At first glance, the 2010 Prius may not look like an all-new car, meaning a ground-up redesign and a complete re-engineering. The 2010 Prius is nearly identical in shape to the current version, with a wedge nose, arcing roof and sheer, flat rear end. Yet close inspection reveals that the highest point in its curved roof has moved rearward, somewhere over the rear seat. The grille-and-headlight design is much less bland, and lenses over the LED taillights are white.
We think the new Prius is more handsome, more stylish, than its predecessor, and the changes have further improved its aerodynamics. Toyota reports a remarkable, wind-cheating drag coefficient of just 0.25 Cd.
The new 2010 Toyota Prius looks a lot like the new 2010 Honda Insight, another hybrid-powered, five-passenger car with which it will compete.
Engineers have minimized weight gain in the Prius by forming its hood, rear hatch and many suspension components from lightweight aluminum. The new car has the same wheelbase as the old car, and length and width have increased only a fraction of an inch. Yet passenger space increases five cubic feet, and the Prius is classified by the federal government as a mid-size car, the same class that includes the larger Toyota Camry sedan.
Contrary to conventional wisdom about smaller engines saving fuel, Toyota has given the new Prius a larger gasoline engine. The four-cylinder's displacement increases from 1.5 to 1.8 liters, and peak horsepower increases by 22 to 98 hp. Factor in the electric motor, and there's a total of 134 hp on tap. The larger engine provides substantially more torque, which means quicker acceleration. Yet, according to Toyota, the new powertrain delivers better gas mileage on the highway. The extra torque allows the Prius to maintain freeway speeds with the engine operating at lower rpm, using less fuel.
Virtually all of the hybrid drive system has been redesigned to reduce weight. The power inverter, electric motor and continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) are 20 percent lighter than before, as a package.
The new Prius will have disc brakes at all four wheels, rather than rear drums, and Toyota claims the car is better at capturing energy lost as it slows, then turning it into electricity stored in the battery pack.
The 2010 Prius lets its driver choose among three performance modes. EV-Drive uses only battery power for low speed motoring up to a mile. Eco mode optimizes fuel economy. Power mode delivers the best acceleration and the most immediate response when the driver steps on the gas.
Toyota claims the 2010 Prius will deliver the highest fuel economy ratings of any car, regardless of size, with a EPA-estimated Combined City/Highway rating expected to be about 50 mpg.
Inside, the new Prius looks futuristic. A large, center-mounted LED screen displays virtually all information, including feedback on powertrain efficiency to help the driver maximize fuel economy. The cantilevered center console raises the gear selector high above the floor, and leaves storage space in the pass-through underneath. Some panels inside are formed from carbon-neutral plastics made from plant material rather than petroleum.
Toyota promises a smoother, quieter driving experience, thanks to better sound insulation and vibration dampening.
Measured by features and available options, the Prius is moving upscale. A solar panel moonroof powers a fan that will ventilate the interior on warm, sunny days. A remote-operated air conditioning system will also be available, allowing the driver to warm or cool the car on battery power before anyone gets inside. The new Prius can also be quipped with Lexus-style features such as LED headlights, radar-guided cruise control and a self-parking guidance feature.
Passive safety features include a driver's knee airbag in addition to the standard complement of front, front-passenger side-impact and curtain-style head protection airbags. Active headrests, intended to reduce whiplash injuries in rear impacts, are standard.
Retail prices for the 2010 Prius won't be set until the car goes on sale. We predict an increase of 4 percent over the previous model's $22,700 base price. Factor in all the trick new options, and a loaded 2010 Prius will easily run into the low- to mid-$30,000 range.
The Prius was a hot seller when gas prices were high in the first half of 2008, sometimes accounting for a third of all Toyota sales in some areas, such as San Francisco. Prius sales slipped plummeted when gas prices dropped. They fell further in the last half of 2008 when the home mortgage crisis hit. Now many buyers are likely waiting for this next generation Prius. It's almost here. And everything about the new one suggests its leadership among hybrid-powered cars will continue.
The Prius is very much the rockstar of hybrids, it's probably the first one people think of. The 2010 model isn't radically different from the 2009 version, but there seems to be plenty of subtle changes. Toyota is famous/infamous for not rocking the boat, which in the Prius' case may be a good thing. So are you guys getting sick of the same Prius? Perfect as it is with the annual small changes? Does it need a big change? Tell us what you think.