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
I drove the Toyota Prius for the first time and, uh, I’m thinking of buying one.
I know. I know! The Prius represents everything many auto enthusiasts love to hate. But my girlfriend drives more than 100 miles a day, meaning she could actually benefit from the exceptional fuel economy. The young lady, a financial analyst by trade, quickly calculated the potential savings and inquired why I had never so much as mentioned the Prius during our car-buying discussions. The obvious answer, “Because it’s not a car guy’s car,” didn’t sway her.
What the Prius is, is a roomy, comfortable car that gets great gas mileage. And it isn’t even all that bad to drive as far as front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder, mid-size cars go. Sure, there are some nerdy quirks, such as the weird texturing on the hard plastic dash and an awkwardly designed shifter. But for a base price of $22,750 (there’s no way I’d consider one equipped to our test car’s $26,550), the Prius is a perfectly reasonable option.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
During a drive from Ann Arbor to Detroit, I was able to raise the Prius’s indicated mileage by more than 4 mpg over 40 miles–well under 10 percent of the total mileage we put on it by the time I drove it–and saw sustained periods of over 60 mpg.
The car may achieve some impressive fuel economy numbers, but the driving experience in this base model is, as expected, less than involving. The only way to get involved in driving this vehicle is to pay close attention to the fuel economy numbers coming out of the digital dash readout. I have to admit, I find this sort of thing kind of fun, but I would prefer to be able to toy with fuel economy while having fun actually driving the car.
Toyota apparently took a cue from Volvo and made a split center console, which adds a neat storage compartment. I wondered why the seat heaters for both the driver and the passenger are located on the driver’s’ side of the storage compartment, though. I routinely drive over 300 miles at a time and don’t get out of a car with a sore back or showing any sort of fatigue. However, after a mere 40 miles on the way to Detroit, I stepped out of the Prius and my back just ached. If there is one area of the Prius that needs definite improvement, it is the seats, even though Toyota made an effort to improve them in the 2010 Prius versus the previous-generation car’s. That’s a shame, because this car would make a great long-tripper with its incredible range on one tank.
Andrew Peterson, Intern
Driving the Prius in liberal, green Ann Arbor seemed too natural, so photography intern Andrew Trahan and I drove over to Ypsilanti to examine Toyota’s third-generation hybrid. While numerous stories chronicle the adventures of auto journalists trying to eke out every last mile from a gallon of fuel, this was not our particular mission. We combined a bit of highway cruising with city driving to see what our real-world MPG would come out to.
I spent quite a bit of time with the second-generation Prius back in New York City, and it seems that Toyota stuck to a successful formula in updating the Prius. There’s the same vast expanse of beige dashboard with central-mounted electronic display and the strange joystick-like shifter. At first glance, it seemed like something was missing – and there was: Unlike the second-generation Prius that sports a display screen that doubles as a nav system if so equipped, Toyota moved the Hybrid Synergy Drive information to the central display. I like it better there.
The newest Prius is a riff on the Prius formula, but subtle improvements alter the driving experience. Steering feel is much tighter than in the previous model, and you don’t feel like you’re going to roll the car when you go around a bend, even on our car’s skinny fifteen-inch tires. (215/44VR-17 Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 tires are optional.) Yes, the eco-friendly tires still squeal if you try a left-hander with any inclination of acceleration, but it feels far less vague than its predecessor. The ride was stiffer over Michigan roads than I remember it being over the New York City’s rough terrain.
Overall, the Prius has matured well. The Prius remains, well, a Prius; and, in fact, it is handily outselling the Honda Insight.
Jeffrey Jablansky, Intern
Base price (with destination): $22,750
Price as tested: $26,750 (Prius 4 model)
Carpet floor mats & cargo mat $200
51 / 48 / 50 mpg
Size: 1.8L DOHC 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 98 hp @ 5200 rpm/80 hp from electric motor
Torque: 105 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm/153 lb-ft from electric motor
Hybrid synergy drive system CVT
Weight: 3042 lb
15″ steel wheels with covers
P195/65R15 Yokohama Avid S35 all-season tires