Toyota chose the name Prius, which is Latin for “first,” or “original,” and it’s appropriate. The Prius was the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle in the world, rolling off the assembly line in Japan in 1997.
Three years later it was introduced to America, where it has almost become the face of the entire hybrid segment.
I still remember the doubtful looks — and more than a few snarky comments — the automaker put up with in those early days. Hey, it was something radically new, and maybe suffered from the perception that it was not too far off from Flintstones’-styled locomotion.
Oh, but those days are gone. With millions of sales globally, the Prius proudly wears a badge of honor for leading the charge (pardon the pun) that today features a plethora of hybrid choices.
Almost every major manufacturer, after waiting to see the fallout from Toyota’s experiment, now has hybrid versions of their most popular vehicles.
But the Prius continues to reign supreme. And rather than sit still, the Prius continues to update the original battery-powered car. This year they’ve introduced all-wheel-drive. Well, a sorta-version of AWD. But it came in handy during my test week.
Back in the day the Prius was available as a sedan, but now it’s settled into life as a hatchback. For 2019 you get four trim sizes, ranging from the L Eco all the way up to the top-of-the-line Limited.
Each sports a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that’s paired with a couple of electric motors. This produces 121 horsepower.
To provide the needed rear-wheel action to complete the AWD system, another motor is married to the rear axle.
So it’s not continuous all-wheel-drive, and why would it need to be? The car uses all four to get from zero to about 6 miles per hour, but also re-engages if it senses traction issues. Otherwise a driver will never really know the capability is there.
I drove the car during a minor snow event in Denver, and the system worked flawlessly for me.
The joke is on people who poke fun at the “little electric car,” because the Prius is quite roomy inside. I’m six-feet tall and had no issues getting in or out, and passengers in the back have a nice space, too.
I would never confuse it with a luxury car, but the Prius does have a quality interior. The majority of the materials are very good, the seats are comfortable, and visibility (especially out the front) is outstanding.
Some will take issue with the placement of the usual dashboard display, because, unlike almost every other car, it’s not in front of the driver. Instead, it’s centered in the middle of the dash.
On one hand it means the driver can’t just glance down and note speed, etc. But on the flip side I actually learned to appreciate this, because nothing is hidden by the steering wheel. Honestly, don’t you sometimes have to peer around the wheel in your car to find something?
Not with the Prius. It’s right there in the middle of the car. Sure, it takes some getting used to, but I can’t say that I find a flaw in this design.
Storage space is pretty good up front. The bin between the seats isn’t very wide, but it has some good depth. Plus, the Qi-charging space can also hold some things if you’re not powering up your phone.
Rear cargo space is impressive, and the rear seats fold to make the space even larger. I used the Prius to haul some things around during my test week, and had zero complaints.
Nobody buys a Prius to drag race. Yes, it’ll take its time getting up to speed, but it’s not like it’s crawling. And all the while it’s smooth, without any herky-jerky movements. In fact, I was very happy with the acceleration on the hybrid. Let’s put it this way: It’ll be way better than what you expect when you first get in.
Once you’re tooling along you’ll be treated to a great ride. I found it to be smooth and relatively quiet. Sure, when the gas engine kicks in it’s noticeable, but not obnoxious.
This was a good ride. Steering, braking, and overall handling were about average. And really, when you factor in the 50 miles per gallon you’re getting, you’ll be more than pleased with the drive.
I’m a bit puzzled why Toyota hasn’t married their groundbreaking drive-train technology with a similar embracing of interior car tech devices. They do seem a bit slow to adapt to the toys we love today.
I was hoping, for instance, that they’d include Apple CarPlay, but no. Android users are out of luck, too.
However, I had no difficulties connecting my phone with Bluetooth. If you want to download the Toyota Entune software you can do a bit more.
But, gadgets aside, the Prius does get good marks for the array of driver aids and safety tech items. My test car included an optional (and colorful) heads-up display on the windshield, which I must admit I love. That feature is standard if you move up to the Limited edition.
The touchscreen is 6.1 inches, but the Limited jumps way up to an 11-inch display.
The Bottom Line
For years we’ve known that the Prius is a champ when it comes to fuel economy. My test car stayed right around that 50-mpg benchmark the entire week.
But the car has come a long way in delivering a smooth, comfortable ride, too.
All in all, it means a quality ride and money-saver in the long run. The Prius is a great choice.
2019 Prius XLE AWD
1.8-liter, 4-cylinder engine
Twin electric motors (plus one for the AWD rear-axle)
Fuel economy: 52/48/50 combined
As tested: $32,146
Car reviewed by Dom Testa
Vehicle provided by manufacturer