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2010 Toyota Prius – Road Test

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Well it had to happen… sooner or later I had to get a Prius to test drive for a week. I’ve driven all kinds of hybrids over the years, but I’ve always managed to avoid the mother of all pretentious-tree-hugging vehicles – the Prius. So how did it happen? How did my life get to this point? The wife… that’s right – she’s to blame. Last year we saw the all-new third-generation Prius get launched at the Canadian Auto Show and right away my wife wanted me to get one for a road test… and here we are today…

Hollywood is full of pretentious movie and TV stars driving around and shaming everyone that’ll listen, that the planet is going to blow up in a puff of dust unless we all drive the Prius (or is that Prii?). That’s one of the things that has always discouraged me from driving it in the past… I will not now or ever listen to an actor tell me what I should or shouldn’t do. The wife – yes.. an actor … no. An actor should do only what they are paid for – and then shut up. The wife… well that’s her job isn’t it?

First Impressions

Now, other than Stevie Wonder, no one is ever going to call the Prius beautiful – but it is attractive – more so than the previous iterations of the car. It’s actually quite fetching in the red of the test vehicle (I dodged a bullet because there was a silver one right beside it, so some other sucker got stuck with that!). I was quite impressed when I was handed a key fob, minus the key. What’s this – keyless entry AND keyless start?

Cool – wasn’t expecting that. Opening the door I look at the seats – oh oh… beige and not very uncomfortable was the first thing that ran through my mind. Looking on the roof, there’s no solar panel, so that means I’ve got a base model.. my guess is Leonardo DiCaprio ain’t driving one of these ones. Nevertheless, I’m going to drive it with an open mind.

Jumping behind the wheel, the first thing I notice is the instrumentation sitting waaaay out there at the base of the windshield. Hmmmmm forgot the binoculars, hope my eyesight is up to this… Pushing the start button, the engine comes to life and the dash lights up with all kinds of bars and graphs. Other than letting the entire world know what speed I’m driving at, this is not so bad.

Toggling through the various menus, I get it set up with the information I want and need – it’s actually pretty cool the way you can customize the information. Along with a height-adjustable seat, the steering wheel tilts and telescopes, so it’s easy to get into a comfortable driving position. The steering wheel itself is quite interesting… two large multi-way buttons sit right where your thumbs sit and the bottom is flat – just like a GTI. It’s pretty thin, but comfortable in my hands.

The centre console is very much like you’d expect to see in Lexus. It’s a combination of that and the “floating” dash that Volvo has adopted on their vehicles lately. I like it, because everything sits nice and close – easy to reach. Also, the various buttons are clearly marked and logically laid out, so whether you’re changing the heating or the radio, it’s all very easy to accomplish at highway speeds.

To drive off I have to move a tiny gear shifter (– it’s more like a joystick from a video game than a gearstick in a car – kinda neat!)  to the left and down to get it into drive.  Also to the left is R for reverse, obviously and in the middle part is N. There’s a B for what is engine braking – I’m assuming I’d want to use that when going downhill to help in regenerating the battery. The shifter naturally returns to the right, so putting it into the B is completely effortless..

My first question is.. what if I’m moving this stick around and accidentally put it into Park? No worries, because there’s a button that looks like the start button marked: Park, so there’s no way to break the transmission – however, it was a little odd remembering to push a button to put the car in park. For more oomph, there’s the option of shifting into Sport mode (via a button) that changes the throttle response to make the Prius a bit more fun to drive. I left it in Econo mode for the duration of the test because most people will probably end up leaving it there, and I wanted to see what a reasonable expectation would be on the fuel usage front.


Setting off, everything goes quiet as the electric motor gets us moving. The brakes on hybrids are usually either spongy or solid – like you’re stepping on a piece of wood. In the Prius, Toyota has managed to get the brake-feel very close to that of a regular car, so that’s a big plus. The go pedal is a little.. shall we say lazy.. as in press.. wait, wait oh there’s some forward momentum. I expected that, so it’s not an issue..

I just have to remember how much room to leave for passing slower-moving vehicles. Entering the motorway, I stomp on the gas and get a whole lot of groaning, but quickly get up to 130 km/h without any problems. My trip home was pretty uneventful other than getting weird looks from people as I blasted past them at speeds they probably thought a tree-hugger wouldn’t do.

Now one thing this week that is not going to happen is an attempt to squeeze every last drop out of every litre of fuel. I’ve gone down that road in the past, so this week I’m driving the Prius like I would a regular car and we’ll see where the hybrid advantages could possibly land. I’m not going to thrash it around – just drive it in a normal way without resorting to focusing purely on saving fuel.

On the highway the Prius is relatively quiet and drives like any other normal car. However, about half-way home I got an incredible backache. Just as suspected, these seats are uncomfortable.. I didn’t expect them to be this bad, this quickly …. this is not going to be pretty. Fortunately, I have an Obus form backrest that I can put in the car to negate the pain. This isn’t unusual for Toyota’s (or Honda’s for that matter), in fact it seems to be a pattern.. I remember driving two different Camry’s – one that was a base model and one that had leather seats. The base seats were awful, but the leather seats were the complete opposite – so that’s something I would certainly consider if I was to purchase any Toyota… go for the upper-end seat – you’ll be glad you did.

Driving around town, the Prius is a perfect match for that environment – it definitely shines in stop and go traffic. Without even concentrating, I manage to get the Prius up to 60 km/h using the electric motor alone. That’s certainly a big jump from other hybrids, where I struggled to get past 30 km/h on battery power before the 4-cylinder engine kicked in.

The electric steering in the Prius is light, but not over-boosted, and in parking lot maneuvers the car once again excels. Interestingly, whenever you put the car into reverse, the Prius starts beeping like a truck.. at first I thought it was over-kill even though people never hear a hybrid coming!  However, as I was backing out of a parking spot, the beeping actually caught pedestrians’ attention….you know the ones that walk around without a brain – oblivious to everything around them. They actually stopped and paid attention. Maybe that’s something all cars should have, because it made things so much easier…. now if only I could get it to beep when I’m going forward!

The “acceptable” audio system consists of an AM/FM radio with a single-disc CD/MP3/WMA Player (pre-wired for XM® Satellite radio), 6-Speakers and an audio auxiliary input jack. I’ve certainly heard better, but also a lot worse (while listening to the radio and Mika, the sound was fairly good, but it just wasn’t up to scratch for my Def Leppard CD).

Rear seat entry and exit was very easy, with the doors opening wide with plenty of room to swing your feet in and out. There’s plenty of leg, hip, shoulder and headroom for the majority of people. I didn’t expect much, but was pleasantly surprised by how much room there actually is in the Prius.

The rear hatch offers a more than acceptable amount of cargo space, with the added bonus of a tonneau cover.. all too often that turns out to be optional in hatchback cars these days. There are plenty of storage places within the cabin of the Pruis, including not one, but two good-sized glove boxes. The centre armrest slides and opens to reveal a large storage compartment which also includes a powerpoint and the auxiliary input for the audio system.

The Prius comes with a fine complement of standard features including: 15” Aluminum Alloy Wheels w/Full Wheel Covers, Smart Key System – Driver Door Handle Touch Lock/Unlock Sensor (that was a pleasant surprise!), Variable Intermittent Wipers, Intermittent Rear Window Wiper/Washer, Automatic Headlamps, Automatic Climate Control, 60/40 Split Rear Bench Seat w/Fold-Down Seat Back & Centre Armrest, Rear Seat Foldable Headrest, Power Door Locks w/Anti-Lockout Feature, Power Windows w/Auto Up/Down, Tonneau Cover, Push Button Start and Cruise Control.


Other optional Packages in the Prius:

Premium Package: JBL® Audio, In-Dash 6-Disc CD Auto-changer, 8-Speakers, Bluetooth®3, Capability, Integrated XM® Satellite Radio, Integrated Garage Door Opener, Auto Dimming Rear View Mirror w/Backup Camera, Driver & Front Passenger, Footwell Lamp, Front Passenger Door Handle Touch Lock/Unlock Sensor
Premium Package w/Solar Panels: Premium Package plus: Power Moonroof w/Solar Panels, Remote Air Conditioning Technology Package: Premium Package w/Solar Panels plus: Voice-Activated DVD Navigation System,4, Backup Camera in Navigation System,4 Pre-Collision System, Driver Seat Lumbar, Support, Leather Seat Surfaces, Heated Front Seats, Water Repellent Front Door, Glass, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Intelligent Parking Assist, Leather-Wrapped, Steering Wheel, Front Illuminated Doorsill Trim, Auto-Dimming Rear-View Mirror, (Delete Backup Camera in Rear View Mirror), Rear Bumper Protector Touring Package: Premium Package plus: 17” Aluminum Alloy Wheels, P215/45R17, All-Season Radial Tires, Fog Lamps, LED Headlamps, Headlamp Washers, Auto Levelling Headlamp System, Rear Bumper Protector

Standards Safety Features include: Regenerative Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) with Brake Assist (BA), and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), enhanced Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Traction control (TRAC), Three-point front seatbelts with pre-tensioners and force limiters, Active headrests, Engine immobilizer, Driver and front passenger seat-mounted side airbags, Driver knee airbag, front and rear seat side curtain airbags and Direct Tire Pressure Monitoring System.

My return trip to Toronto after spending a week buzzing around my local area, resulted in an interesting drive. Many may feel that the Prius is underpowered or just not very fast, but I can assure you that isn’t necessarily the case… I spent a large part of my trip following a gentleman driving a Mercedes-Benz CLS550 – not exactly a slow car – with a driver that was more than motivated to get past the many slow-moving cars that endlessly clog the highways of Ontario.

We zig-zagged through traffic at speeds of 100 – 137 km/h and I kept on his tail the whole way, until one particularly bad point where he got stuck behind a very slow-moving chicane (you guessed it… a Toyota Corolla), and I jumped lanes and left him for dust. The Prius can do everything that a normal car can do.. just quieter and using less fuel.

The Conclusion

I didn’t have a whole lot of expectations going into the week, but I was surprised at how quickly I liked it and pointed out its well thought out design and execution. My wife ribbed me that maybe I had gone over to the “green side”. While it lacked the power of a V-6 or a V-8, it more than held its own in city as well as highway traffic. I wouldn’t be averse to driving one on a regular basis…

I’d have to bin the seat though.. or just go for an upgraded interior. Probably 90% of the population would do well to purchase one of these – and I’m not saying that to “save the environment” – it just excels at what most people ever do with their car, and that’s the commute to work on traffic-clogged roads.

+ PLUSES:

Way better than expected
With all the media hype over the brakes.. you can probably strike a good deal with the dealership right now ;>)
Lots of storage space

– MINUSES:

Back-breaking driver’s seat
Warranty is a bit lame compared to other hybrids (including other Toyotas and Lexus vehicles) where 8 years is the norm

Immediate Competition:

Honda Insight

By The Numbers…

Please visit your local dealer for the latest prices and incentives.
For more details and options go to: www.Toyota.ca

Pricing for the 2010 Toyota Prius:
Base / As Tested price: $27,800 Cdn
Destination & Delivery: $1,420

Powertrain:            1.8 Litre, 4-Cylinder, DOHC, 16-Valve, VVT-I & Permanent Magnetic Synchronous Electric Motor; Automatic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)
Horsepower (Net):     73Kw (80 hp) @ 5,200 rpm – Electric Motor: 60Kw (80 hp) / Battery: 100 Kw (134 hp)
Torque (Net):         142 Nm (105 lb.ft.) @ 4,000 rpm – Electric Motor: 207 N.m (153 lb.ft.) / Battery: 27 Kw (36 hp)
0-100 km/h:         9.8 seconds (Toyota USA: 0-60 mph)
Top speed:         180 km/h

Curb Weight:        1,380 kg (3,042 lbs)
Cargo Capacity:         0.445 m3 (15.7 cu.ft.)
Maximum Towing:        N/A

Fuel Consumption: [Unleaded – 87 Octane]
City: 3.7 L/100 kms  //  Highway: 4.0 L/100 kms //  Combined: 3.8 L/100 kms
I averaged 6.2 L/100km during mixed, but mostly highway driving.

Warranty and Roadside Assistance
Comprehensive/Major Component: 3 years/60,000 kms. Powertrain: 5 years/100,000 km


Copyright © 2010 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text / Images: Iain Shankland

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