2012 Toyota Prius

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First Drive Review: 2010 Toyota Prius

This 2010 review is representative of model years 2010 to 2014.
By Dennis Simanaitis of Road & Track

Yountville, California — With hybrids getting closer to mainstream, they're just going to embarrass what we once considered conventional cars. The third-generation Toyota Prius is an excellent case in point. It's a tad longer (0.6-in. overall) than the car it replaces. Its dohc 16-valve engine is larger (1.8 liters versus the previous 1.5). Its gasoline-electric hybrid combination is more powerful (a blended 134 bhp versus the second generation's 110). The car is even a skosh heavier (by perhaps 110 lb.). Yet its EPA fuel economy jumps to 51 mpg highway/48 mpg city/50 mpg combined versus the previous generation's 48 city/45 highway/47 combined.

Is this magic?

No, just extremely thoughtful engineering.

The paradox of engine size is easiest to resolve. The 1.8 has more torque and operates generally at lower rpm — and revs aren't free.

Other engine enhancements include an elimination of accessory drive belts. (The air conditioning compressor and water pump are both electrical.) Exhaust heat is routed to heat engine coolant, thus cutting warmup time and prompting quicker hybrid interaction.

Improvements to the car's Hybrid Synergy Drive are also in evidence. Both electric motors (the one, primarily a generator; the other, for Prius propulsion) are more compact. Altogether, the power control unit/inverter, motors and transaxle are 20 percent lighter than those of the second generation. The car's nickel/metal-hydride battery pack has increased output yet is more compact. (Hybrid factoids: Replacement of previous-generation Prius batteries — some, in taxis with more than 300,000 miles — has been all but insignificant. Crash damage and aftermarket modifier sales predominate. Toyota offers a $200 bounty on packs.)

Aerodynamic improvements are summed up in a 0.25 drag coefficient, down from an already impressive 0.26. Subtleties abound: The razor edges of front and rear fascias, for instance, help control airflow; they're not simply styling aspects. Particular attention is paid to underbody flow, even to two smallish fins, located between the rear wheels, that enhance directional stability and reduce drag.

Aero optimization being what it is, the profile of this new car is clearly Prius-iconic. The high point of its roof has moved slightly aft, this benefiting both aero as well as rear-seat head room.

From my point of view, there are major improvements within the cabin. I sit lower than in the previous car, less like perching on my Aunt Minnie's sofa. This and the newly telescopic steering wheel give me a perfectly comfortable driving position. What's more, rear-seat accommodations let me "sit behind myself," albeit just brushing the headliner.

The instrument panel is completely new, characterized by a flying-buttress center console beneath which lurks open storage. Along its top edge is the car's Multi-information Display toggling among energy monitor, hybrid system indicator, trip info, caution warnings and fuel consumption readouts, past or current (the latter, in either 1- or 5-minute intervals, and immensely more useful than any bouncing instantaneous data). Now with dedicated real estate, hitherto this display shared the screen with (and thus required) the optional nav system.

Nearby are control toggles for EV, ECO and PWR modes. This last one gives sharper throttle response. ECO mode (by the way, not used in EPA evaluations) flattens out throttle response, modifies a/c operation and could also be helpful on ice or snow. Provided accelerator pressure is moderate and speed doesn't exceed 25 mph, EV commits to pure electric operation for perhaps 1/2 mile (depending on the battery's state of charge).

In fact, on vineyard lanes I experienced EV episodes of almost a mile in length before the car defaulted to gasoline engine support. And in a 34-mile jaunt down to Napa, around its neighborhoods and back, I saw 69.8 mpg with only a bit of finesse: I used EV mode through school zones (where there's a 25-mph limit anyway) and invoked a lot of gasoline-engine shutdown along 35-mph stretches of wine country. And, in full disclosure, other more hypermiling colleagues got 75 mpg along the same route. (I passed a pair of them.)

Available upgrades include 17-in. alloy wheels with higher-performance (though less mpg-efficient) tires, voice-actuated DVD nav, a sunroof (hurrah!) with solar-powered ventilation system, Dynamic Radar cruise control, Lane Keep Assist and even Intelligent Parking Assist. Cars arrive in late spring, at prices yet to be determined. I'm guessing the new machinery will warrant a slight increase from the current $22,000-$24,270.

Content provided by Road & Track.
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BB01 - 7/22/2014 8:44:37 AM