The Prius, which means "to go before" in Latin, has come a long way since 1997 when Toyota introduced it as the world's first mass-produced hybrid. But with several more manufacturers now offering quality hybrids, Toyota redesigned and upgraded the hybrid industry leading Prius for its third generation in 2010.
The standard and optional changes are substantial — the redesigned exterior, better gas mileage (the first legitimate 50 mpg EPA estimate) and Intelligent Parking Assist (IPA). The Prius is now among the top-20 the best-selling cars in the country. Yet, it's still a work in progress.
For 2010, Toyota has added 24 additional horsepower, increasing the total to 134. That gives the Prius some confidence in freeway passing situations it previously couldn't quite handle.
The V series, one of five available, includes 17-inch wheels. That helps with sharper turns and better road firmness. Braking is satisfactory, but a few times, I had to abruptly hit the brakes hard and it felt like stepping into a pillow.
Cargo Room (7)
Don't expect to haul long or tall items since the Prius has its now-signature sloped roof. There are no map pockets in doors. But those are the only two down sides to a surprisingly diverse cargo areas — cup and bottle holders, a large bin under the console, upper and lower glove boxes and a two-tiered console box. And there's a bonus: an underfloor bin that stores the cargo cover.
Toyota has done a lot to improve the potentially intimidating hybrid-oriented readouts. (Just what does all that stuff mean?). The small, futuristic-shaped shift lever is now positioned on a raised center console instead of the dash. Audio controls are part of the navigation system as push buttons on the screen. The digital speedometer rests on a panel mounted on the windshield, not obscured by the steering wheel.
The interior is a cool, space-age design. And various two-tone panels are surprisingly nice-looking plastic. There's tastefully appointment trim, including decorative adornments on heating and air conditioning vents. The Advanced Technology Package includes more than a dozen features — an upscale sound system to Intelligent Parking Assist or IPA (parallel parking on demand). It catapults the total price to well into the $30,000 range. With the exception of the IPA (learning to parallel park is good thing), the extras all add handsomely to the previously staid vehicle.
Front Seats (5)
The V model has leather seats, and they're firm. The height-adjustable steering wheel is a plus. But the driver faces three constant annoyances: When the car is in reverse, a back-up alarm engages; side, rear views are obscured by pillars; and the rear view is split by a horizontal bar. How can anyone design such a horrible rear view?
Fuel Economy (10)
It's the country's most fuel efficient vehicle and its uses regular grade fuel. Enough said. With an 11.9 gallon capacity, that's about 600 miles between fill-ups.
More than an other hybrid I've driven, it's hard to tell when the Prius engine is off or on. In fact, I left the car on by mistake a few times. But once I was accustomed to the quiet electronic motor, what a refreshing quality. The only noise I regularly heard was the slight audible transition hum from electronic to gas engine.
Like many sedans, the Prius is billed as a five-seater. The guidelines for what defines the dimensions big enough for three people in a back seat must be loose. Three petite adults? Maybe. Otherwise, it's a four-passenger vehicle. Leg and head room are adequate. Entry and exit from rear doors is easy.
Ride Quality (6)
A few times, I accelerated hard on fast, aggressive freeway on-ramps and the gas engine strained loudly That's the most noise I heard in a week of driving the car. The Prius isn't in the luxury category and it isn't plush. But it's a quiet sedan, particularly at stop signs and spotlights.
Total (66 out of 100)
Primary competition — Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Insight, Mazda 6.
For more standard equipment/option package information, visit: www.toyota.com.
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price — $27,270.00
Price As Driven — $33,079.00
Mileage Estimates — 51 mpg (city), 48 mpg (hwy).
Warranty — Bumper-to-bumper, 3 years/36,000 miles; Powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/unlimited mileage, Hybrid components, 8 years/100,000 miles (most states), 10/15 years, 100,000/150,000 miles in selected states.
What Others Say —
"The Toyota Prius remains the most fuel-efficient and space-efficient hybrid on the market. A few flaws remain, but the changes made for 2010 generally make for a better Prius."
"The Prius remains one of the most recognizable cars on the road. Its smooth, aerodynamic profile and double-bubble roof are an attractive evolution of the previous car's looks."—- Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press
The Final Words
"Just because the Prius is the country's most fuel-efficient car, that doesn't mean it's the best. The Prius has a lot of innovation, it's back with a legitimate 50 mpg designation, and the new design is attractive, particularly the contour of the headlights and front grill. But the cons, the driver's side view blind spots and the split rear view obstruction, are constantly troubling. How could the design engineers miss annoyances so obvious?
James, a journalist since 1976, is co-author of Tour de France For
Dummies. He owns several websites, contributes to many print and online
publications and is also the editor of TheWeeklyDriver.com. A long-distance runner for nearly 30 years, Raia also rides his bike — to nearby coffeehouses.
Watch the 2010 Prius Park itself below: