audience for the Prius, in any way shape or form.

      But why can't a normal performance car look decent, dare I say, a bit like this car, from the belt-line up.

      Instead performance enthusiasts get either 40-year-past glory-days, or saggy, puckered, but otherwise technically good Genesis Coupe, or ugly 4 and 5-doors like WRX, and over-wrought hoover-looking Lancer variants.

      It is sad when Prius and Tesla's Model S are the cars to look at for styling... when I don't want what is underneath.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Performance cars that look like bland appliances don't sell. I point you to the late Pontiac GTO for reference.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Review has one thing wrong, the most avid Prius owners view their cars as an environmental messiah... but contradictingly cut in and out of traffic at 75mph with a hint of smug indignation. Bay area's full of em.

      I still don't see the point of a hybrid, when a nice diesel car can still be cheaper and return better gas mileage.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Do they sell diesels in USA? Aside from Jetta?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Aki, no it does not. It does well, it doesn't do nearly that well.
        • 6 Years Ago
        A Diesel (like the Jetta TDI) will not match the Prius on mpg unless you drive all highway miles.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The point isn't to save gas, it's to advertise to the public how good their farts smell. A suppository looking car with hybrid badging on all sides is ummistakeable. A VW TDI looks like any other car.

        • 6 Years Ago
        I was looking at Imperial MPG, which is diff than US MPG, my bad.
        • 6 Years Ago
        What was that quote regarding the Prius from Jay Leno when James May was interviewing him on Top Gear? "In America we like everybody to know about the good work we are doing anonymously."
      • 6 Years Ago
      uh that would be humans

      the leatehr is already tehre since we can't stop eating beef so why throw it out. it can be used so that you don't have to make fabric, the thing is we process it in China and there all the chemical treatments end up in the rivers instead of taking the process over and doing it right
      we only care of the thing we see, otherwise it'ssomeone eleses problem
      • 6 Years Ago

      No stick shift available, goofy center-mounted gauges, 15-inch wheels unless you spring for the fully-loaded model, rear torsion-beam suspension...I'll keep my '09 TDI, thank you very much. Somehow I don't see myself taking this car up into the mountains and driving the twisties. Mileage isn't everything, you know--some of us actually like to DRIVE our cars.

      BTW, I get 44 MPG (640 miles per tank) with about 75/25 freeway/city driving, and in Denver diesel is $.25 cheaper than gas.
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