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2010 Toyota Prius Preview

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2010 Toyota Prius

2010 Toyota Prius

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The third-generation Toyota Prius is official, with a debut at the 2009 Detroit auto show--and it's rated at 50 miles per gallon.

The 2010 Toyota Prius has already had a mini-unveiling last fall, when leaked photos made their way to the Web and were confirmed as accurate by Toyota. Today, Toyota is showing off the Prius

Since Toyota's sold more than a million Priuses in a decade, expectations are high for the new car. And though Toyota's put a halt to construction of a Mississippi plant dedicated to Prius assembly, due to cratering fuel costs, it's betting that gas prices will rise again this year and boost demand back into the stratosphere.

The third-generation, 2010 Toyota Prius is pretty recognizable as a new car, though it shares the five-door liftback shape of the second-generation car still on sale now. (The new 2010 Lexus HS 250h, a cousin to the new Prius, is four-door only.) It's not pretty, but it does appear a little more sleek than the model that bowed in 2004. The interior follows the latest Toyota form, with a sweeping arc dividing driver-side controls from front-passenger space. At the back, the roofline is nearly four inches higher for better rear-seat headroom, but overall length is only 0.6 inches longer and the wheelbase is identical. The Prius' drag coefficient is down to a remarkable 0.25. Interior space is up slightly in the back seat, and the cargo area is 2.2 inches longer, thanks to a repackaged battery set. And like the new Lexus, the Prius’ interior uses plastics that emit less carbon dioxide over their life cycle.

For the drivetrain, Toyota turned to a slightly larger gas engine and a more compact, more efficient set of batteries and motors to boost the 2010 Prius to an estimated 50 mpg, a 4-mpg boost over the current version. A new 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine runs on an Atkinson cycle for leaner combustion, and Toyota says the additional torque from the engine actually helps the new Prius run more economically, since it spins at a lower engine speed on the highway. And thanks to an electric water pump and other reconfigured systems, the new Prius doesn't have any belts running any ancillary functions under the hood. The new continuously variable transmission is lighter, the entire drivetrain is 20 percent lighter and smaller, and the new regenerative braking system is more efficient.

While the new Prius will offer 50-mpg fuel economy, it will also have three driving modes: EV-Drive for battery-only driving for about a mile; Power mode for a more responsive feel; and Eco mode, for high-milers. A revamped information display shows Prius drivers how they're doing for fuel economy, as in the current car.

Toyota says the new architecture underpinning the Prius grants it better handling. The front suspension is a simple strut package, and the rear a beam axle, but better location and strength gives the Prius a little better response, they note. Four-wheel disc brakes are now installed, and the Prius wears some aluminum body panels (the hood, rear hatch, front axle and brake calipers) to trim weight and to knock the Prius’ 0-60 mph time down to 9.8 seconds, Toyota claims.

Features on the new 2010 Toyota Prius include a glass sunroof with solar panels that energize a ventilation system without starting the engine. Like Mazda’s old 929 sedan, the setup draws hot air from the Prius’ cabin, but this version, Toyota says, is the first to operate on battery power alone.

Safety gear includes dual front, side, curtain, rear curtain and knee airbags, as well as anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control. Radar-based cruise control, a lane-keeping system that adds torque to help the Prius track straight, and Parking Assist are all available, as is a backup camera.

The new 2010 Toyota Prius goes on sale in the spring, when pricing will be announced.

You can view more photos at our 2010 Toyota Prius page. Stay tuned for more from the 2009 Detroit auto show.

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Make sure you check out our partner sites dedicated to focused news, reviews and more for Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota, Honda, and the Toyota Prius.

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