- Exceptional fuel economy
- Tall, airy cabin
- Hatchback utility
- Likely more expensive
- Still drives like a hybrid
- Console design means less knee room in front
The 2010 Toyota Prius ups the ante in the hybrid world with 51-mpg city fuel economy and a finer style.
It's back for a third generation—and now, a decade and 700,000 ancestors rolling around already, the 2010 Toyota Prius brings with it more room, a more refined feel, and the real-world ecstasy (for some) of 51-mpg fuel economy.
The 2010 Prius still is recognizable as a Toyota hybrid, but there's more wedge in its stance, more crease in its profile, catchier cues in its arrow-inflected headlamps and taillamps, and more room under its reproportioned roofline. For sure, it's more dynamic-looking than the outgoing model and a hair longer overall, but it's still more future-appliance than future-chic. It does split the wind more finely; the aerodynamic drag's down to 0.25, one of the lowest figures for any production car, with much of the improvement achieved under the car.
Change you can believe in is found more in the cabin, where a new flying-buttress console adds some visual interest to the Prius' wide, low dash and its digital, distantly mounted gauges. Driving controls are segregated from the passenger by black and silver plastic, which cuts down the sheer mass of the dash panels.
Earth geeks and mileage freaks will spend hours away from World of Warcraft coaxing ever-high fuel economy out of the 2010 Prius. Officially, it's rated at 50 mpg city, 39 highway by the EPA, but TheCarConnection.com's experts teased 69.5 mpg with judicious use of the gas and the Prius' new battery-only EV driving mode—and we've already heard of figures exceeding 75 mpg. In part, the improved fuel economy is due to a lighter, stiffer body. The powertrain's also been reconfigured for less weight, and contrary to expectations, a bump in displacement from 1.6 liters to 1.8 liters for the four-cylinder engine has helped the hybrid system be more frugal overall. The combination puts out 134 horsepower, but the 1.8-liter's better torque helps the Prius run at slower engine speeds on the highway. A hefty lead foot will drop the Prius into the high 30-mpg range, but a light touch, a mindful eye on the "Eco" driving mode indicators, and use of the new EV mode—which allows a mile of pure-electric driving with a well-charged battery pack—will help any driver extract more than 50 mpg in city driving.
Other performance improvements have been directed at the Prius' less than entertaining road manners. The stiffer body shell helps reduce noise and vibration from the engine and continuously variable transmission. Engineers have tried, and are fairly successful, at improving the Prius' steering by angling its wheels slightly. The brakes are now discs at all four corners, and the regeneration that captures kinetic energy, turning it into electricity, has been improved. With more lightweight aluminum in the body too, the Prius' 0-60 mph times are now under 10 seconds. Still, you'll always be reminded of the fact that you're driving a hybrid vehicle with electronic control over the steering, braking, and acceleration feel.
A better body means more comfortable surroundings for the 2010 Prius' five passengers. There is less front knee room, side to side, thanks to the new center console, but the driver's seat is now height-adjustable. Backseaters get the knee room left behind by slimmer front seatbacks and better headroom from the rejiggered roofline. The cargo area expands even more, with a redesigned battery housing and 2.2 inches of extra room creating a few more cubic feet of storage. In general, the Prius' plastics are upgraded and greened up, too—Toyota says they're all carbon-neutral now—and they do look and feel better than in the second-generation car. Fit and finish on pre-production cars is good.
The 2010 Toyota Prius likely will improve on the high safety rating of the most recent version. Seven airbags are standard, including a driver knee bag. So are anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, and tire pressure monitors. Safety options include radar cruise control, a lane-departure warning system, a rearview camera, a "Safety Connect" system that alerts emergency crews after a crash, and the stunt technology of the day—Intelligent Parking Assist, which helps you parallel-park the Prius via the car's cameras, albeit with your foot on the brake to control speed.
New features are meant to woo buyers into spending more on the expensively engineered Prius. There's a Touch Tracer system that mimics your finger-swipes over steering-wheel controls over the gauges, so you don't have to look down to adjust radio stations or climate-control settings. Power windows, cruise control, and an AM/FM/XM/CD player are standard. Major new options include a moonroof with solar panels, powering a fan that draws hot air out of the car without using the Prius' other batteries. A remote air conditioner is also available, along with a navigation system, LED headlamps, Bluetooth, and a backup camera.