It’s been almost two decades since Toyota introduced its Prius gas-electric to the North American market, where it quickly became the poster child for alternative “hybrid” vehicles. Prius hit its sales stride around 2012, after which, and in the face of competition from other manufacturers, demand softened.
But Toyota is still investing in its trail-blazing Prius brand. Versions on the Prius “ladder” are as follows:
- Prius front-wheel drive model: $27,990
- The new-for-2019 Prius AWD-e (all-wheel drive): $28,990
- Prius Technology: $32,490
- Prius Technology AWD-e,: $32,990
- Prius Technology Advanced AWD-e: $34,790
- Prius Prime plug-in electric: starts at $32,990 and comes in three variations.
And just so you know, at the time of this writing, only the Prius Prime is eligible for whatever government “green” incentives may be available.
As you may have noticed if you didn’t doze off while reading the price list, you’ll only pay $1,000 more to go from FWD to AWD. This, to me, is a no-brainer and many buyers may stop right there, sign the forms and happily drive away. But notice, too, that the Prius Prime plug-in electric and Prius Technology AWD-e are the same price, so that’s an interesting choice. What you can’t get, unfortunately, is an AWD plug-in Prius.
My tester, the prosaically named 2019 Prius Technolgy Advanced AWD-e lists for $36,917 including fees, freight and PDI. The nice red paint accounted for $200, and I thought suited the car very well.
Prius: what’s new for 2019?
In addition to the welcome availability of all-wheel drive, the 2019 Prius receives a design refresh, and I must say, I approve. The outgoing lines seemed cartoonish to me; a collision of angles and surfaces that reminded me of a Star Wars x-wing fighter. Now the exterior lines look a bit more grown up and the interior gets some loving, too. Overall it’s a pleasing, modern look inside and out.
And I was impressed with what this car offers. You can’t get many more features bundled into a little sedan unless you go luxury, I thought, with the Prius more than delivering in infotainment, comfort and fuel economy.
The optional, large, 11.6-inch high-definition display, for example, is very well done. Not distracting, as you might expect, but easy to read and operate at a glance; and easy to ignore when you‘re not using it. Supplementary information displays are likewise user friendly and can be cycled through using steering-wheel mounted controls. Plus, and I love this, there’s a Head-Up Display for good measure.
As I say, with this Advanced Technology trim level you get pretty much everything, including lane departure alert with steering assist, self-parking, adaptive front lighting, blind spot indicators, heated steering wheel, drive mode selection, premium audio, satellite radio, navigation, wireless smart-phone charging (it can accommodate a large phone), radar cruise control, LED headlamps, rain sensing wipers, backup camera, forward collision alert and more. A technology clothes horse, I reckon.
What you don’t get is a wi-fi hotspot, in case you’re used to that.
Prius on the road
I found the Prius comfortable, roomy enough and easy to drive, although rear outward visibility is somewhat compromised (there is a rear wiper, though, so thanks, Toyota, for that!). The car is super quiet — you can barely hear the engine — and noise from the continuously variable transmission is not intrusive in normal driving. Braking is firm and sure, acceleration is sufficient, the ride is compliant (okay, soft’ish…) and cornering could use some additional stiffness.
The AWD-e system is electric (hence the “e”). There’s a small motor at the rear axle that connects electronically to the drivetrain and which operates mainly at low speeds to improve traction on slippery surfaces (maximum AWD speed is 70 km/h). In Canada, that means it would be great in the winter when starting from a standstill at a snowy intersection, for example. At highway speeds you’re in front-wheel drive mode, but that is typical for many AWD systems.
Room for rear-seat passengers is not notably spacious, but it’s decent enough, and cargo capacity is also good, especially with the rear seatbacks folded. Don’t forget, with a Prius you have a liftback, rather than a trunk, and a fairly high floor which on the one hand somewhat limits cargo capacity, but on the other, makes it easy to get cargo (even a bicycle) in and out.
Prius fuel economy
So you get decent looks and utility, and excellent safety and convenience features, but I think what Prius buyers are looking for most of all is fuel economy. That and a preference, perhaps, for using less gas as a way to reduce emissions (Prius is categorized as Tier 2 Bin 3, by the way).
In that it excels, because Prius is a champ at fuel economy. True, you’ll use about 0.3 liter per 100 kilometers more if you buy the AWD version, which is rated at 4.7L/100km combined city/highway. But what I found is that the Prius hybrid technology system does a great job of switching into full electric vehicle (EV) mode for short distances at appropriate times in order to significantly minimize fuel consumption. And you can enhance this capability by modifying your driving style if you pay attention.
Helping with this is an Eco Drive Monitor that displays how the car is modulating between gas/gas electric/electric modes and it’s interesting to see just how far Prius can go on its small nickel-metal hydride 1.3 kWh battery when circumstances permit. It will do this, for instance, in stop-and-go traffic, at low speeds in parking lots or similar, and on flat roads that don’t demand too much torque to maintain speed. And the hybrid drive system does a great job of recharging the battery when decelerating or braking. It’s a very efficient system.
One important observation here is that all the electricity you use in this car is self-generated (as opposed to a plug-in hybrid that gets most of its electricity from the grid). So, on the road in the Prius it’s a continuous sequence of generating and using electricity to supplement the gasoline that’s frugally consumed by its 1.8L engine. This is completely unnoticeable by the occupants; the car just does its thing, as will you. It’s just that you won’t spend much on gas.
The end result is a realistic lifetime fuel consumption expectation of under 5.0L/100km, city and highway combined (at least, that’s going by the 2,000 km displayed on my tester’s odometer reading of 4.9 L/100km). My personal experience was 4.4 L/100km in city driving and 3.9 L/100km for an extended drive at 90 km/h. Very impressive!
So for sure the Prius will deliver superb fuel economy, which could be the end of the story. But is Prius still the cutting edge eco-warrior it once was? Not so much. Fact is, the Prius in any iteration is no longer exotic; no longer at the leading edge of hybrid/EV technology. And if the demise of the Prius v and Prius c are indicators, it arguably could use some radical reinvention way beyond AWD in the next few years (full electric?).
In the near term, the trend is to SUVs and Toyota itself has an impressive new 2019 RAV4 Hybrid to consider. Then there’s the 2020 Corolla Hybrid, It uses the Prius drivetrain and sells for less than the base Prius. Reports so far are very positive.
But Corolla is not all-wheel drive (yet…) and doesn’t have the Prius pedigree, does it? Still…
What I’d like is a longer EV-range Prius Prime with AWD, and make it a sport wagon, please, with a slightly firmer suspension. Now you’d be talking! But in the meantime I think that for the money, Toyota is offering what has become bulletproof hybrid technology in an attractive and sophisticated package with a specific and defining brand identity. It could still suit a lot of people who would be thrilled to top up their tank after a week’s driving for the fourteen bucks it cost me.