Prius Remains the Hybrid to Beat

Since making its U.S. debut in 2001, the Toyota Prius has gone on to become the nation’s best-selling hybrid, but Honda and domestic automakers including Ford and Chevy are nipping at Toyota’s heels.

In response to the increasing competition, Toyota has announced a number of noteworthy improvements for the next generation Prius.

Toyota has set its sights on a 50 m.p.g. city / 48 m.p.g. highway rating; up from their current industry-leading 48 m.p.g. highway rating.

The new Prius has a range of 600 miles from its 1.8-litre, 4 cylinder engine/battery combo which delivers 134 horsepower.  The battery pack includes a 10-year/150,000-mile warranty.

Toyota has chosen to sacrifice comfort for safety and economy, increasing the overall length of the new Prius by 0.6 of an inch and width by a mere 1 inch over the 2009 model.

Factory fitted radial tires are less flexible to improve gas mileage but result in a rougher ride.

 For an additional $4,500, buyers can upgrade to the Advanced Technology Package which includes Lane Assist. This feature ‘reads’ shoulder and lane markers and produces a beeping sound if the driver strays outside designated lanes. In independent tests, the technology performed reliably when white lane markers were crossed but, on occasion, failed to activate when yellow markers were crossed.

The Advanced Technology Package also includes radar cruise control which, when enabled, beeps a warning, reduces power and applies the brakes if the vehicle comes too close to another vehicle ahead of it. With cruise control disabled, the technology sounds a beep to alert the driver if another vehicle in its path suddenly slows. 

The new Prius will also feature Park Assist, the parallel parking technology first showcased in the luxury Lexus LS. 

Another option is the solar panel roof which has a target price of $3,600 and will automatically control the cabin fan to circulate the air when the Prius is parked and temperatures within the cabin reach 65 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cabin temperatures can also be controlled using the key fob which will allow the driver to activate the air conditioner up to five minutes before entering the vehicle.

Also new for 2010 will be a version of the Lexus TeleAid, similar to General Motor’s OnStar technology, which summons assistance in the event of an air bag deployment.

The new Prius will operate in three modes including EV, ECO and POWER.  In EV mode, the vehicle starts and continues to be powered by the battery alone for up to one mile after attaining a speed of 25 m.p.h. In ECO mode, power to the air conditioner is reduced.  In POWER mode, the gas engine is engaged and the battery acts like a pseudo turbo to boost power for passing and rapid acceleration situations like highway merging.  Shrouded on the center dash, a cluster of gauges and schematics indicate in which mode the Prius is operating.

The 2010 Prius will be offered in five versions ranging in price from $21,000 for the basic version 1 to $25,800 for the version 5 model, with available options bringing the final sticker price to around $30,000.

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