2010 Toyota Prius

Can one million owners be wrong? Not likely, and that's why engineers were careful in creating the 2010 Toyota Prius. Toyota's honed its recipe for a successful hybrid sedan over the past ten years, and there's little need to stray wildly from it - some slight refinements are all that's needed.

Thankfully, Toyota says the new Prius is a product of careful refinement, and that's evident upon a first look. The triangular form of the previous car continues, though the roofline has been modified to increase rear headroom and improve aerodynamics, which are rated at a scant .25 cD. Other styling tweaks aim to visually tie the Prius with its non-hybrid siblings; indeed, the new headlamps and grille are vaguely reminiscent of the current Yaris hatchback.

Size wise, the Prius hasn't grown much - but its engine has. The 2010 model scraps the old 1.6-liter four-banger in favor of a 98-hp, 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle I-4. Interestingly, the increased displacement supposedly doesn't impact fuel economy. Toyota says the increase in torque - now 105 lb-ft at 4000 rpm - helps improve the Prius' fuel economy, especially once it's on the highway.

A number of other changes also help raise those fuel economy numbers. The new engine uses electric power steering and water pumps, both of which are said to increase efficiency (and help eliminate the need for accessory belts). Like the 2010 Lexus RX450h, the new Prius still uses Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive, but a compact transaxle and a smaller transaxle reduce weight by twenty percent. The presence of a few electronic goodies - like a solar-powered remote air conditioning system and LED exterior lighting - are also said to help reduce the Prius' thirst for fuel.

Of course, if you're looking for the best fuel economy, you'll want to engage EV-Drive Mode, one of three driver-selectable drivetrain modes. EV-Drive allows the Prius to run solely on electric power for approximately one mile, while a Power mode increases the throttle sensitivity - potentially a blessing on highway on-ramps. We're betting most will simply leave the car in "Eco mode," which reportedly helps the Prius attain the best mileage possible.

According to Toyota, that mileage should be a combined 50 mpg city/highway, though we've yet to see official EPA figures. We're not expecting a huge climb in city economy (lest, of course, you take full advantage of the EV-Drive mode), but the jump in power may help improve the Prius' highway ratings.

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