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  • 2010 Toyota Prius

    Posted on March 25th, 2009 ninarussin

    Toyota ups the ante with its third-generation hybrid

    By Nina Russin

    2010 Toyota Prius

    2010 Toyota Prius

    The problem with doing something well is that everybody else wants a piece of it. When Toyota rolled out the first Prius in 2001, industry insiders saw a limited production car for a niche market.

    But Toyota knew its hybrid sedan had more potential than sales of 12,000 units that year suggested. The name, Prius, comes from a Latin verb meaning “to go before.” As it turned out, the public’s initial reaction was a swell before the tidal wave of popularity that followed.

    Today, Toyota has sold 700,000 Priuses in the US: 1.2 million world wide. The public has taken to gasoline/electric hybrids like ducks to water.

    As a result, the duck pond is loaded with competitive products, including the affordably-priced Honda Insight.

    When Toyota began work on the third-generation Prius in 2004, it assigned two thousand engineers to the project. The new model doesn’t look radically different than the car it replaces, but looks can be deceiving.

    More powerful and more thrifty

    Ninety percent of the Prius’ underpinnings are completely new. A lighter inverter, motor and transaxle have boosted average fuel economy to 50 miles-per-gallon. Coefficient of drag on the new car is .25, thanks to aerodynamic improvements both under and over the car.

    The standard engine is a 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder unit with variable valve timing. Engineers eliminated all belts driven off the crankshaft to reduce internal friction. The engine and electric motors produce 134 horsepower and 105 foot-pounds of torque. The Prius accelerates from zero-to-sixty in under ten seconds, and has a top speed of 112 miles-per-hour.

    A new heat recovery system that runs off the exhaust gets the engine to operating temperature faster to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions. The system also helps to heat up the interior in cold weather.

    The car’s two electric motors are both smaller and lighter: they operate at higher rpms than the old units to create more power.

    A new fuel tank design takes up less space, allowing designers to increase room inside the car.

    The only technology that’s essentially unchanged is the battery: it remains a nickel-metal hydride pack rated at 206 volts.

    Three driving modes

    There are three driving modes: power, normal and eco. In the power mode, the new model accelerates from 30 to 50 miles-per-hour in 4.1 seconds: a full 1.5 seconds faster than the outgoing model.

    The driver can run the car in electric-only mode for up to a mile at speeds at or under 25 miles-per-hour.

    A revised suspension makes the Prius track better, while a rigid-mounted steering rack provides more precise feedback. The new model also stops better, thanks to four-wheel disc brakes (the current car has rear drums).

    Enhanced safety

    Toyota has incorporated many safety features from pricier Lexus models in the new Prius, including dynamic laser cruise control, lane departure warning, pre-collision and intelligent parking assist. The new parking system automatically backs the car into parallel spaces on the street, once the driver sets the correct “target.”

    A new safety connect system that works on GPS has an SOS button that allows the driver to call for help. The option also includes stolen vehicle location, automatic collision notification of police and medical personnel, and roadside assistance. The system is available starting in August and includes a one-year subscription to the service.

    Standard safety features on the new Prius include seven airbags, active front headrests, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control and a tire pressure monitoring system.

    Larger interior with available pre-cooling



    An available solar roof panel works with automatic air conditioning to pre-cool the interior when its temperature is higher than the selected setting. The solar panel is not available on cars equipped with seventeen-inch wheels: its weight would exceed the maximum to achieve the car’s target fuel economy.

    The new Prius is more spacious inside than the car it replaces. This is most noticeable in the second row. Designers pushed the roof arc back to increase headroom for second-row passengers. There is enough hip-room for three passengers. Legroom in back is adequate for small adults. Tall men will find their knees pushing against the front seatbacks.

    A floating center stack is similar to a design Volvo uses in its passenger cars: space behind the stack houses a purse or small pack. On upscale models, seat heater controls and 12-volt outlets are located behind the center stack.

    The base model called the Prius II comes with a two-tone interior, slide-and-tilt center console, auxiliary power point and 40/60 split and folding rear seats.

    The Prius III adds a premium audio system and Bluetooth compatibility. Leather upholstery is available on the Prius III, IV and V. The Prius V comes with seventeen-inch wheels as opposed to fifteen-inch rims on other models, LED headlamps with washers and fog lamps.

    The rear seats are easy to fold flat. The headrests tilt forward so they don’t have to be removed. A button on the top of the seatbacks releases them to fold down. With the rear seats folded flat, the Prius meets our bicycle-friendly standards.

    A new under-floor storage area is a handy spot to stash valuables, or the tonneau cover when it’s not in use.

    Up front, manually adjustable seats have adequate lower lumbar support. A power lumbar support is optional.

    A standard tilt and telescoping steering wheel makes it easier for small drivers to maintain a clear forward view. Redundant steering wheel controls allow the driver to adjust temperature, mode and audio controls. When the driver’s fingers pass over the controls, an image of the buttons appears on the central information display at the top of the center stack.

    The front doors have bottle holders. The center section of the back seats folds down to serve as an armrest with cupholders for the two outboard passengers.

    A two-piece glovebox separates registration documents from other items.

    The center console on the test car, a Prius III, includes a 12-volt power point and deep storage bin. A shelf inside the bin holds small electronic devices.

    The shift lever is at the base of the center stack. The settings are similar to other Toyota hybrids: drive, reverse, B (brakes are applied to produce the equivalent of a low gear), and neutral. Park is a separate button next to the gear shift.

    Enhanced information display

    Information display

    Information display

    The central information display gives the driver more information on the car’s power and fuel economy. An energy monitor is green to the left and red to the right. It tells the driver when the vehicle’s regenerative braking is charging the battery pack, and when he is driving for maximum fuel economy. When the driver accelerates hard for power, the meter turns red.

    The meter automatically calculates average fuel consumption in 5-minute increments. The display includes a speedometer and fuel gauge, and indicators that show if the car is in electric-only, eco, normal or power modes. In eco mode, onboard software smoothes out acceleration inputs and optimizes climate controls for maximum fuel economy.

    The optional navigation system and audio share a dedicated screen below the information display.

    Elevation test

    At a recent media event in Tucson, Arizona, I had a chance to drive the Prius around town and along the Catalina Highway that goes up Mount Lemmon. The road climbs from about 2500 feet at the base of the mountain to over 6000 feet at the top.

    Drivers share the two-lane twisting road with cyclists. Since the shoulders are narrow and there are no bike lanes on large sections of the road, it can be a challenge to navigate through traffic. I have a huge dose of respect for the cyclists with the strength to ride up the road, and the guts to go down the steep descent with no more than a small guard rail between themselves and the canyon wall.

    The road was a good indicator of how far the Prius has come in terms of ride and handling. The new suspension and tires do a much better job of biting into the pavement for better cornering. Steering response is sharp, and the brakes stop the car in a firm, linear fashion.

    I put the car in power mode to climb up the hill. Because of the crowded road conditions, our average speed never climbed above about 40 miles-per-hour. More often we were in the 25-35 mile-per-hour range. But the car handled the grade with aplomb. The continuously variable transmission eliminates clunky downshifts for a more enjoyable ride.

    Visibility is quite good to the front and sides of the car but terrible to the back. The new car has a similar design to the outgoing model. There’s an obvious line where the roof and back glass panels meet, and the rear pillars give the driver a bad case of tunnel-vision. For this reason, I’d strongly recommend the optional navigation package, that includes a rear backup camera.

    Our overall fuel economy for the 63-mile drive was just under 54 miles-per-gallon, with an average speed of 30 miles-per-hour.

    Pricing for the new Prius will be announced closer to vehicle launch, late this spring.

    Likes: An extremely refined gasoline/electric hybrid with segment-leading fuel economy and safety features formerly available only in more expensive cars.

    Dislikes: Bland interior styling; poor rear visibility

    Quick facts:

    Make: Toyota
    Model: Prius
    Year: 2010
    Base price: TBA
    As tested: TBA
    Horsepower: 134 net (gasoline engine and electric motors)
    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
    Off-road: No
    Towing: No
    Fuel economy: 51/48 mpg city/highway


    One response to “2010 Toyota Prius”

    1. the prius is actually pretty roomy for a small automobile, quite hi-tech within.

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