The all-new 2010 Toyota Prius offers no surprises, just significant improvement. It's sleeker and better looking, and more powerful while delivering an EPA-rated 51/48 mpg City/Highway, up by 3 miles per gallon.
The hybrid mechanicals are lighter by 65 pounds, while being more efficient and presumably stronger. The 1.8-liter gas engine is also new, producing more horsepower while being more efficient. Top speed has flown to 112 miles per hour from 103 mph, slam-dunk evidence that the Prius is a lot slicker package at half that speed.
Acceleration performance is adequate, 0 to 60 mph in 9.8 seconds, while the CVT, or continuously variable transmission, is smooth.
There are three driving modes: EV, ECO and Power. EV is all electric, for very short distances at speeds under 25 mph; ECO provides the best fuel mileage, without noticeably compromising performance; and Power, the default mode, is needed for brisk acceleration.
Handling is nimble enough at slow speeds, and the brakes are sensitive while being stacked with electronic capabilities for safety. There are seven airbags including one for the driver's knees. The ride can be harsh over the wrong bumps, and interior noise is surprisingly high despite increased sound insulation. Many owners might not notice, but others will, with so many Prius buyers in search of tranquility.
Standard magic includes Touch Tracer Display, projecting info before your eyes, so you can keep them on the road. Input comes from the pilot at the controls on the steering wheel, including not just audio and cruise control, but also climate control and trip computer, with telephone and other controls available.
Options include such technological tricks as a moonroof and solar-powered ventilation system; remote pre-air conditioning to cool the car down to ambient temperature before you climb in on a hot day; a warning beep when you're unsteady in your lane; radar cruise control; Intelligent Parking Assist that will parallel park the Prius with no steering or throttle input from the driver; and pre-collision emergency braking to slightly reduce the impact when you don't see an accident coming but the car's radar does.
The 2010 Toyota Prius ($21,000) comes in trim levels, starting with Prius I. Because Toyota wants to stay focused on the Prius name, there are no models with names of their own. There are the Prius II, III, IV and V. Prius II ($22,000) is fully equipped and is expected to be the most popular. Prius III ($23,000) adds a premium JBL sound system and Bluetooth capability.
Prius IV ($25,800) adds leather seats and upgraded trim, heated front seats, water repellent window glass, plasma instrument cluster, HomeLink, and a Smart Key system. Prius V ($27,270) adds 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps, and foglamps.
Options include the Navigation Package ($1,800) with voice-activated DVD navigation with Bluetooth, XM traffic and a backup camera. The Solar Roof Package ($3,600) adds a solar powered ventilation system to the Navigation Package. The Advanced Technology Package ($4,500) includes a pre-collision system that automatically dabs the brakes and reduces crash impact speed by a slight amount, radar cruise control, Lane Keep Assist, Intelligent Park Assist, and the Navigation Package.
Safety equipment standard on all models includes dual-stage front airbags, side airbags in front, airbag curtains, and driver's knee airbag; active headrests; tire pressure monitor with warning light; anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist and Brake Force Distribution; and a sophisticated stability control system working with traction control. Optional safety equipment includes a pre-collision system that uses the same radar antenna as the radar cruise control. It applies the brakes harder than the driver does if a collision is imminent and applies them even if the driver doesn't to reduce the collision impact by 0.7g.