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2010 Toyota Prius: New Generation Hybrid

Topics:  Toyota Prius

2010 Toyota Prius: New Generation Hybrid

James Flammang
September 3, 2009

James Flammang

Anyone familiar with the second-generation Prius won't mistake this new Prius for anything else. Built on the same 106.3-inch wheelbase as before, the 2010 model is less than an inch longer overall. Height is unchanged, and the new model is slightly wider. All-disc brakes now are standard. Most notably, the roofline has been moved back about four inches, and the rear spoiler is flatter. Up front, the grille opening is smaller, but the lower opening is larger. Squared-off sections at each bumper promise aerodynamic improvement. LED headlamps (including washers) are available in a Technology Package.

Though hybrid-powertrain vehicles make up only a small percentage of total U.S. sales, Toyota occupies the top spot, led by the well-known Prius. People who know little about hybrids have heard plenty about the Prius, which debuted as a 2000 model and was redesigned to larger dimensions for 2004. Now for 2010, Toyota recently launched a much-improved Prius.

First off, a bigger (1.8-liter) four-cylinder gasoline engine has been installed. Yet, fuel economy has improved. The current Prius gets a gas-mileage estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of 48 miles per gallon in city driving and 45 mpg on the highway. Toyota claims 51 mpg city/48 mpg highway for the 2010 model. Because the new engine delivers more torque, it runs at lower rpm at highway speeds, thus consuming less fuel. At the same time, carbon dioxide emissions are reduced.

Ed La Rocque, Toyota's national small car manager, notes that the powertrain is 90 percent newly developed. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) is 20 percent lighter this time around. Aerodynamic efficiency also is a factor in the fuel-economy boost. At 0.25, the drag coefficient of the 2010 Prius is "one of the best in the world for a production car," according to La Rocque.

Inside, occupants get more rear headroom and leg space. Contouring of front seatbacks increases rear knee space. Cargo space has grown to 39.6 cubic feet, with rear seats folded. Atop the dashboard, the three-section multi-information display includes details of hybrid-powertrain operation. All Priuses now have automatic climate control. A new lever raises and lowers the driver's seat, and the gearshift lever has moved closer to the driver. Leather upholstery is an option. So is a Solar Roof. Optional remote air conditioning is said to be the first in the world.

Seven airbags are standard, including a new driver's knee airbag. Active front headrests are installed. Toyota will offer a selection of helpful safety features, including a Lane Departure Warning system and Lane Keep Assist. Also available is Intelligent Parking Assist, said to be easier to use than the system on the Lexus LS. A Pre-Collision System is included in the Technology Package.

Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive consists of the nickel-metal-hydride battery pack and two motor generators, working with the VVT-i (Atkinson cycle) gasoline engine. Producing 201.6 volts and 27 kilowatts (up from 25), the battery pack is smaller and better cooled. Combined output is 134 horsepower, including 98 from the gasoline engine. Still a "full hybrid," the Prius can run on battery power, gasoline, or both. In EV mode, the Prius can travel up to a mile at 25 mph. To do this, the battery must be fully charged. Eco mode reduces the throttle opening and smoothes its operation. Power mode may be selected as an alternative.

Acceleration to 60 mph is about half a second quicker, according to Toyota. An Exhaust Heat Recovery System using exhaust gases to preheat cooling water; cutting engine warm-up time by about 3 minutes. A conventional fuel tank is installed, eliminating previous concerns when refueling at certain temperatures. Anyone who's driven a previous Prius will feel right at home in the new model. Details have changed, and performance has improved a bit; but the basic driving experience is the same as before. In a fuel-economy trial, gentle driving yielded an average of just above 60 mpg -- well past the EPA figure. One test-driver on the same route managed a thrifty 78 mpg, helped by keeping speeds way down.

Front-seat occupants get plenty of space. The center rear position is uncomfortable, but side spots are roomy, though headspace isn't huge. As in the prior generation, the rear spoiler looks like a thick horizontal bar across the back window, blocking some of the rearward view. Some of information-display elements are too small for easy reading, and can almost disappear in sunlight.

autoMedia.com, with their team of accomplished automotive experts, has been providing auto shoppers, car enthusiasts and do-it-yourselfers automotive advice they can trust for over 10 years. To view more detailed information on the 2010 Toyota Prius, including MSRP, rebates and incentives, user reviews, photo galleries and more, including detail specifications on all Toyota models, go to -> http://www.automedia.com

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