It’s tough being at the top.
Take the Prius for example. I mean, it pretty much invented the hybrid category. And it bore the brunt of a lot criticism early on.
But it emerged. Not only unscathed, but look at how many Hybrid models are for sale now. Toyota alone offers a Camry, Corolla, Avalon, RAV4, Highlander, Prius, Prius Prime and Prius C models. All Hybrids!
That’s quite a lineup, and as the pater familias (father of the family) of this clan of efficiency, Toyota has to make sure that it stays relevant and attractive. So, for 2019, The Prius offers a host of changes – some big, some small – to keep the King on the throne.
The One We Didn’t Get
The biggest news for the 2019 lineup is the new all-wheel drive AWD-e model, the first Prius featuring all-wheel-drive. It will certainly offer an attractive boost in confidence and control, especially in poor weather. And hey, it’s a Prius, so it will claim to be one of the most fuel-efficient all-wheel-drive passenger cars available in the U.S.
It sounds like a cool system, using an independent electric magnet-less rear motor to power the rear wheels when necessary – all without a heavy or space-sapping center differential or driveshaft. The AWD-e models also use a Nickel-Metal Hydride battery instead of the front driver’s Lithium Ion, since nickel batteries are more resilient to extreme temperature change. A very clever package.
The One We Got
But weren’t disappointed at all to get our Prius Limited, which comes exclusively in front wheel drive. It starts with a nice first impression – all 2019 Prius models get an all-new front bumper, and headlamps that look cleaner and simpler. Out back, a new taillight design, two new colors, and new wheel designs keep things fresh.
We loved the color scheme of our Supersonic Red tester, but prefer the tough-looking standard 17- inch alloys over the 15-inch alloys that came with our tester’s Premium Convenience Package. Usually extra-cost packages get you larger wheels! Go figure….
The One with Everything
Still, we can’t complain. Our Limited tester was about as premium as a Prius gets. All 2019 models get some minor improvements to make things a little nicer, including piano black accents around the shifter, steering wheel and center console.
It’s a roomy cabin, with plenty of room made all the plusher with our Limited’s SofTex trimmed heated front seats with 8-way power adjustment and power lumbar support for the driver. The rear seat is spacious and adult-friendly, and when folded down, serves up a cavernous 62.7 cubic feet of cargo space that’s easily accessed, with a large hatch and low load floor. You don’t feel any compromises in function were made to handle the hybrid powertrain.
Toyota’s banking that making the Prius feel unique and futuristic will lure you into the world of hybrids. There’s a 4.2-inch color dual multi-information display on top of the center console, and it serves up loads of useful info, including Energy Monitor, Hybrid System Indicator, Climate, Audio and Navi info. It also tries to coach you into better driving behavior with things like Eco Score, Eco Wallet and Eco Diary.
Underneath that is a massive 11.6-inch vertical tablet that wouldn’t look out of place in a Tesla. It’s loaded with the goodies like Entune Premium JBL Audio with Navigation, Bluetooth and Siri Eyes Free. With the giant screen and cool graphics, and our tester’s color heads-up display it felt like we were flying a private jet. It even plays a little song when you shut down. Very cool.
Speaking of cool, Toyota is so committed to efficiency that the a/c system features a Smart-flow mode that directs airflow only to seated occupants to conserve energy and maximize comfort.
Below that, the stubby little shift …er…stub is handy, and there’s Qi wireless phone charging – made larger this year to accommodate the new, larger phones. Two new USB ports for the rear seats is pretty cool, too. The lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – not cool. Most Toyota’s have gotten on the connectivity bandwagon by adding these two, but here the high-tech Prius is a straggler.
One Phenomenal Fuel Sipper
Okay, most Prius buyers probably dig the unique looks, but the real reason you go Prius is impressive fuel economy. And were we impressed!
If you want to squeeze every last drop out of your poor little Prius, the L Eco grade is rated with a projected 58 mpg city/ 53 mpg highway and 56 mpg combined. Wow. Gaining a little luxury on the other trims brings the numbers down to 54 mpg city/ 50 mpg highway and 52 mpg combined. Still very impressive. But we averaged – according to the on-board trip computer – 59 mpg! Mixed driving – we didn’t baby it – it just refused to burn fuel.
That said, outside of those great numbers, it’s not a ton of fun to drive. It’s smooth and quiet, and if you hit Power mode it gets a bit noisy, and scoots around pretty well. This is a car with a low pulse rate – it says “hey relax, enjoy the ride, we’ll get there”. It mellows you out.
Helping to mellow you out is a nice ride, good handling, it’s pleasant to drive. Very Zen. Ommmmmm.
It’s a bit of a stark contrast to the RAV4 Hybrid AWD we recently tested. That one was fast, fun, engaging, and along with 213 horsepower we still saw 38 mpg, which is pretty remarkable. If you’re looking for an exhilarating drive with your hybrid, go straight to the RAV4. XSE model highly recommended.
Back to the Zen-like Prius, it comes with Toyota Safety Sense P to keep your chill vibe. All Prius models feature Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control – even automatic High Beams.
Another slice of tech coolness, all Prius models incorporate a Vehicle Proximity Notification System to help alert pedestrians and cyclists when you’re rolling in no-noise EV mode. ‘Cause honking the horn is not zen…
Our Limited model enjoyed a few additional calm-inducing goodies, including Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Alert, and Intelligent Clearance Sonar with Intelligent Parking Assist.
One for Everybody
Along with a wide choice of Toyota Hybrid vehicles, the Prius lineup is pretty robust itself. And to make matters even better, they’ve abandoned the previous confusing number system, and now name the models similar to the rest of brand.
Our frugal selves would be strongly attracted to the Prius L Eco, starting at $23,770. With LED lights, 15-inch alloy wheels, smart key, Entune Audio, an integrated backup camera and the excellent Toyota Safety Sense P, it’s a smart buy.
Step up to the Prius LE, and you add features including a 60/40 split fold rear seat, and most importantly, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Parking Sonar with Parking Assist. Well worth the $24,980. The XLE trim adds 17-inch alloys, Auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated SofTex front seats and heated steering wheel and Qi-compatible Wireless Smartphone Charging. Yours for $27,820.
Our tester was the top-of-the-line Limited. For your $32,200 you get the adaptive front headlight system, color heads-up display, the monster 11.6- tablet multi-media display with navigation, and more. Our tester also added the Premium Convenience Package ($515) with the moonroof that we loved, and the 15-inch alloy wheels we didn’t. Throwing in some floor mats, lighted entry sills, rear bumper applique, and $930 for delivery, and our tester came in at $34,786.
Competition would have us looking at the Hyundai ionic which comes in with a little less equipment, and would average a little less at 50 mpg. But is also just $29,470.
The Kia Niro comes in a variety including Hybrid, Plug-in Hybrid, and pure EV. Getting one close to our tester would cost $33,520. A bit of a tall wagon, it would offer a little more utility, but it couldn’t match our Prius’ mpg.
Its efficiency is astounding, it’s value is excellent, and its reliability record is also incredible. Every other Hybrid owes it a debt of gratitude.
The 2019 Prius still deserves a place at the head of the hybrid table.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.