Even though I was the very first North American journalist to drive the third-generation, 2010 Toyota Prius, that experience was limited to a few feet of travel at walking speed in a photo studio late last year. I hungered for more, in part because a brother of mine is shopping for a new car and this model is on his list.
During a few hundred miles of driving over several days, I expanded my Prius knowledge base sufficiently to report these facts:
- 48 mpg during 600 miles of mixed city, suburban, rural, and highway use. A flat-out test session (see below) was included in this mileage measurement.
- The run from rest to 60 mph takes ten seconds. Top speed is 114 mph. I clocked the quarter-mile run in 17.7 seconds with a trap speed of 81 mph.
- Achieving 100 mph-I may be the first and last to experience such velocity in a Prius-required 29.2 seconds.
- The battery depletion and recharge rates are both quite rapid. That said, there's no noticeable loss of performance even during very hard driving.
As an ambitious science project, the Prius is a remarkable achievement. The various dash displays, driving controls, and the visual feedback provided in response to the driver's actions are highly entertaining. The blend of internal combustion and electric propulsion is nicely improved over the second-generation Prius. While the brake system feels artificial and nonlinear initially, no driver should have difficulty adjusting expectations and control actuations to suit the car's needs. That said, there is virtually no steering feel. Worse, frequent small corrections are needed to herd this car down the road at freeway speeds.
The interior is roomy, comfortable, and nicely furnished. The Prius lives in that middle earth between cheap economy car and snooty luxury sedan. For average folks, its ambience is right on target.
Considering the mileage advantage, nicer interior, well-deserved reputation, and superior comfort, this Prius is worth the extra cost over a Honda Insight.
However, I must stress that there is no gold here for car enthusiasts. The Prius is way too slow, too special purpose, and too isolated in terms of road feedback to enthrall those serious about driving. It is an excellent alternative to carpooling or subway commuting. And I do recommend it for soulmates disinterested in speed or for young drivers squeezing every penny in their transpo budget. But if you need something that's both highly versatile and fun, Prius is definitely not your ride.
Don Sherman, Technical Editor