Those who might think the latest incarnation of the Toyota Prius will be a maintenance nightmare, might want to consider something: no belts drive the water pump. Instead, the 2010 Prius is fitted with an electric-powered water pump and a new exhaust gas recirculation system (EGR) that contributes to the efficiency of the internal combustion engine in the little hybrid.
Admittedly, most Prius owners would never change a fan belt in their own car. But consider it a good sign of what ownership with this car would be.
At the time of this writing, America is focused on the possibility that the brakes on the new Prius won't work to stop a car that won't stop due to any number of electrical problems related to who knows what. In the case of the tested Prius, driven in a variety of situations, with hard driving when the situation called for it, no problems were noted. The pedal feel wasn't spongy and stopping seemed – distances weren't measured – about the same, if not slightly better than the second generation Prius; which we'd also driven, back when it first hit American roads in late 2003.
The exterior design of the Prius seems to have finally signaled its seriousness of intent. There's now an elevated belt-line and some interesting surface development on the sides. It finally looks as if it whomever the designer or designers were, understand the American market's need for style; or it might be a simple case of form following function. The coefficient of drag (Cd) value of this latest Prius is reportedly 0.25 compared to 0.26 for the previous model.
The benefit of that is, of course, not only better fuel economy. It also means that at highway speeds, the interior of the car is more quiet, as air resistance is lessened.
The overall height of the Prius has remained the same; however, the profile of the roof has been altered by moving the top 3.9 inches to the rear. Not only does that help the aerodynamics, but allows for improved rear headroom, inside the cabin.
The internal combustion engine in this hybrid is a 1.8 liter, four-cylinder engine putting out 98 horsepower at 5,200 rpm. Coupled with an electric motor, the total net horsepower is 134, an improvement of 24 horsepower over the previous generation of Prius. The transmission backing the IC engine and electric motor up, is a continuously variable automatic.
But given the fact that the electric motor is the sole source of propulsion, up to about 25 miles—per-hour, torque is more important at low speeds than horsepower. Torque, for those who don't understand it is the dynamic twisting force felt along the drive-shaft as the motor comes onto power. With electric motors, maximum torque is achieved just off zero. Here it translates into hitting 30 mph, from a standing start, in 3.2 seconds – plenty fast enough to get into traffic within the city.
Sitting inside the newest Prius is an emotive experience designed to make the driver feel as if he or she is part of an experience, not just a machine. All instrumentation is solely in a center module of the instrument panel. When you push the “start” button a message appears on-screen saying, “Welcome to Prius.” Once under way, there's an ECO-indicator contained in what Toyota calls the Multi-Informational Display which provides driver feedback to assist in getting lower fuel consumption. There's also a backup monitor, that comes on automatically, when you put the car into reverse.
What sort of fuel consumption? That's the big question with this car; and the answer, according to the EPA is 48 highway and 51 city. (We didn't burn through an entire tank of gas in the week's loan.) You get better mileage with this car, in city, because of the fact that you run solely on electric power up to 25 mph, remember?
Road & Track magazine, in the March 2010 issue, noted that one of its editors actually achieved 66.7 mpg. According to the feedback display, during a 16.9 mile stretch of stop-and-go traffic from Long Beach and the beach communities south of Los Angeles.
There's a lot of plastic inside the cabin of this car; but that's not a bad thing. Toyota uses plant-derived, carbon-neutral plastics in the 2010 Prius. These newly-developed plastics are known as “ecological plastic,” and can be found in the seat cushion foam, cowl side trim, inner and outer scuff plates and deck trim cover. Not only are these plastics not made from petroleum, but they emit less C02 during the product's life-cycle than conventional plastics. How's that for a car making a statement?
The interior can be fitted with remote air-conditioning which functions solely on battery power. It allows remote operation; so you can adjust the inside temperature of the car, before you get inside.
Just like the newly returned Honda Insight, the Prius has settings on the center console to set the engine/motor interface to achieve goals the driver wants. For example, an EV setting allows the internal combustion engine to be shut off, for speeds up to 25 mph, for up to 100 miles. An Eco setting moderates throttle opening and air-conditioning loads to improve fuel economy at some decrease in acceleration. Finally, a Power setting puts a priority on acceleration – think merging onto a freeway – at the expense of mileage.
The shift lever is connected only to electrical circuits. Push it left and forward to go into reverse. Push left and down for drive. Then, between those two settings, is neutral. Finding neutral takes a bit of doing.
You push straight down for braking, which summons extra engine braking. To engage Park you have to press a button on the center console. This is definitely a car whose owner's manual is something you to study.
The latest Prius is built on an entirely different platform from its predecessor. The suspension consists of front struts and, in the rear, an intermediate beam design as before; however, handling is improved thanks to a genuine anti-roll bar, higher caster angle and tighter suspension bushing settings.
Disc brakes are used at all four corners, whereas previously it was only discs up front and drum brakes in the rear. As in any hybrid, when you actuate the brakes, it regenerates the electricity used in the batteries.
Something which now commands attention is the fact that the new Prius is extremely safe, from a passive point of view. In addition to advanced driver and passenger Supplemental Restraint Systems (SRS) airbags, front and rear side-curtain airbags, driver and passenger seat-mounted side aribags and driver's knee airbag are standard equipment.
The manufacturer's suggested retail price for the Prius tested was $25,800.00 before adding in the Navigation Package (that included an integrated satellite radio and hands free phone capability) at $1,800.00, floor and cargo mats at $200 and a security system at $359; for a grand total of $28,909.00 (including a destination charge of $750.00). In years past, there's been little ability to negotiate on the pricing of a Prius. That may be changing due to circumstances beyond the control of dealers.