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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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Prius V
By Gurthang on 11/2/2009 1:16:19 PM , Rating: 2
Having driven a 2010 Prius V for two weeks and owning a 2004 Prius mostly for the gizmos I can say the 2010 has some nice enhancements. Though I wish my test model had the solar roof as I wanted to know how effective that would be in our record hot summer. (As well as having the remote AC option.) What I will say is I can't believe Jason Mick had trouble figuring out the vehicle information display. It has several ways to display both instantanous, interval, and per-tank mileage. You just have to pressy de purdy little buttonies.

Radar cruise control: Great on longer drives auto adjusts speed to match the car in front of you up to the set speed. It just won't hit the breaks. (aka drop below "coasting" speed)

As for some of the car's techie features in my opinion:

Lane Keep Assist: Meh.. If you are distracted enough to need this then you shouldn't be driving. A big yawn, wake me up when thy have auto-drive.

New center console: Reminds me of my 2001 Celica, gives quick access to just about everything at the cost of space and storage. Being a 2004 Prius owner the combination of familar and foreign really messed with my muscle memory.

New "hud" like info display: I like it as it keeps most of the information you need "closer to the road". The display that tells you what steering wheel button your about to his is a nice touch and I like some of the new info displays giving you a better idea when you are in "efficency zone".

EV Mode: A great way to take out those pesky text messaging street crossers who are too distracted to look before crossing. Oh and yea you can use to in stop and go traffic but honestly why bother "eco mode" does almost as good with less work on your part and less of that golf cart feel.

Automatic Parking: Disturbing, inconvient, and a bit like letting MS Word's Clippy park for you.

Nav system: Standard Toyota/Lexus fare though the breadcrumb feature was a nice add. Though the XM traffic notifications were spotty in my area.

XM Radio: My first encounter with built in XM radio, I liked the selection of stations hated the "channel" navigation.

IPod Interface: A tad slow and I did not care for how they designed the user interface.

Voice Control: A big improvement over the 2004 unit I was actualy able to control the nav system this time unlke my 2004 which has an error rate so high as to make the endevor more humorous than usefull.

Hands free phone interface: Another improvement, not perfect by any means but quite passable. I had trouble uploading contacts via my wife's WinMo phone, for the moment I blame that crappy phone more than the car.

Hacking: I'm sure there is a way in but for now I prefer my 2004's more open design. Just being able to override the GPS lock-out while driving in the 2004 without having to resort to hardware hacks I missed at least once on my test drive. Hopefully some enterprising Prius hacker will give the 2010 same love.

"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke
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