AWD-e is one sure-footed step for man
My son-in-law – Ethan – lives in Los Angeles, owns both a Prius and a 4Runner, and on every available weekend makes a run to area ski resorts for a day of snowboarding. (This year those trips might run into August.) The 4Runner, with all-wheel drive, aggressive rubber and mild lift, is the logical go-to for the drive, but with an at-best 15 miles per gallon from the 4Runner and Los Angeles gas prices typically elevated, it’s the family Prius that typically gets the nod. Although the Prius has a handy footprint and capable demeanor, its front-wheel drive platform often requires chains to navigate the roads and parking lots of those resorts Ethan visits. But an all-wheel drive Prius – either for those going to Big Bear, or those living in Vermont and doing the Ben and Jerry’s tour – hasn’t been available. Until now.
Described by Toyota as its ‘most capable yet’, the 2019 Prius benefits from the addition of available all-wheel drive, as well as refreshed exterior styling, a new grade strategy (pass or fail?), and Toyota Safety Sense P (you know, TSS-P) made standard across all trims. Given that it’s a lot to digest, we’ll focus on that all-wheel drive. Technically it’s interesting, while functionally it’s liberating.
As Toyota describes it, the “automatic on-demand system does not require a center differential or other torque-apportioning device, nor does it need a front-to-rear driveshaft. Instead, the “e” in AWD-e stands for electric.” And this is cool, because an independent electric (and magnet-less, no less) rear motor eliminates a center differential and, of course, driveshaft, and that eliminates a lot of fuel-consuming weight. It’s just the motor, propelled by batteries already part of the Prius drivetrain, and is always operational from rest to six miles per hour, and then – as needed – up to 43 miles per hour. We love the elegance of that simplicity.
And for those of you thinking all-wheel drive is just for SUVs, know the Prius hatch comes with a lot of utility while, obviously, doesn’t really check any ‘sport’ descriptive. Beyond comfortable seating for four (covered in Toyota’s proprietary ‘Softex’), you’ll enjoy over 24 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the rear seat up, and the ability to swallow a road or mountain bike – with its front wheel remaining on the bike – with the rear seat folded. And that, Dear Reader, is a combination of sport and utility you’ll be hard to match in many so-called crossovers, especially those in the ‘compact crossover’ segment.
The Prius’ ride, handling and overall composure is – as we’ve come to expect – relatively benign, and while not a sport sedan is capable of some hints at handling, if – of course – you set your expectations to ‘realistic’. Toward the end of the week we were getting into it, enjoying the occasional exit ramp, as well as the overall refinement when compared to older Prius models. This ain’t, by any stretch, a rocketship (although the sheetmetal continues to look – in my eyes – positively Jetsonian), but there’s enough urge to keep you safely out of harm’s way.
The bottom line, of course, is the bottom line. In its XLE trim, the Prius AWD-e is yours for just under $30K, while delivering a ‘50’ combined EPA estimate. (We saw almost 47 in our week with the car.) Again, according to the EPA that’ll save you over $3K – at current fuel prices – relative to the average new vehicle. And while the Prius doesn’t reduce your carbon footprint like Chevy’s Bolt EV will reduce your carbon footprint, 50 miles per gallon remains pretty darn good in any automotive conversation.
And did I mention it will swallow your mountain bike?