Toyota calls its Prius an "Eco-Icon," and the latest generation should have plenty of available gadgets for technological and environmental die-hards. Among them are a solar-panel moonroof that powers modest air conditioning in hot parking lots, LED headlights that use less energy than conventional halogen lamps, and the self-parking system from Lexus' flagship LS sedan.
The Prius competes with Honda's 41-mpg Insight; there could also be an indirect competitor in Volkswagen's 34-mpg Jetta TDI.
New for 2011
There are no significant changes.
Overall styling, particularly from the rear, looks similar to that of the previous Prius, complete with a bar that splits the hatchback window widthwise. The headlights sport arrow-shaped lenses that are a bit like the Nissan Maxima's. Exterior features include:
- 15-inch wheels standard
- Optional 17-inch wheels
- Standard LED taillamps use less electricity
The dash has instruments that are high atop the center portion, two glove compartments and a nublike shifter. The shifter itself sits close to knee level. The dash and doors have a matte-style finish, and the steering wheel gains a telescoping adjustment.
The steering wheel has touch-sensitive audio and climate controls that display a replica of the actual controls and highlight the driver's choices in the instrument display. Toyota calls it Touch Tracer, claiming it helps drivers keep their eyes on the road. Other information on the display includes fuel and energy consumption meters, as well as a depiction of power flow between the drivetrain's gasoline and electric components. Interior features include:
- Optional heated leather seats
- Optional backup camera
- Optional navigation system
Under the Hood
The 1.8-liter engine is augmented by a number of high-efficiency tricks — among them an electric water pump, exhaust gas recovery, an efficient automatic transmission and optimized regenerative braking. Coupled with an electric motor, the drivetrain makes 134 horsepower.
Being a "full" hybrid, the Prius can drive on electric-only power, gasoline power or a combination of the two. There's no need to plug it into a wall outlet.
Like other full hybrids, the car's electric motor draws power from a trunk-mounted battery that recharges using braking friction. Drivers can switch between four driving modes: regular Drive; Eco Mode, which optimizes settings for better mileage; Power Mode, which increases gas-pedal sensitivity for better acceleration; and EV-Drive Mode, which attempts to stay in electric mode as long as possible, provided the battery has enough juice. On a full battery charge, the Prius can maintain gas-free electric cruising for up to a mile.
Safety features include:
- Seven standard airbags, including a driver's knee airbag, front seat-mounted side airbags and front and rear side curtain airbags
- Standard active head restraints
- Standard all-disc antilock brakes, traction control and an electronic stability system
- Optional radar-based adaptive cruise control
- Optional lane-drive warning system
- Optional pre-collision system
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