2010 Toyota Prius Review

It’s Electric On The Road

Drivers who prefer cars with a sporty personality have never liked the Prius. Previous generations of the car were never fun to drive. The 2010 Prius, while far from being a sports car, is a much more enjoyable car to drive. Toyota engineers told us that the hybrid’s chassis has been stiffened, and significant changes have been made to the front suspension that improve the car’s responsiveness.

We drove the new Prius in central Florida and found some great roads with curves East of the town of St. Cloud. The Prius eagerly took to the corners with confidence. There are four different “modes” that control the Prius’s hybrid powertrain. There is an EV mode that, under ideal conditions, allows electric-only driving for up to a mile. The “normal” mode the default setting that is bracketed by the “Eco” and “Power” modes.

These modes change the way the accelerator pedal responds to your right foot. If you floor the pedal, you’ll have the same amount of maximum power, but every throttle point in between changes depending on the mode you select. For example, the Eco mode requires the driver to push much farther on the pedal to accelerate, and this has the effect of delivering smooth, gentle, fuel-saving acceleration.

By contrast, in the Power mode, just a bit of throttle elicits a big response from the hybrid powertrain. Stabbing the accelerator makes the Prius accelerate briskly, feeling as if it had the momentary power of a V-6. Of course, mileage drops in the Power mode. There is no free lunch.

In less energetic driving, the ride was acceptable and quiet … not luxury car ride and quiet … but fine for a vehicle’s whose primary mission is fuel economy. To that point, Toyota challenged members of the press to an economy challenge on a 40 mile loop that included many different types of roads including residential streets and interstates. Your author averaged 69 mpg, but was eclipsed by a number of other drivers who achieved as much as 78 mpg.

Along with the above, another solid feature are the controls mounted on the steering wheel. While lots of cars offer this feature, the Prius is the only one equipped with touch sensors for these controls. When the driver touches the audio or info switch located on the steering wheel, a duplicate image is displayed on the instrument panel, directly in front of the driver. This system, called Touch Tracer, is the first system in the world to allow steering wheel controls to read out on the instrument panel, helping drivers keep their eyes on the road.

The tracers show up on an easy-to-read center-mounted electronic instrument cluster that incorporates many different displays.

In contrast to this advanced technology, many of the Prius’s interior surfaces are plain, old-fashioned plastics. Unfortunately, several important interior areas are completely formed from hard plastic (the console is the worst) and this cheapens an otherwise pleasant interior.

Before Laying Down Your Green

For those following the latest in hybrid vehicles, the new Prius is in direct competition with the recently introduced Honda Insight and Ford Fusion Hybrid. The Honda is smaller and because it is a mild hybrid, doesn’t get quite the mileage of the Prius.

The Ford, however, may be the biggest hybrid surprise for 2010. Not only the imports that know how to make efficient cars these days. Compared to the Prius, the Fusion is more refined and substantial than the Prius.

This type of competition is new for the Prius. The improvements made for 2010, though, should be more than ample to keep current Prius owners happy and attract new buyers to Toyota’s green giant.

Rex Roy can be reached through his web site, www.RexRoy.net.

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