Long Term Road Test – Toyota Prius

Vehicle Tested: 2010 Toyota Prius

Long term test: 7,000 miles

Vehicle from: cars4u.com

Conclusion: Third generation hybrid drives like a sporty luxury five door while delivering real-world 50 miles-per-gallon.

PROS:

  • 50 mpg (3.8 litres per 100km in Canada) real world
  • Solid real-car handling with sporty aspirations (for a Toyota)
  • Small car exterior, mid-size car interior
  • Understated luxury as only Toyota can manage
  • Vastly improved ergonomics and instruments
  • Sleek design with best drag co-efficient of any production car
  • Quiet ride
  • Seemless transition from electric to hybrid

CONS:

  • Slightly less legroom versus 2009
  • Depending on your point of view, CSV transmission (this reviewer liked its responsiveness)
  • Price, although it is good value for the total package.

Toyota owns hybrid in the market, even though Honda was technically first. With the numbers of Prius models on the road surpassing many non-hybrid competitors, Toyota can claim the title of Hybrid “owner.” Its past generation downsides included: bizarre design (part of its mystique), underpowered drivetrain, and transition clunkiness.

All that changes with the new Prius. While retaining the best-in-class mileage ratings, even compared to Toyota’s other hybrid models, and some of the signature look, the third generation Prius 2010 model has gone “mainstream” enough to attract millions more to the marque. Currently they’re managing approximately 20,000 units sold per month in the US. The only real downside to a Prius is its price, but in the hybrid category it’s competitive. Where buyers sometimes stumble is when comparing the Prius (or any hybrid) to an economy four-banger at several thousand dollars less.

Abraham Blinick, Operations Manager at cars4u.com convinced me to review the car. “We sell and lease a lot of cars,” said Blinick. “This is the car I like so much I bought one myself. I like the design elements and definitely the functionality.”

Apples to Oranges

On a purely economical comparison, the Prius can never win against an economy four-cylinder model from any manufacturer. It isn’t meant to. One drive in the Prius shows why. Long term, the livability of the Prius, versus a small economy car with comparable (but inferior) fuel economy, becomes apparent. The Prius is larger, far more comfortable, fun to drive-for many, the perfect balance of luxury, compactness, technology, sportiness, economy and price. It’s finally a real mid-size car.

Definite Lexus features abound, with available features such as assisted park and backup cameras. Even the standard equipment is above average for the price.

Sticker Shock?

Not really. For the level of equipment, even without hybrid technology, this car would feel about price right. The problem is, there’s no really stripped down version that makes this an “entry-level” car, which comes in states-side at $23,500. At these prices, Toyota will continue to have a best seller, projecting to sell 100,000 in America during 2009 and 180,000 next year. They are on target to exceed these numbers.

Long Term Test

Before drilling down to economy, performance, fit and finish, I’ll begin with the long-term perspective. A short-term test won’t always identify flaws. A long term test always reveals the true character of a car, for better or worse.

Miles Per Gallon

After 7,000 miles, the mileage remained in real terms in the 50 mpg range (US gallons), even with aggressive driving mixed in. With a feather-light pedal (think hyper-milling), this can improve by as much as 20 percent. Without question, this is the most fuel efficient production cars on the road, even slightly beating out previous generation Prius models. I regularly managed 600 miles per tank, which fills up, on average, for around $30.

Performance

Even if you press the “Economy” button on the center console-to get a true measure of it’s enviro-worthiness-when you need power, a quick press of the accelerator pedal delivers “press back in the seat” power. The 0-60mph sprint will not make a Porsche cower in it’s garage, at 9.8 seconds, but the passing power is quite exhilarating and the power is ultra smooth. The electric motor delivers instant torque, which makes the car feel very responsive.

Total output of the combined drive train, electric and gas running together, is 134 hp. Long term, the car never lost its snappy charm, always feeling ready to pass a slow poke-which is ironic considering Prius is notoriously known as the “slow lane car.” The rapidity with which the digital speedometer climbs can get you in trouble with highway patrol if you’re not alert. The car is very quiet at all speeds, slightly noisy on a full throttle hill climb, which makes use of the cruise control very important to avoid tickets. When combined with the stability of the suspension, you don’t feel like you’re going that fast.

Handling

The third generation Prius is an all new platform, and has sporty aspirations. It’s not a sports car, but the cornering is flat, even on the sharpest, hard corners and the new electric steering gives nice road feel. It does not feel like any other Toyota on the road, although it’s closest to a Matrix. The non-slip cannot be defeated for sporty slides, so be content with stable, flat corners.

I extensively test drove the car in early 2009 snow and also on tortuous dirt roads. The car remains glued to the road, even in slippery conditions, and aside from a little jarring on the heavy dips (understandable considering the sporty suspension), it’s a comfortable drive on country roads.

Braking

Braking is at least as important as acceleration. The 2010 Prius brakes without nose dive, grips tight, and the slip control ABS is only slightly intrusive. It’s a nice package, and feels safe.

Of course, a unique feature of the Prius is that the massive batteries are charged with braking and also coasting. With cruise control engaged, the engine automatically engine-brakes to keep speed from creeping up, while using the coasting energy to recharge batteries.

Comfort

After 7,000 miles, my impressions remain the same: the Prius is comfortable and firm and quiet. It’s a nice place to spend long hours on the highway, with the fine stereo cranked, the nicely cushioned seats, and just-right steering wheel. The ergonomics are perfection, with everything within easy reach, and many controls on the steering wheel. The rear seats are equally comfortable, and cargo space is improved over previous generations.

The dash and instruments are enjoyable, even in bright sunshine. Although it’s digital, it’s an enhanced bright display, with meaningful information easily seen. I’m not a fan of center-pod displays for speedometer, but Toyota placed it exactly right to keep it right in line of vision. With the low seating position and dash display position, you can see the readouts without glancing down or away fromt he road.

Our tester model did not have lane-keeping assist, parking assist or radar-controlled distance keeping. We did however have the sports package with 17 inch allow wheels, superior tires and nice finishing touches.

Design and Finish

After 7,000 miles, everything remained tight and Toyota-like. Definitely opt for the tan interior. The gray is a deadly Toyota gray and far too bland for long term living. The number of storage compartments is above ordinary: two glove boxes, a storage tray under the center console, arm rest storage, and secret trunk compartments in the hatch back area. With seats folded flat, the storage is impressive. Our tester had the leather interior and fit and finish was tight and Lexus-quality.

Initial Walk Around

When our reviewers first saw the Prius, sitting in our parking lot, shiny white with sport wheels, there was a definite “aha” factor. The car simply looks better in person than in photographs. The “aha” factor continues when the hood is popped for an inspection.

Sitting in our tan and grey interior tester, it felt immediately comfortable, even luxurious, with a bit of Lexus flair. Combine the tight fittings and nice cabin, with some very futuristic touches-in particular the instruments-and the car immediately feels special. Press the start button, to utter silence (no engine noise), and there’s a definite “wow” factor if you haven’t driven in a hybrid previously.

Competitors

The competitors haven’t really caught up. Even Toyota’s other hybrid models don’t have the unique blend of feel, looks and economy offered in the third gen Prius. It’s uniqueness either makes it a sure-bet with no competitors, or a last choice if you trend towards conventional design cars. The main competitors currently, with somewhat lesser mileage ratings are: Ford Fusion Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid, Honda Insight, Altima Hybrid. Also midsize is the Toyota Camray Hybrid, but it’s not in the same class for economy as the Prius, Insight or Fusion.

Make: Toyota

Model Year: 2010

Model: Prius

Drive train: front-wheel drive

Transmission: Panetary-type continuously variable transmission

Gas Engine: Inline-4 Atkinson cycle

Displacing: 1798 cc or 110 cubic inch

Valves: 16 valves, double overhead camshafts, variable intakes

Horsepower: 98 @ 5200 rpm for gas engine and 36 hp battery pack

Torque: 105 @ 4000 rpm

Suspension: Independent McPherson struts, stabilizer bars, coil springs

Steering: Electric-assist rack-and-pinion

Brakes front: 10 inch ventilated disc

Brakes rear: 10.2 solid disc

Curb weight: 3042 lb

Weight distribution: 60.2% front/ 39.8% rear

Fuel Tank: 11.9 gallon

EPA Fuel Economy: 51mpg city and 48 highway. Combined 50 mpg

Performance:

0-30mph: 3.6 seconds

0-45mph: 6.3 seconds

0-60mph: 9.8 seconds

¼ mile: 17.3 seconds at 79.7 mph

Braking:

30mph-0: 30 feet

60mph-0:118

Slalom (mph) 59.7mph

Lateral Acceleration (g): 0.78

Length: 175.6 inches

Width: 68.7 inches

Height: 58.7 inches

Wheelbase: 106.3 inches

Legroom front: 42.5 inches

Legroom rear: 37.6 inches

Headroom front: 38.6 inches

Headroom rear: 37.6 inches

Maximum seating: 5

Cargo Volume: 21.4 cu feet

Seat down (flat) Cargo Volume: 39.6 cu feet.

All inclusive warranty: 3 years, 36,000 miles

Powertrain warranty: 5 years, 60,000 miles

Hybrid component warranty: 8 years, 100,000 miles

Safety: standard front, dual side, head airbags and driver-only knee airbags, ABS, brake assist, traction control, stability control, tire monitoring.