2010 Toyota Prius

Categories: Car Reviews, Follow Up
Written By: admin

026_2010_Prius

At the other end of Toyota’s model spectrum lies the Prius, the car that created the company’s (now slightly tarnished) image as a global leader in responsible car production. It too has come under scrutiny for having perhaps been rushed to market, based on reports of ABS braking issues (March 9th’s ‘runaway’ Prius in California was a second generation model, not the 3rd gen under review here).

I’m someone who was loath to embrace the hype about hybrids, yet I’ve found that Toyota’s relentless work to improve the performance of these battery-electric vehicles has even won even me over. It’s hard not to become a true believer when you see astonishing 50mpg returns on the fuel economy computer’s readout. Especially as the Prius is no longer some weird penalty box to ride around in.

Pretty good for a leadfoot...

Pretty good for a leadfoot...

It now has adequate power—just—and decent ride and handling. If it’s still a bit prone to road noise, I can accept that, as Toyota is trying very hard to keep weight in check. This logic also applies to the interior’s materials, which are by their very nature designed to save mass, yet are well finished and assembled; the firm now needs to raise the standards on the vehicles they assemble here in the U.S. to the same level.

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Moreover, the wave-like patterns and textures chosen for dash and door moldings, combined with the original forms of the whole cockpit, evoke a futuristic sense to proceedings; piloting the Prius is a Buck Rogerish undertaking that makes you think of those midcentury visions of a brave new world of space travel and atomic powered airships. My favorite little trick this 3rd gen Prius performs is its multilayer central display, where touching the steering wheel buttons for the climate controls and audio system cause icons to briefly pop up in the central display, overlaying the other readings ‘behind’ them.

Central display without overlay

Central display without overlay

And with overlay

And with overlay

That sci-fi vibe doesn’t come at the expense of practicality; the Prius is very roomy, and its commodious cargo area—and rear hatch—make it a great family vehicle. As it comes in multiple trim levels, from a basic model that stickers at just $23,550, to something loaded with leather, nav, smart cruise control, and self-parking (like my test vehicle), gives it the breadth to satisfy the needs of many demographics, and helps create its ‘classless’ image, akin to the VW Beetle in the ‘60s.

All Prii turn in the same amazing results at the gas pump. I tried the various operating modes for the hybrid system, to see if there were any real differences, and indeed there were. In the ‘Eco’ mode, I pushed the Prius to over 52mpg on a drive home. Understand that it took concentration and discipline to do so, but that is part of the fun; in its own way, piloting a Prius is as captivating as driving a sports car near its limits, or crawling along a technical offroad challenge in a dedicated 4×4. Another day, I used the ‘Power’ mode to make up for a late start; while the fuel economy readout was much lower at 42mpg at the end of that journey, compared to most vehicles on the American market the Toyota’s results were stellar. Driven in a normal fashion, in its default mode of operation, I returned scores ranging from 44-47mpg.

As nothing else you can buy turns those kind of numbers, I’d say Toyota has fulfilled its mission brief with the Prius; and as these vehicles are as reliable as anything made—even over 100,000-plus miles—they help keep what’s left of Toyota’s reputation intact. Now, if the firm can reapply some of the focus that makes the Prius so great to the rest of their broad lineup, their dark days may indeed be behind them.

Price as tested: $33,079

The Prius page on the Toyota site is here.

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