The third-generation of the world's best-selling hybrid rolled onto the Detroit scene with more of everything that matters: a sleeker appearance, additional creature comforts, enhanced performance and even better fuel economy. Crisper styling on this five-door hatch yields a 0.25 coefficient of drag, the lowest on any production car today. While still mid-size, the well-appointed passenger compartment of the Gen III Prius boasts additional people/cargo space, with the most notable gains coming in rear head and legroom. In addition to its more sophisticated appearance, widespread use of plant-derived carbon-neutral plastics turns it an even deeper shade of eco green.
The Hybrid Synergy Drive system in the 2010 Prius is 90 percent new and far more efficient. On the gasoline side, displacement of its four-cylinder engine, which uses mileage-enhancing Atkinson Cycle timing, has grown from 1.5 to 1.8 liters and output has risen to 98 horsepower and 105 lb.-ft. of torque. This bigger four is now teamed with an electric motor capable of 80 horses and 153 lb.-ft. of twist that derives its power from an advanced Nickel-Metal Hydride battery. Collectively, that match gives the Prius a combined output rating of 134 horsepower, which helps trim its 0-60 mph time to 9.8 seconds. But despite those 24 additional ponies, overall combined fuel economy also has gone up from 46 to an estimated 50 mpg. Other changes of note include a complete redesign of the continuously variable transmission (CVT) that's lighter and reduces torque losses by up to 20 percent, and a new electric inverter unit that features direct cooling which trims its weight and size as well. Even the regenerative circuitry on the anti-lock braking system has been upgraded to make it more effective at on-the-fly recharging.
Highlighting the comprehensive roster of standards in this versatile hybrid is a more user-friendly dash/console treatment with a revamped Multi-Informational Display (MID) that graphically tracks all aspects of the system operations. Also on hand, new Touch Tracer sensors in the steering wheel that both adjust various audio/info settings and cause the change to appear in a supplemental readout positioned directly in the driver's line of sight.
The coolest new option is a glass moonroof with a solar-powered ventilation system but voice-activated navigation, Intelligent Parking Assist and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with Lane Keep Assist and the Pre-Collision System also are available. No word yet on pricing for this new Prius, which goes on sale in the spring.