2010 Toyota Prius

Pretty in Prius

by Joe LaMuraglia

2010 Toyota Prius

It went something like this: “…and I HATE hybrids”. Those were the words that came stumbling out of my mouth at the end of a long day of driving the new 2010 Toyota Prius. My friends and colleagues know that I speak my mind and am prone to psuedo-asperger-like bouts of verbal diarrhea but even my close friend Marty had a look of shock on his face when I answered the question “So, what did you think?” with the aforementioned blurb of honesty. What I really said was “Wow, I am really impressed. And for the record kind sir, I am not exactly on the hybrid cheer leading team”. Okay, it was somewhere in between but based on the shocked look of everyone within earshot, I wasn’t exactly effective in communicating my message that day.
Toyota started the hybrid craze with the original Prius over 10 years ago. The 2010 model is the most advanced Prius yet and when it goes on sale later this Spring, it will be one of the most fuel-efficient passenger car sold in the U.S. The new model has a familiar profile to the one it replaces but it essentially an all-new design that builds on Toyota’s experience with over 700,000 Prius’s on the road.

2010 Toyota Prius

The primary benefit of a hybrid vehicle is improved fuel economy and the new Toyota Prius delivers on that promise delivering 51 MPG city and 48 MPG highway for a combined 50 MPG. The early hybrids, Prius included, didn’t necessarily deliver on their published numbers, especially on the highway. Hybrid technology has come a long way and in the case of the 2010 Toyota Prius, your actual mileage may be better than what the government says.
In our day of driving in the Napa Valley, we took part in a high-mileage contest and achieved an indicated 69 MPG and didn’t win the contest! Keep in mind we weren’t driving at normal speed and real-world mileage will be considerably less but if you really try, you can achieve amazing results. In my last spin behind the wheel, I purposely drove as if I was running errands, and in a hurry. Translation: I drove like an angry Northerner on his way home from work with a full bladder. The results were an indicated 53 MPG. Very impressive.

2010 Toyota Prius

Toyota has clearly applied their continuous improvement methodology to the Prius’s hybrid system but you if you are like me, you are probably wondering what it is like to actually drive. During the presentation prior to driving the Prius, the Chief Engineer shared that he owned two Alfa Romeos – cars with reputations for beauty and driving pleasure, if not reliability. There was hope!
After a day behind the wheel of the 2010 Prius, I can say that the Alfas’ driving dynamic influenced the new Prius, but only a little. The last Prius was devoid of any driving pleasure and often compared to piloting an appliance down the road. The 2010 Prius is considerably better but isn’t going to replace your sports sedan anytime soon. It feels more planted and substantial on the road, accelerates at a brisk pace and even handles corners and curves with confidence but the electric steering, throttle and brakes all feel programmed and not all all organic.

2010 Toyota Prius

A back road burner the Prius is not but it IS a technical tour de force. The updated hybrid drive train features a larger 1.8-liter engine that helps with improved acceleration and increased fuel economy. Electric power steering is joined by an electric water pump to make the engine more efficient and belt-free. The optional sunroof features a solar panel that powers a fan to keep the interior temperature a few degrees cooler on those hot summer days. While it doesn’t actually cool the car, the argument is that it reduces the time the air conditioning will have to operate to get the vehicle to a comfortable temperature. More technical goodies include a remote battery-operated air conditioner, available park assist and three driving modes to maximize economy or performance.

2010 Toyota Prius

The improvements are evident in the interior of the new Prius as well. A center console divides the front passenger compartment and creates a driver-oriented cockpit of sorts. There a convenient storage space underneath the drive-by-wire shift lever. Control inputs on the steering wheel are duplicated via an image on the instrument panel in front of the driver. Called “Touch Tracer” it is designed to reduce driver fatigue and keep the driver’s eyes on the road. It is odd at first but quickly becomes intuitive.
We’ve established that the Prius looks futuristic, is loaded with advanced technologies and is more engaging to pilot than the vehicle it replaces. The next question is, can the Prius be a good substitute for a workhorse family sedan? Based on my limited time with the 2010 Prius, the answer is YES. The original Prius was odd and full of compromises. In true Toyota fashion, improvements arrived with every new iteration and the 2010 model is the best yet. The hatchback design and improvements in rear cargo area allow the Prius to double as a delivery vehicle for your weekend projects and the advanced drive train make the Prius easier to live with on a day to day basis. Great interior room and comfortable seats make schlepping kids and adults as easy as the best options in its class. And with 10 years of experience and over 700,000 on the road, Toyota claims the Prius lives up to their reputation for durability and quality.
What’s not to love? Per my earlier point, the Prius has improved driving dynamics but it is still not exactly fun to drive. If carving up canyon roads is your thing, the Prius won’t do it for you. It is also considerably more expensive than a comparable sedan or hatchback. Toyota hasn’t announced pricing for the 2010 Prius but our data partner, vLane.com lists a new 2009 Toyota Prius as starting at $22,000 MSRP. The 2010 model will most likely to more.
Hundreds of thousands of people love their Prius’ and the new 2010 Toyota Prius will certainly appeal to even more consumers. If you are looking for a functional, futuristic, fuel saver and fun-to-drive isn’t a prerequisite, you’ll feel pretty in the new Prius.

Photos Courtesy of Toyota

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