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Another instrument display feature in the new Prius is a graphic that mimics the steering wheel buttons when you press them; the idea being that you don't have to look down at the wheel when you press a button, keeping your eyes closer to a front view. In concept it's pretty cool, but in practice we find it unnecessary. After a few minutes of driving, we remember the button positioning, and don't bother to look at the instrument display feedback.
The freeway is a good spot to listen to the stereo characteristics. We were disappointed on getting into the 2010 Prius to find no iPod port, but Toyota built in stereo Bluetooth support for MP3 players. And, as luck would have it, the new OS for the iPhone includes stereo Bluetooth. We paired an iPhone to the car's Bluetooth phone system when we first got in, and were happy to see the car ingested the phone's contact list as well.
But using the iPhone as a music player meant we had to pair it again, this time to the stereo. You can't use the iPhone for music and phone at the same time with the 2010 Prius. We thought this lack of integration would be a real problem, but switching from Bluetooth music player to Bluetooth phone proves fairly easy, merely requiring a touch on the car's onscreen connect button. Still, if you were to get a call while using the phone as a music player, it wouldn't switch to the car's hands-free system. Also, the Bluetooth audio source screen in the car doesn't show what music is playing and offers no music browsing capability. You only get a play and a pause button. Toyota really should have put in true iPod support.
With the navigation option in our car, the disc changer goes from six slots to four, and is hidden behind the LCD. This arrangement is the same as is in the previous Prius model, and we would have expected some improvement here. That disc changer can, of course, read MP3 CDs. There is also satellite radio and a simple auxiliary input.
Our car includes the upgraded, eight-speaker JBL audio system, which sounds surprisingly good, especially considering what we are used to hearing in Toyota cars. Although lacking a subwoofer, this system puts out bass strong enough to feel, yet still retains well-modulated highs and mids. Instrument definition is good, making the different layers in a recording distinct. This is an above-average audio system.
Proceeding along our route, the navigation system pipes up, warning of slow traffic ahead. It doesn't offer a detour, but looking at the map, we see the freeway marked in yellow, indicating speeds of 20 to 40 mph. This navigation system is supposed to find a route around any red sections, which would mean traffic moving under 20 mph.
The art of braking
As in the previous model, using the brakes is an art in the 2010 Prius. Hit them too hard, and you use the actual pads and calipers. The trick is to anticipate stops and slowdowns and lightly apply the brakes well in advance, which uses the car's regenerative braking system only, thereby feeding the battery and saving wear and tear on the pads.
We employ this braking technique as we get off the freeway and approach our destination. Leaving the car in a parking lot on a hot day, we get to experience one of the more unique features of the Prius: the optional solar roof, which on our car powers a fan in the cabin, so when we get back to the car it's a little cooler than it would be otherwise. We also had a rearview camera on our car, but Toyota implemented a back-up beeping, similar to what you find on big trucks. This gets kind of annoying, although it's probably a pedestrian safety feature, as the Prius will usually be running under quiet electric power when it reverses.
Other tech options available at the V trim level include adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and an automatic parking system. We had the opportunity to try these features in a different Prius earlier. The cruise control and lane departure work well, similar to what we've seen in much more expensive cars. The parking system is hit or miss: it does an excellent job of guiding you into well-marked parking spaces, but requires too much adjustment for others.
Driving in the city and on the freeway, we see our average fuel economy range between 48 and 52 mpg, in keeping with the EPA's rating for the 2010 Prius of 51 mpg city and 48 mpg highway. Where the previous model had a 1.5-liter engine, Toyota bumped the displacement up to 1.8 in the 2010 Prius, and also made some refinements in the electric drive system. Toyota claims the larger engine actually gets better fuel economy in some circumstances than the smaller one.
We can't say that we really enjoy driving the 2010 Toyota Prius, but as an economical means of transportation, it's hard to beat. Fuel economy is its major virtue, and we give it a high performance rating for showing an average of around 50 mpg. For cabin tech, Toyota has made a few improvements, but the lack of good MP3 player support is an oversight. Live traffic reports and the JBL audio system are worthwhile improvements. It gets a high score for design, partly because of its body style, which makes it stand out in the crowd while giving it an extremely low drag coefficient. Design also benefits from the nice graphic treatment for the navigation system.
|Model||2010 Toyota Prius|
|Power train||1.8-liter inline 4-cylinder with hybrid system|
|EPA fuel economy||51 mpg city/48 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||50 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional DVD-based with live traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||Four-disc CD changer, MP3 CD support|
|MP3 player support||Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input|
|Other digital audio||Satellite radio|
|Audio system||Standard JBL, eight speakers|
|Driver aids||Rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$30,709|