This week on txGarage we are testing the all new 2010 Toyota Prius. In all honesty, I'll have to say none of us were too thrilled about driving the Prius for the week, Hybrid cars just are not our style. Let's start out with our preconceived notions about the Prius itself. Although I have never driven the 1st gen or 2nd gen Prius, I've always heard the same; they are slow, they are heavy and handle horribly, and they cost too much to make up the benefit of the gas savings. Not to mention that it's not much of a looker. So, why buy a Prius then? Easy, either you are a rich person needing an image car or you are an eco-freak that image means more than actual impact on the environment. The thing is though, that the Prius is now in it's 3rd generation and has sold 1.6 million units world wide. Most of the critics and industry gurus predicted that the Prius would be a flop, boy were they wrong. So there must be a bigger appeal to this car than just the eco population out there, we're here to figure out what that might be.
The 3rd gen Prius is a complete rework of the old modle. The body has been reworked making it even more aerodynamic and having only a 0.25 coefficient of drag. You can be doing 50 to 80 mph and never feel wind resistance, it gives the impression that you are going slower than it feels. The looks are a little better with the 3rd gen too, although I still wouldn't call it a pretty car. The shape does serve it's purpose though. The next major thing changed with this Prius is the power-train itself. Obviously the Prius is still a hybrid car with gas and electric motors powering the wheels, but now that gas engine is a 1.8 liter not the old 1.5 liter. This give the engine 24 more horsepower over the previous generation as well as more lowdown torque. This low torque allows the car to feel more peppy and still retain high fuel economy. As a matter of fact the Prius is rated as the most fuel efficient cas sold in america. So it does that right. Next the interior has been reworked and made a little more high quality than its predecessor. You also have slew of available and standard features including touch screen navigation and infotainment system, 4 driving modes (we'll get into later), hands free command inputs, lane keep assist (LKA), adaptive cruse control, solar pannel roof, and a energy monitoring system. All this technology packed into this car really gives it the edge up on the competition. The interior as a whole isn't that bad, it's comfortable and the touch points have been done right but it's still cheaply made. This is very apparent in high winds or hard terrain. The plastics all sway and move making those annoying creeks and rattles that you just are not used to when spending over 30k on a car.
I want to say that the dive in this car was really impressive. Not because it was great, but because it wasn't horrible. The package we got with this 2010 Prius included the 17″ wheels, this is important because I was told by a friend that when you get a Prius with 17″ wheels you also get some special equipment like quicker steering rack, firmer dampers and less efficiency oriented tires that you don't get in the standard Prius. I'm told it makes a world of difference, so don't bother buying one without this package. Whatever they have done here, though, has done the trick as it feels very poised and precise in the corners – you still don't really get the power to pull you out of the corners but at least it's not heavy and wobbly. You get 4 different driving options with this new Prius including EV mode, Eco mode, Power mode, and normal mode. Obviously the EV mode is an all electric mode that allows you to cruze up to 25 mph on battery power only. The Eco mode is all about fuel economy. If you enjoy living I wouldn't use this mode much. What it does is take away throttle input and does everything possible to not allow you to use too much power. I'm not exaggerating when I say it's dangerous, with a deadened response you don't have the power to get out of other peoples way. Ether that or someone is bound to shoot you for taking 15 minutes to go from a stop at a red light up to the speed limit. Power mode is the mode to keep the car in, although it almost negates the reasoning for buying the Prius in the first place. The car, with the upgraded steering and suspension, feels like a peppy Japanese or European hatch. Normal mode falls in between the power and Eco modes and is the mode you are in automatically when you start the car. Throughout the week driving both highway and city streets using the A/C – we are in Texas – we averaged 51 mpg, and that's with the car almost never being in Eco mode.
All in all, I can't say that this is a bad car. It debunked pretty much all of our preconceived notions we had about the Prius when this week began. There are some things we really liked about this car including the keyless entry system which has touch points on the door handle that locks and unlocks the doors, we liked all the gadgetry packed inside the car – although there was no USB hookup which seemed strange to us, and we liked the way the car drove and handled overall. So the question lingers, as with every review, would we spend our money on this car? No. This optioned out Prius, that wasn't even top spec, weighed in at $32k. I understand that the technology is still new and limited and I understand that the technology in the car is good, but I can't justify spending that kind of money on this car. If it was my money, I'd be getting something more along the lines of a Fiesta, Mazda 2, or a Golf that will get you an average in the 30's and cost you almost half as much. This way you get a better looking, better driving, cheaper car that still gets good gas mileage. If you are still looking for that “image car” though, at least you know that driving this hybrid won't drive you absolutely crazy.