• Now available with all-wheel drive
  • Interior layout now more intuitive
  • No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto yet
  • Base price for AWD starting around $27,000

 

The fourth-generation mid-cycle refresh of the 2019 Toyota Prius sees all-wheel drive as an available option in addition to an exterior facelift and a better-designed center stack, all priced starting around $26,380, plus delivery.

The big news from Toyota is the addition of all-wheel drive capability to its popular hybrid. Not shying away from cars like some other automakers, Toyota believes more traction and on-road capability will fill a gap for customers wanting an environmentally conscious car but with the added confidence of power at all four wheels.

Low-speed AWD

The AWD-e system operates via an electric motor powered by a nickel-metal hydride battery. From 0-6 miles per hour the system engages full-time, helpful for launching the Prius in any condition. When needed the system engages intermittently at speeds up to 43 mph. Beyond this speed, traction control takes over and the Prius AWD-e reverts to front-wheel drive. Disengagement at that speed equals greater fuel efficiency and keeps the Prius AWD-e at a sub-$30,000 price point, which was a huge consideration for engineers.

Manufacturer-provided fuel economy estimates for the AWD model are only slightly reduced from the standard Prius at 52-mpg city/48-mpg highway/50-mpg combined. Compare that to the standard Prius LE, XLE and Limited, which have projected fuel ratings of 54-mpg city/50-mpg highway/52-mpg combined. However, the extra traction from the AWD system might be worth the slight hit at the pump.

The new AWD-e system is 25-percent more compact than what's used in the RAV4 and Highlander SUV models. The magnet-less motor also means less rear motor mechanical drag, hence greater efficiency. The AWD-e system affords the 2019 Toyota Prius an additional 7.1-hp and 40.6 lb-ft of torque. It’s unlikely that the Prius AWD-e is quicker than its front-wheel-drive siblings because it’s heavier, weighing an additional 145 pounds in LE trim and 170 pounds in XLE spec, due to the extra motor.

Also: Get your first look at the new and redesigned cars of 2019

Greater traction

On the road under normal driving conditions the AWD-e’s added traction isn’t perceptible, but get onto snow or ice and the extra grip is noticeable. During hill acceleration, the Prius experiences initial tire spin and some crabbing, but the system grabs at the four corners quickly, taking charge and eliminating slippage. Through icy turns at higher speeds there’s a marked difference in traction, making the car more easily controllable. The system inspires confidence, so if you live in an area that frequently experiences inclement weather and at the same time you want to do your part for the environment, then the all-wheel-drive upgrade is an option to consider for an additional cost of $1,400.

Clearly, though, off-roading isn't recommended. Ground clearance does increase slightly with the AWD version of the 2019 Toyota Prius, up to 5.3 inches from 5.1 inches, but that's not enough for off-pavement adventuring.

Both the interior and exterior see subtle yet functional upgrades. From the outside, the Prius looks less Transformer-like and more like a real car. The headlamps lose some bulk and the lower illumination lamps have been removed all together. The AWD-e version receives compact LED accent lamps.

At the rear the combination tail lights are also slimmer and are now configured horizontally, complimenting the Prius’ fairly low center of gravity. That split rear window still exists, however, which creates a rear visibility concern.

Interior upgrades

Inside, the 11.6-inch display on the high-end Limited trim makes the cockpit look Tesla-esque, and semi-gloss black finishes replace the stark black-and-white motif. 

The positioning of buttons and switches around either of the two available touchscreens (a 6.1-inch display is standard) has been reimagined for improved functionality and driver access. For example, the seat heater switches now live directly in front of the cup holders, no longer hiding behind the transmission shifter, a vast improvement.

In the rear there are now two USB ports and pockets behind both front seats. Visor extenders are also now a standard feature.

No whiff of it yet, but it’s been assured that Apple CarPlay will appear soon. Android Auto is still under consideration by Toyota.

2019 Car Reviews: First takes on new models

New trim designations

With this refresh, Toyota abandons its Prius trim-level numbering convention for the more familiar one used on other vehicles in the company's lineup. Expect to see Prius L, L Eco, LE, XLE and Limited trims. AWD will be available with LE and XLE versions of the car.

This Prius AWD move was a no-brainer for Toyota, which remains committed to passenger cars instead of jumping ship into the vast SUV seas like some other manufacturers. Competition remains stiff from the likes of the Honda Insight, Kia Niro, and Hyundai Ioniq, so adding AWD is one way to keep the Prius at the top of hybrid-car shopping lists.

Dealers start taking deliveries in January of 2019, just in time for snow, snow and more snow.

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