2010 Toyota Prius IVPosted on August 17th, 2009
Third-generation sedan raises the bar for hybrid performance
By Nina Russin
Prius is a Latin word meaning “to go before.” That’s exactly what Toyota did, prior to unveiling the original hybrid sedan in 1997. Ten years before the great recession and record-breaking oil prices, Toyota invested heavily in alternative fuel technology.
Rather than outsourcing, the automaker kept Prius development in-house. Doing so cost more, and slowed the process down. But once accomplished, it also set Toyota up for a leadership position in what has turned out to be a burgeoning market.
Today, Priuses are everywhere: I see almost as many used by cab companies and delivery services as I do privately-owned vehicles. While the federal tax credit helped to stimulate sales early on, it can’t account for the car’s overwhelming popularity.
The reason the Prius is so popular is because it’s easy to live with: durable enough for four-season climates, with a surprisingly versatile interior. Since the nickel-metal hydride battery recharges using regenerative energy, owners don’t have to fuss with plugging the car in.
This year, Toyota introduces the third-generation Prius, with better fuel economy than the model it replaces, and some compelling new features. An optional solar roof panel powers a remote air conditioning system that pre-cools the car. The new model is also safer, with a standard driver’s knee airbag, and available adaptive cruise control with lane keep assist.
The 2010 Prius is a little bigger than the former model, and has a more powerful engine. Engineers claim that additional torque from the larger block enhances high-speed fuel economy. The Prius accelerates from zero-to-sixty in 9.8 seconds.
It still isn’t a barn burner; nor does it need to be. Most Prius buyers are less concerned with speed than fuel economy. In my week-long test drive, I wanted to see how close I could come to the EPA fuel economy estimates.
Day one: 66 miles, 51.5 miles-per-gallon
The test car is the Prius IV: the most upscale model available with the solar roof panel. The sportier Prius V doesn’t come with the option, since the roof panel would add too much weight on top of the car’s larger standard wheels.
Base price is $25,800, not including a $750 destination charge. The solar roof package ($3600) also includes navigation, a rear back-up camera, audio upgrade and Bluetooth interface.
The backup camera is a godsend, since poor rear visibility is the Prius’ biggest Achilles heel. To make the car aerodynamic, the rear glass is a two-piece affair. The point where the glass pieces join is right in the middle of the driver’s rear sight-line. In addition, the car’s relatively high beltline makes it hard to judge the rear wheels.
Aside from that, starting and driving the car is wonderfully intuitive. After depressing the start button, the driver uses a small shift lever on the center stack to shift into gear. “Park” is a separate button next to the shift knob.
A display at the top of the instrument panel integrates speedometer, battery charge, odometer, and fuel economy data. A horizontal bar graph helps the driver to judge when the car is being driven economically, versus for power.
Drivers can choose between three modes: normal, eco and power. I chose normal mode, but utilized a couple of eco-driving techniques. I avoided jackrabbit starts, changed lanes, and timed my approach to traffic lights to maintain a steady speed.
After a round-trip to Scottsdale, I had logged 66 miles, mostly on the highway. My average speed was 38 miles-per-hour, and my average fuel economy slightly better than the EPA 50 mpg estimate.
Day two: testing the remote air conditioning
Thunderstorms kept outside temperatures relatively cool on the first day of the test drive. The sun returned on day two, and with it, the blast furnace heat.
The remote air conditioner only works if the inside temperature control is set on “automatic.” A button on the remote fob activates the air conditioning: brake lights flash to let the driver know the system is working.
There is one quirk: the air conditioner shuts off when the driver enters the car. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the system to run a couple minutes longer, giving the driver time to start the ignition? I guess this doesn’t matter in most climates, but here where daytime temperatures are in the 110s, the car heats up before I can hit the start button.
Day three: north to Sedona
On Saturday, my husband and I headed north to Sedona, Arizona. Our destination was 4000 feet higher than our start point. The climb, plus relatively high average highway speeds would test the four-cylinder engine’s power.
To toss an extra fly in the ointment, I set the hybrid system on “eco,” for maximum fuel economy. Our average fuel economy for the 160-mile drive was about 48.1 miles-per-gallon.
The performance was pretty good. The car’s ace-in-the-hole is the electric motor, which develops peak torque at very low speeds. While the Prius doesn’t have a lot of horsepower, the electric motor assist makes it a good hill climber.
The acid test was a ten-mile section of the 17 freeway about twenty miles north of the city limits: the road climbs from about 2500 feet to 4000. Trucks, which are restricted to the right lane, crawl up the hill, while passenger cars jockey for position in the passing lane. The Prius had no problems keeping up with traffic in the left lane, moving at about 80 miles-per-hour.
Steering response from the electric steering power assist rack-and-pinion system is good. The car’s fifteen-inch wheels don’t handle high speeds as well as larger rims would. Drivers who want better performance should consider the Prius V, with standard 17-inch wheels.
Spending several hours inside the car, I was able to get a better feel for its ergonomics. I found the driver’s seat comfortable for the duration of the drive, with plenty of lower lumbar support. The multi-information display at the top of the center stack is easy to read, without interfering with the driver’s forward vision.
A touch tracer system displays duplicate images of the steering wheel controls on the instrument panel when the driver touches them. The floating center stack puts the gearshift lever within comfortable reach for the driver, and creates a useful storage area beneath. Graphics on the optional navigation system are easy to read.
A two-piece glovebox holds extra maps and paperwork. All passengers have plenty of access to cup and bottle holders. A twelve-volt outlet at the base of the center stack recharges portable electronic devices.
Day four: home to Phoenix
It was no surprise that our average fuel economy improved on the trip home, with a 4000-foot net descent. Average fuel economy was 51.5 miles-per-gallon. By the end of the trip, I had logged 386 miles on the car.
Day five: Overall impressions
Without a doubt, the new Prius takes Toyota’s hybrid formula to a new level. The new car has better power and performance than the outgoing model, with fuel economy that’s nothing short of remarkable. The down side is that the 2010 model is fairly expensive: sticker on the test car is $30,709.
Since the Prius has gotten bigger, it’s roomier on the inside, with plenty of room for five passengers. Second-row seats are easy to fold flat to extend the cargo floor. The five-door Prius meets out bicycle friendly standards.
The car’s small wheels and low ground clearance limit its practicality on unimproved roads. I would be curious to see how well the car functions in the type of deep snow suburbanites in the northern Midwest have to contend with.
All cars come with front, side and side curtain airbags, a driver’s knee airbag, traction and electronic stability control, antilock brakes and active front headrests. The 2010 Prius is on display at Toyota dealerships nationwide.
Likes: The third-generation Prius is more powerful, and more spacious than the outgoing model, with better fuel economy. My average fuel economy during the week-long test drive was 51 miles-per-gallon.
Dislikes: Its high beltline and two-piece rear glass make it hard to see out the back of the car and judge where the rear wheels are. The remote air conditioning system shuts off when one of the doors is open.
Model: Prius IV
Base price: $25,800
As tested: $30,709
Horsepower: 98 Hp @ 5200 rpm*
Torque: 105 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 9.8 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 51/48 mpg city/highway
Comments: Horsepower and torque specifications are for the gasoline engine. The electric motor is rated at 80 horsepower with 153 ft.-lbs. of torque, giving the Prius 134 net horsepower.
One response to “2010 Toyota Prius IV”
I am a 2003 prius owner, can’t wait to try out this new one, I think it will be very nice. thanks for the review.
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