2011 Toyota Prius Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
November 24, 2010

51 mpg city! The 2011 Toyota Prius remains the highest-mileage hybrid on the market, but that doesn't get in the way of practicality or comfort.

The iconic Toyota Prius has been around for a decade and was for 2010 completely redesigned, with more room, a more refined feel, and the real-world ecstasy (for some) of 51-mpg fuel economy.

The third-generation 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. Frankly, it takes someone accustomed to seeing Prius models to tell the difference between the old, pre-2010 model and the new one from the outside, but the slightly drawn-up-and-back roofline aids space and gives it slightly different proportions. Aerodynamics have been improved, too. Overall, it's still more future-appliance than future-chic. Inside, a flying-buttress console—really, a swooping mass of hard plastic—adds some visual interest to the Prius' wide, low dash and its digital, distantly mounted gauges, and a storage bin resides beneath.

A lighter, stiffer body has a part in that; 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.

Review continues below

The Prius still is definitely not a car for driving enthusiasts, but the latest version introduced last year is better. The stiffer body shell helps reduce noise and vibration from the engine and continuously variable transmission. Steering is limp and lifeless with no real road feedback, but it's responsive enough for quick maneuvers, and the brakes are now discs at all four corners, with smoother brake regeneration. With more lightweight aluminum in the body too, the Prius' 0-60 mph times are now just under ten 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.

The 2011 Toyota Prius has a sleek roofline, but that doesn't mean that it's cramped inside; there's real space for four adults, or five if you're willing to stagger shoulders in back. Backseaters get the knee room left behind by slimmer front seatbacks and better headroom from the rejiggered roofline, but in front things could be better—the new center console gets in the way of front knee room, and front seats are still skimpy on padding, though the driver's seat is now height-adjustable. The cargo area expands easily, and the batteries are hidden away underneath so well you might not even think about it. The Prius' plastics are pretty good in look and feel—except for the ones around that console pod—and they're carbon-neutral.

Safety isn't sacrificed in the name of miles per gallon in the Prius; Toyota has found a way to have both. 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. Safety ratings have been respectable—including top 'good' ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in frontal, rear, and side impact, along with a mix of four- and five-star results in now-outdated federal tests.

For 2011, the former Prius II, II, IV, and V models have been replaced by Prius Two, Prius Three, etc. A Prius One model is expected to bow later in the model year. Although base 2011 Toyota Prius One and Two models are priced in the low-to-mid twenties, and power windows, cruise control, and an AM/FM/XM/CD player are standard, but there are plenty of features meant to woo affluent 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. Other major 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.

6

2011 Toyota Prius

Styling

Overall, the 2011 Toyota Prius is iconic, but it's still more future-appliance than future-chic.

The third-generation 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. Frankly, it takes someone accustomed to seeing Prius models to tell the difference between the old, pre-2010 model and the new one from the outside, but the slightly drawn-up-and-back roofline aids space and gives it slightly different proportions. Aerodynamics have been improved, too. The overall effect of the styling changes, aside from making the car look just a bit more aggressive, is an industry-lowest drag coefficient of 0.25, which helps the Toyota Prius achieve over 50 mpg.

Inside, a flying-buttress console—really, a swooping mass of hard plastic, with a storage bin beneath—adds some visual interest to the Prius' wide, low dash, with its small joystick-like shift knob, available mouse-like Remote Touch controller, and digital, distantly mounted gauges. Other than the unusual instrument-panel design, the 2011 Toyota Prius has the look and feel throughout of an inexpensive compact.

5

2011 Toyota Prius

Performance

The 2011 Toyota Prius isn't likely to give you much if any driving excitement—especially if high mileage readouts don't give you thrills—but it accelerates quickly enough when needed.

The 2011 Toyota Prius became a perkier-performing car last year when it was redesigned, thanks in part to a powertrain that's been reconfigured for better responsiveness and improved efficiency, 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. If you run the Prius hard, you can keep up with the fastest-moving traffic and take on steep curvy grades with tires howling (they do easily), but that's just plain silly; your mileage will drop the Prius into the high 30-mpg range. With a light touch and 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—any driver can extract more than 50 mpg in city driving.

The Prius still is definitely not a car for driving enthusiasts, but the latest version introduced last year is better. The stiffer body shell helps reduce noise and vibration from the engine and continuously variable transmission. Steering is limp and lifeless with no real road feedback, but it's responsive enough for quick maneuvers, and the brakes are now discs at all four corners, with smoother brake regeneration. With more lightweight aluminum in the body too, the Prius' 0-60 mph times are now just under ten 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.

8

2011 Toyota Prius

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Toyota Prius hits all the marks for comfort, space, and versatility in a way that you might not expect for a 50-mpg wonder.

The 2011 Toyota Prius has a sleek roofline, but that doesn't mean that it's cramped inside; there's real space for four adults, or five if you're willing to stagger shoulders in back. Backseaters get the knee room left behind by slimmer front seatbacks and better headroom from the rejiggered roofline, but in front things could be better—the new center console gets in the way of front knee room, and front seats are still skimpy on padding, though the driver's seat is now height-adjustable.

Otherwise, the Prius has an extremely space-efficient, versatile layout. The cargo area expands easily, and the batteries are hidden away underneath so well you might not even think about it. There are plenty of storage cubbies around the Prius' interior as well, providing plenty of space to stow small electronics or personal items out of sight.

The Prius' plastics are pretty good in look and feel—except for the ones around the center stack and instrument panel—and they're carbon-neutral.

While the 2011 Prius is relatively quiet inside, there's one issue noted by several of our editors: the gasoline engine can be felt, and possibly heard, more than in previous versions of the Prius. Whether we're simply noticing that because the Prius has improved insulation from wind and road noise, we're not sure.

9

2011 Toyota Prius

Safety

The 2011 Toyota Prius won't leave you feeling like you've sacrificed safety for fuel-efficiency.

Toyota has found a way to provide strong safety—by providing a full set of safety features and a strong body structure, while keeping watch on weight.

Seven airbags are standard on the Prius, 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. Rearward visibility, sometimes an issue in hatchbacks, is acceptable in the Prius, though the available rearview camera is

Safety ratings have been respectable—including top 'good' ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in frontal, rear, and side impact, along with a mix of four- and five-star results in now-outdated federal tests.

10

2011 Toyota Prius

Features

The 2011 Toyota Prius is relatively well equipped with features, but some of the top options, like the solar roof, appeal to green-tech aficionados.

For 2011, the former Prius II, II, IV, and V models have been replaced by Prius Two, Prius Three, etc. A Prius One model is expected to bow later in the model year. Although base 2011 Toyota Prius One and Two models are priced in the low-to-mid twenties, and power windows, cruise control, and an AM/FM/XM/CD player are standard, but there are plenty of features meant to woo affluent buyers into spending more on the expensively engineered Prius. For instance, 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; and a solar-roof package gets you a solar-panel-operated ventilation fan, that helps indirectly save fuel by keeping the cabin cooler for when you come back, so the air-conditioning compressor doesn't need to run as long.

Other major 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. The Prius Three steps up to an eight-speaker sound system with XM Satellite Radio and Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, while the Prius Four gets leather upholstery and heated front seats. Prius Five models get items such as LED headlamps and larger 17-inch alloy wheels.

10

2011 Toyota Prius

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Toyota Prius gets the highest mileage of any gasoline-powered vehicle you can't plug in. It's very green.

While hypermilers can spend extra hours mastering the art of coaxing ever-high fuel economy out of the 2011 Prius, the rest of us can enjoy excellent fuel economy numbers without really trying. Officially, the Prius is rated at 51 mpg city, 48 highway, but TheCarConnection.com's experts teased 69.5 mpg with judicious use of the gas and the Prius' new battery-only EV driving mode; expect numbers approaching or exceeding the EPA ratings in most types of driving. 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.
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December 26, 2015
2011 Toyota Prius 5-Door HB III (SE)

Great daily Driver

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I've owned 3 Prius. A 2005, 2006 & the 2011 I'm reviewing here. I still own them all so I've some experience with the Prius. While I was a "car guy" and have owned some nice rides over the past 40 yrs...GTO's... + More »
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December 19, 2015
2011 Toyota Prius 2011 Toyota Prius

well hell it's a hybrid...what do you expect?

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We bought this 2011 Prius from our elderly neighbor who could no longer drive. He was driving by sound for the last year or so, hence every corner was damaged. He was aware of the damage and was certain his... + More »
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September 2, 2015
For 2011 Toyota Prius

Transition to Future

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I have owned three Prii. All were very reliable, efficient and comfortable. But the thing I am most proud of is that for the last fifteen years I have been participating in a technology that is transitioning... + More »
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August 9, 2015
2011 Toyota Prius 2011 Toyota Prius

Good car great money saver and is very trouble free.

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I have 81,000 mile on the card it is holding up very well I get 50 mpg on most roads a little less on the Interstate but is a great road trip car.Great gas saving when stuck in traffic.
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April 28, 2015
For 2011 Toyota Prius

Great savings on gas.

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The gas mileage for highway is estimated amount on sticker but city is not. I tend to get 36 in city instead of the 48 quoted. Visibility is obstructed when changing lanes. It is also difficult seeing cars... + More »
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April 28, 2015
2011 Toyota Prius 2011 Toyota Prius

This vehicle has turned out to be better than I anticipated.

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I have owned my Prius for over three years and have found the vehicle to be a really great car. If I had to name any negatives it would be size and acceleration, but the strong points far outweigh the... + More »
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April 28, 2015
2011 Toyota Prius 2011 Toyota Prius

Smartest automobile investment made by me in years

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The ride is comfortable and hugs the road. Smooth riding and low maintenance cost. The gas mileage 43mph Fall and Winter months and 52MpH summer months
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April 20, 2015
For 2011 Toyota Prius

2011 Toyota Prius has high fuel efficiency and NO need for car repairs

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Very fuel efficient, especially on the highway, although ethanol treated gasoline does lower the MPG, it still performs well above average. I had no need for engine repairs, so it runs great, without any... + More »
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April 20, 2015
For 2011 Toyota Prius

Super Efficient and much more

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Bought car used a couple of years ago and it has performed flawlessly. Getting in the upper 40 MPG and both the same on trip and around town. Very efficient in the use of space, easy to drive around town, and... + More »
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