The all-new 2010 Toyota Prius offers no surprises, just significant improvement. It's sleeker and better looking, and more powerful while delivering an EPA-rated 51/48 mpg City/Highway, up by 3 miles per gallon.
The hybrid mechanicals are lighter by 65 pounds, while being more efficient and presumably stronger. The 1.8-liter gas engine is also new, producing more horsepower while being more efficient. Top speed has flown to 112 miles per hour from 103 mph, slam-dunk evidence that the Prius is a lot slicker package at half that speed.
Acceleration performance is adequate, 0 to 60 mph in 9.8 seconds, while the CVT, or continuously variable transmission, is smooth.
There are three driving modes: EV, ECO and Power. EV is all electric, for very short distances at speeds under 25 mph; ECO provides the best fuel mileage, without noticeably compromising performance; and Power, the default mode, is needed for brisk acceleration.
Handling is nimble enough at slow speeds, and the brakes are sensitive while being stacked with electronic capabilities for safety. There are seven airbags including one for the driver's knees. The ride can be harsh over the wrong bumps, and interior noise is surprisingly high despite increased sound insulation. Many owners might not notice, but others will, with so many Prius buyers in search of tranquility.
Standard magic includes Touch Tracer Display, projecting info before your eyes, so you can keep them on the road. Input comes from the pilot at the controls on the steering wheel, including not just audio and cruise control, but also climate control and trip computer, with telephone and other controls available.
Options include such technological tricks as a moonroof and solar-powered ventilation system; remote pre-air conditioning to cool the car down to ambient temperature before you climb in on a hot day; a warning beep when you're unsteady in your lane; radar cruise control; Intelligent Parking Assist that will parallel park the Prius with no steering or throttle input from the driver; and pre-collision emergency braking to slightly reduce the impact when you don't see an accident coming but the car's radar does.