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We take the latest Prius out for a spin and give you our impressions

A couple weeks ago we reviewed the Lexus RX 450h, the most affordable luxury hybrid SUV.  This week we turn our attention to the 2010 Toyota Prius.  The Prius is the world's bestselling hybrid and sits atop sales charts -- for any vehicle -- in Japan.  It has helped Toyota stack up over 2 million hybrids sold.

The world's first true mass-produced hybrid, the 2010 Prius is a third generation design.  It is powered by a 98 hp 1.8 L I4 engine and an 80 hp electric motor.  The car received disc brakes in the rear, as opposed to the drum brakes on the previous generations.  And many weight reductions were made, including cuts of 20 percent to the new inverter, motor and transaxle, allowed a terrific EPA estimated gas mileage of 51 highway/48 city.

The Prius is priced at $21,750 for the base model, Prius I.  We received a Prius V, which featured such perks as a navigation system and back-up camera (more on that later).  The Prius V retails for approximately $27,350.

Taking the Prius out for a test spin, one thing that was noticeable was that the acceleration was much more energetic than the second generation models.  The car handled great on the highway and handled well over turns on city streets.

The suspension was also quite good and absorbed the potholes in Detroit's rutty city streets quite well, causing minimal jarring to the passenger.  The car was also pretty quiet.

Turning to the gas mileage, we unfortunately did not exhaust the entire tank, so we were forced to a crude estimate, but according to some rough number crunching we managed approximately 50 mpg, a bit better than the EPA combined fuel economy.  For those who haven't driven a Prius its a pretty incredible experience to see a gas-engine vehicle getting those kind of numbers.

We made rather heavy use of the EV mode in stop and go traffic.  The EV mode is something available on Toyota's hybrids that we didn't get time to cover in the Lexus RX 450h piece.  Basically the mode turns your vehicle into an electric vehicle, utilizing your stored charge.  It takes a bit of getting used to because you can only go up to around 20 mph before shutting off and it also shuts off upon sudden acceleration.  However, we quickly picked it up and found it to be an efficient way to save gas during stop and go traffic on the morning commute.

As much as we loved the great gas mileage and EV mode, we did encounter a couple of disappointments.  First, the navigation screen was not backlit, which made it harder to read than the display on the Lexus RX 450h.  Further, when decelerating from highways speeds in stop-and-go traffic, the new disc brakes give a rather jarring deceleration and it doesn't have a firm incremental feel.  While the vehicle was very capable of braking, this was a bit unsettling at first.

The vehicle's LED display was nice, but it would be even nicer to see metrics on the average fuel economy that the car was getting (that would have saved us from making crude estimates).  The LED headlamps, part of the Prius V package were terrific illuminating the road very well.

The backup camera we have mixed feelings about.  On the one hand we found it could be helpful under certain situations.  However, ultimately we found ourselves not using it, and instead mostly looking over our shoulder to survey the scene.  The key reason is that its hard to back up without views of whats at your vehicle's sides, especially if you're turning out of a space.  Thus the camera view was rather distracting and if used solely could even be dangerous (a warning mentioning some comment of this nature is displayed).

Finally turning to the inside look and feel, the car was relatively well-appointed.  The seats were firm, but not overly hard.  The back seat featured a decent amount of passenger space and the trunk was quite large, thanks to the hatchback design.

We liked the 2010 Toyota Prius -- a lot, in fact.  Even someone who can appreciate big cars or trucks might find themselves having fun with the Prius, saving gas on their weekly commutes and saving their larger vehicle for weekend outings.  Once you get over the car's less-than-sexy curves and realize its utility, you'll start to appreciate it.  The Prius did have some rough spots still, but overall it shows the polish of a third generation design.



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Looks
By Spuke on 11/2/2009 1:08:11 PM , Rating: 2
Anyone like the look of the new car more than the old one?




RE: Looks
By Steve1981 on 11/2/2009 1:30:19 PM , Rating: 2
FWIW I think it's a little sleeker than the outgoing model, although some may construe that as damning with faint praise.


RE: Looks
By Parhel on 11/2/2009 1:46:27 PM , Rating: 2
Not from the pictures. I haven't seen one in person, but I think I slightly prefer the previous body style. The old body style do anything for me either, but it didn't bother me. The new model just looks strange to me. I particularly don't like the back end. What do you think?


RE: Looks
By Spuke on 11/2/2009 3:56:14 PM , Rating: 2
I've seen quite a few in person (I live CA afterall) and I prefer the new look to the old one. It's still not anything I would buy, ever, but it at least it doesn't look so offensive to me anymore.


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