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Edmunds test drives the new Prius

Toyota is just now finally getting some stiff competition in the hybrid market after holding on to the "High MPG Crown" for quite some time. On the lower end, the Prius is being assaulted by Honda's relatively affordable second generation Insight which starts below $20,000. That vehicle is rated at 40 MPG/43 MPG (city/highway).

On the other end of the spectrum, Ford's $27,270 Fusion Hybrid brings more conventional styling to the table and a vastly improved driving experience compared to the appliance-like Prius. In addition, the Fusion Hybrid still manages to maintain EPA ratings of 41 MPG/36 MPG (city/highway), although Autoblog editors were able to extract 43 MPG combined from their test vehicle.

With the stakes in the hybrid market getting higher, Toyota is ready to dazzle with its third-generation Prius. We first got a glimpse of the new model back in mid-October and the Toyota official announced the new Prius at the Detroit Auto Show in early January. Now, Edmunds has gotten a chance to fully track test the model ahead of its scheduled rollout for American consumers.

First and foremost, Toyota should be able to consolidate costs a bit with the new Prius as it no longer rides on its own platform. Instead, the vehicle is based on the current MC platform that underpins the Toyota Corolla, Matrix, and Scion xB -- presumably, the MC platform will also be used for the upcoming Lexus HS 250h hybrid sedan.

Toyota also addressed both power and NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) with the upgrade to a larger 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine (up from the 1.5-liter unit used in the previous model). The new engine not only allowed Toyota to improve the Prius' acceleration and increase fuel economy, but it also reduces the cacophony inside the cabin when the gasoline engine is running.

Other improvements include a smoother ride, more natural steering and brake feel, and an even more advanced set of features and options. The Prius can now be equipped with such features as solar panels on the roof to power the A/C system and a self-parking system for those that either can't be bothered with or are inept at parallel parking.

Most importantly, the new Prius definitely puts up impressive numbers when it comes to fuel economy. The new vehicle is rated a 50 MPG combined (city + highway). However, Edmunds was able to achieve 52.2 MPG combined during 115 miles of driving with 60% weighted towards highway miles. Edmunds figures that the numbers would creep up a few more MPG if the percentages were reversed seeing as how the Prius excels in around town situations where the electric motor can handle more of the propulsion duties.

Toyota hasn't yet announced pricing for its third-generation Prius, but expect the new vehicle's base price to hover around or slightly higher than the current $22,000.

Updated 3/25/2009
Autoblog's road test of the 2010 Prius shows that the vehicle is capable of much more than just 52.2 MPG:

The Prius' chief engineer, Akihiko Otsuka, drove a 33-mile route in and around Napa and averaged 62.9 mpg. During the drive week, he levied a Beat-The-Chief challenge to anyone who wanted to take him on. AutoblogGreen was able to get the in-dash display to read in the mid- to low-70s for most of the route, but the last ten miles on a busy 55-mph road dropped that to 64.5 mpg. Not bad, but only good for a standing near the absolute bottom of the rankings among other journalists. Overall, the best score was 94.6 mpg, although that involved some less-than-real-world driving behaviors and conditions. The best "honest" score was 75.3 mpg. In all, about half of the journalists were able to get over 70 mpg, while the rest, save two, were able to get more than 66 mpg.

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RE: Wow
By dubyadubya on 3/25/2009 4:38:08 PM , Rating: 3
There are two main reasons newer gasoline powered vehicles are not getting the MPG they could or should. First the fuel in the US is oxygenated. 10% of each gallon is alcohol or a derivative of it. An engine burning alcohol gets about 1/2 the fuel economy that it would burning gasoline. So using 10% oxygenated fuel knocks 5% of the fuel economy right off the top.

The bigger culprit is the emissions standards in the US. First you must understand that a internal combustion engine is a air pump. To run correctly and have a chance of meeting the emission standards the air fuel ratio must be maintained at or near 14.7 to 1. To get maximum MPG a vehicles engine needs to pump as little air per mile as possible. This means anything that increase the amount of air pumped will lower the MPG.

Things that can increase an engines MPG. decrease its displacement, turn less RPM's, run a leaner air fuel ratio and or run more ignition timing. Leaner air fuel ratio's will raise emissions so will running more ignition timing. Anything that can keep the throttle plate as close to closed as possible will increase MPG because less air in means less fuel used.

In the past emission standards were loose enough that many engines ran ignition timings of 40-60 degrees BTC when cruising at a steady speed. To a point the more timing you run the less you have to open the throttle to maintain speed. Most newer engines run very little ignition timing because doing so raises cylinder temperatures increasing NOX emissions.

I have a 1991 Ford Crown Victoria with a 302 V8. I average about 18-20 MPG round town. On the open road can get 23-26 MPG. Last summer I made a road trip and got 26 MPG on the way there and 24 MPG on the way home. This was driving 70 mph with the AC on. Now how is this possible? Ignition timing and tall gears. The gears keep the RPM's down and the timing keeps the throttle near closed.

I would guess new cars are loosing 20-30% or more of their potential fuel economy do to poor fuel and tight emission standards. The only way I see around this problem is to build small high torque engines that are under square aka small bore and a long stroke. DI and turbo charging should help get some performance back but I'm sure we will loose the 6 seconds to 60 grocery getter's for good.

RE: Wow
By FITCamaro on 3/25/2009 9:43:47 PM , Rating: 2
Yup. As I said in another article, the 2004 GTO had a lean cruise option in Australia. But here in the US it wasn't enabled because it's NOX emissions were too high. Gotta love those insane emissions standards that put a fake environmental problem before better mpg which would decrease gasoline consumption (another thing they whine about).

"We can't expect users to use common sense. That would eliminate the need for all sorts of legislation, committees, oversight and lawyers." -- Christopher Jennings

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