Toyota's 2010 Prius Gets Better Than Ever

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The 2010 Toyota Prius

When I drove the second generation Toyota Prius in the summer of 2008, I was very much impressed, more than I expected to be. The occasion was a trip from Long Beach to Sonoma for the IndyCar Series race in late August; I had computer problems during the weekend that necessitated runs to the Apple store for quick fixes and, ultimately, a replacement machine.

During that trip, I got mileage that was exemplary usually in the 44-mpg range, without being light on the pedal once.  For that reason, I had high expectations coming into a week with the 2010, revamped, third version of Toyota's gas/electric hybrid sedan, the initial rung on the manufacturers hybrid ladder. I wasnt disappointed by the mileage or the build quality of the new Prius, which is now available in five different versions using Roman numerals I-V.

This time around, I had to travel to Las Vegas for NHRAs penultimate race at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The new Prius III proved an admirable road partner with its up-rated engine now a 1.8-liter 5-cylinder DOHC 16-valve gas-powered mill mated to two electric motors.  This seamless package gives a total of 134 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 105-ft-lb of torque at 4000.  Gear-changing comes from a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that effortlessly looks for the proper gearing.

The new model Toyota Prius actually looks smaller than the older one but is just about an inch longer and wider than the 2009 predecessor. This front-wheel-drive four-door hatch is 175.6 inches long, 68.7 inches wide and stands 58.7 inches tall on its 106.3-inch wheelbase.  It weighs in at 3042 pounds, has 5.5 excellent inches of ground clearance and sports a great 34.2-foot turning circle.

Toyota made some significant improvements to the steering system, ridding the Prius of its very numb feeling despite continuing to use electric power steering.  The brakes are flat-out excellent when needed for quick response as the all-wheel antilock brakes (with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist enhance active safety) to keep your auto insurance rates low.

As expected, a full array of front, side and head curtain airbag systems are present on this car, together with front knee airbags.  Toyota also fits an engine immobilizer and tire pressure monitoring system.  There are floor mats; they fit perfectly and presented zero problems, even when keeping the cruise control activated for long, long periods of time during this extensive road trip.

I cant say enough about the quiet nature of the Toyota Prius, a forward thinking sedan that manages to produce good performance for a hybrid while having excellent drivability.  This hybrid does hill climbs extremely well without the cruise control losing more than one mile-per-hour in speed.

The mileage readout on the very comprehensive dash display is a bit on the optimistic side.  While Toyota has ratings for this third generation Prius of 51/48 mpg from the 11.9-gallon tank, my real world average was about 3-5 mpg lower than that, particularly going to and from Vegas where the average speed is somewhere north of 80 mph.  I kept it about five miler per hour under the average in order to get about 47.  Down the hill from Victorville on my return trip, the readout said I was up to about 56 mpg.  Whee!

I like the high seating of the Toyota Prius and the dark cloth interior aptly mirrored the Winter Gray metallic exterior.  Yokohama P195/55R tires mounted on five-spoke 15-inch alloy rims gave the Prius the kind of invisibility that is so lovely to have on a long haul trip.  I also like the abundance of glass on this car; where others are going more slab-like, Toyota continues to produce an airy cockpit.

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