The third generation of the Toyota Prius is officially launching today, and the latest iteration of the iconic hybrid is a study in refinement, not revolution. This is largely a good thing, as the previous versions of the Prius were very good at what they did. They provided a drive that used a minimal amount of fuel while providing reasonable comfort to the passengers. The newest version ups the fuel economy numbers, and at the same time provides a little extra power to what some have considered one of the least-sporty cars around.
The extra power is the result of the new gasoline engine in the third generation Prius. The previous 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine has been replaced with a 1.8-liter four. It may seem contrary to fuel-efficiency dogma, but the inclusion of a larger gasoline engine actually helps with overall fuel economy. The rationale behind this is that the previous engine would have to work very hard in order to maintain a highway speed. The harder working engine would spin at higher RPMs, requiring the burning of more fuel. The new 1.8-liter engine is tuned to provide additional torque and horsepower that will allow the 2010 Prius to reach and maintain highway speeds with the engine spinning at lower RPMs, thereby burning less fuel than the outgoing 1.4-liter design.
Toyota’s Synergy Drive hybrid drivetrain remains largely unchanged in overall design, but does feature a number of upgrades over the previous generation that have resulted from the extra years of experience in electric motor efficiency. There is now a three-way drive selector that will allow drivers to choose between EV-Drive (an all-electric drive), Power (which boosts performance and gives a sportier drive), and Eco (which is designed to maximize fuel economy). The Eco mode is not that exciting to drive, but for most drivers it will be the de facto choice, although people who live in cities and don’t travel long distances or at more than modest speeds will find the EV-Drive option to be the best. The Power option will probably be used mostly when people are running a little late for work and need some extra oomph.
The styling of the 2010 Toyota Prius receives minor modifications that help increase the cabin room (particularly headroom in the rear seats), and also improves the car’s drag co-efficient, making it cut through the air more smoothly, reducing resistance, and thereby increasing fuel economy. The roof also features an optional moon-roof and the roof area above the rear seats contains solar panels. These panels provide electricity to run the cabin’s ventilation system, which means more of the power generated by the engine will be direct towards driving, instead of powering interior features.
Another significant improvement to the third generation Prius is in the user interface. A large display panel in the dash provides immediate feedback to the driver concerning fuel consumption and efficiency habits, and that information is mirrored in the intrument panel, so a quick glance at the gauges will tell you the basics of what you need to know. The display panel also doubles as a satellite navigation system.
Of course, the biggest improvement to the 2010 Toyota Prius over the outgoing generation is the fuel economy. The previous Prius was rated at a combined EPA mileage of 46, and the 2010 looks to be getting over 50. Today marks the debut of the car in Japan, so official EPA testing to U.S. mileage standards have yet to be completed. However, the preliminary, though unofficial tests, put combined mileage at around 52 mpg.