The 2010 Prius builds on the phenomenal success of the first two generations by adding a larger engine that gets even better mileage, sleeker styling and more convenience features such as a solar-panel sunroof that powers a fan to keep the car's cabin cool during the hot summer.
The new model is recognizable as a Prius, but the styling is fresher and more athletic. It goes on sale sometime in May. Prices have not yet been established, but they should be similar to prices for the 2009, which range from $22,000 to $24,270 for base models. No plug-in feature is available at this time.
Options available on the new model include radar cruise control, intelligent parking assist, Lane-Keeping Assist and an air-conditioning system that can be started remotely with the key fob while approaching the vehicle.
Stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes and electronic brake distribution are all standard.
The 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine runs on the Atkinson cycle. It delivers 98 horsepower, and a total of 134 when combined with the car's electric motor. Even though this engine is larger than the one in the previous generation, it uses less fuel because it produces more torque and has to be revved less. The engine has no belts. It has an electric water pump and electric power steering.
The new Prius has three driving modes - EV, Eco Mode and Power. As mentioned, EV lets you use electric-only power for up to one mile at speeds less than 25 miles per hour as long as the battery has an adequate charge. Eco Mode moderates the throttle movement. Power is what it implies.
I drove a preproduction model, and during a 42-mile loop on city streets, I did my best to exceed the Environmental Protection Agency's rating of 51 miles per gallon in the city and 48 on the highway.
I tried my best techniques to squeeze the most mileage out of each drop of fuel. That meant accelerating very gently, using as little power as possible. I certainly didn't win any kudos from fellow motorists because I often drove 8 or 10 mph under the posted speed limit, but I averaged 77.1 miles per gallon. Driving like that on a regular basis isn't practical, but it does illustrate what the car can do.
The driving experience, particularly if you're interested in obtaining optimum mileage, borders on boring. The car is tight and quiet, although the tires made quite a racket on some surfaces.
The brakes are extremely sensitive at low speeds, the steering has nice on-center feel, and the cabin is spacious. The blue shift knob is a shift-by-wire unit that has reverse, neutral and drive positions. A button on the console engages park and applies the emergency brake.
Watching the gauges with an eagle eye is necessary to extract the best mileage, and that's easy because they are located at the base of the windshield in the center of the dash. Various readouts are possible, but a bar graph showing fuel consumption was the most helpful.
Toyota has done a good job with the interior. The front seats are comfortable and the back seat has plenty of room for adults.
Pricing has not been announced.
Three years or 36,000 miles with an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty on hybrid components.
There is no "At A Glance" because this was a preproduction vehicle.
2010 Toyota Prius
Engine: 1.8-liter, 98-hp 4-cyl.
60-kilowat electric motor
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,042 lbs.
Price: Not available
MPG rating: 51 city, 48 hwy.
Tom Strongman's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.