The 2010 Toyota Prius IV
July 27, 2010
The 2010 Toyota Prius IV isn’t the type of automobile that car aficionados lust after. Rather, it’s the type of car that those who only want to get from Point A to Point B will love because it’s fuel efficient and reminiscent of a luxury sedan. That’s not to say that it is a luxury vehicle, because it’s not, but the Prius IV has a number of comfort features that aim to impress: heated leather seats, good sound system, rear-view camera, sun roof, and vent-powering solar panel.
(Let’s clarify for a moment: we’re talking about the Prius IV, not the more basic I, II, or III packages. The differences between these may be slight, but to be fair, it’s the IV and V that are reminiscent of a luxury car, whereas the other packages can be significantly more spartan.)
It’s a hybrid.
For us, coming off a Volkswagen R32, the difference in performance is significant. The trade-off is obvious, however: a more quiet ride, with twice the mileage per tank and half the price. That trade-off may not be appealing if you’re prone to aggressive driving with open stretches, but in metropolitan areas where traffic patterns are dense, with fun escapes from this traffic being rare, then having a car without much oomph isn’t a huge issue, as long as basic driver comfort is met. And here, the Prius IV delivers fairly well.
And let’s be honest, that twice-the-distance-half-the-price thing is pretty awesome. With basic unleaded gas (87), we’re talking $25 for a fill-up, which gets us over 500 miles of range. Considering that the only other car to do that is the now-discontinued and very compact original Honda Insight, the Prius naturally wins the MPG race, and does so packing more people/stuff.
When we first looked at the 2010 Prius, the salesperson was keen on pointing out that the car had three driving modes. One was the “EV” mode, for forcing the car to run only on the battery. “Eco” mode was next, for focusing on best gas mileage. Third was “power” mode, for getting more juice to the wheels. Let’s be fair, though: in real-world use, you’re only going to use the second mode most of the time, because power mode doesn’t really add that much spin to your wheels, and EV mode shuts itself off when you go beyond a certain speed/acceleration, or if the air conditioner is up in high gear. So really, EV mode may be fine for just cruising around the parking lot, and maybe you’ll push the power mode button when trapped between two trailers on the freeway, but slowing down to a snail’s pace or putting the petal to the metal as it were accomplishes both of these things as well; eco-mode will automatically draw power only from the battery at low speeds, and provide more juice from the engine when needed. Perhaps giving consumers the perception of micromanagement is helping sales, but these options feel almost silly to us.
We assume that for power-management purposes, Toyota pulled the daytime running lights from the Prius, despite the fact that models such as the Matrix come standard with this feature: it’s a safety feature, after all. We can’t imagine that the power draw is that big of an issue, especially since the car will never be sucking battery juice exclusively when not cruising a parking lot. The mystery continues when you forget to leave the Prius’ lights on when the car is off, because unlike most other cars on the market now, the Prius doesn’t complain with an audible beep - the lights just stay on.
A cool family car.
The Prius IV is now considered an intermediate sized-car, up from the “compact” footprint that hybrids were previously known for. With four doors and adequate cabin room to fill the back seats, the Prius can make for a good family car, whether that means you have kids or just a backseat-filling dog. The rear seats fold down completely, and by “completely” we mean that they don’t angle upwards towards the front of the cabin, so sliding furniture or boxes or whatever else in is easy. There’s also no drop behind a lip when the trunk is open, again making for easy loading and unloading of whatever you plan to haul around. This is a solid hatch-back feature, and it’s a wonder that other car companies haven’t come around to this, as it really complements the already-spacious interior.
Locks on the Prius IV are keyless, as is starting the engine. There’s a key-fab that’s proximity-based, so as long as the fab is on your person, you can lock and unlock doors just by touching the car’s door handle(s). It’s a nice feature with a physical override in the event that you key-fab’s battery dies, and the effect of keyless entry is another space-age touch that makes the Prius cool.
Inside, the Prius doesn’t disappoint aesthetically - the dash is full of sexy, mesmerizing LCDs, letting you see where the car’s power is currently coming from (battery or engine), and not even displaying things such as RPMs, as most people could care less about this in the first place. This is indicative of the Prius’ market: not gear-heads, but people who appreciate a clean interface and straightforward usability. Were it not for the lack of little touches here or there, the Prius could almost be considered the Macintosh of cars.
Unfortunately, as space-age looking as the interior is, it’s not perfectly polished: the leather trim is minimal beyond the seats, with much of the dash and doors trimmed in a hard, patterned plastic. It doesn’t look bad, but it doesn’t look as clean as leather either, and while likely more durable in the long run, it doesn’t feel particularly robust when giving some areas a slight push and not feeling much resistance.
The car’s climate controls are nice, but aimed at the front seats. Rear passengers have it tough during very hot or very cold weather, because there are no rear vents - not even under the seats. Even our R32 which had little space in the back seats had vents beneath the front seats and at the rear of the center console. That the Prius, which is a larger car aimed more at a family market doesn’t have this, is almost ludicrous. “But WyldKard, we’ve had cars for decades without rear vents, and our rear passengers have made out just fine. " We’ve made out fine without power steering for decades too, but that doesn’t mean modern cars should shirk this feature today.
The stereo with built-in navigation is pretty good considering just how poor most stock navigation systems are. The downside is that a number of features are disabled when the car is in motion, such as entering an address or manipulating bluetooth controls for wirelessly connecting to, say, an iPhone. The nice thing is that none of these features require add-ons, which was the case with our R32 and bluetooth telephony. It’s pretty stupid for a car manufacturer to disable features temporarily under the guise of safety, however, when real-world use cases mean that a passenger should be able to use the navigation equipment when the car is in motion. In this sense, it’s rather sad that the car detects the presence of a passenger for the purpose of enabling the passenger airbag, but that this same detection mechanism isn’t used to unlock navigation controls.
The stereo itself is good - not as good sounding as the premium system that came stock in our previous 2005 Ford Mustang GT, but with adequate base nonetheless. Control-wise, the Prius IV’s stereo is fantastic, and truly shows how much better touch-screen interfaces are than the pitiful controls on our R32 were. Surely, it’s no iOS interface still, but it’s better than much of the competition.
Speaking of iOS, the Prius IV’s stereo connects to iOS devices via A2DP, letting you listen to any audio from an iOS device (not just from the iPod app), as well as letting you make and receive calls using the car’s speaker system. Thus far, no one we’ve talked to in this manner even knew we were calling from the car, and assumed we were using our Jawbone headset or stock iOS hardware. So good and convenient are these calls, that we haven’t recharged our bluetooth headset since setting the car’s bluetooth connection up.
Unfortunately, while the bluetooth connectivity is solid 80% of the time, there’s the occasional glitch. Normally, as soon as we turn the car on, bluetooth connectivity is achieved and playback from whatever audio app we used last resumes, be it from the iPod app or Pandora. Every once in awhile, however, we have to run through a couple menus to get bluetooth to work properly, and while even rarer, there are times that bluetooth playback of our music suddenly stops, and we have to disconnect the device manually and reconnect it using the car’s stereo interface (when the car is stopped). We don’t know where the problem lies, as it may be an issue with Apple’s bluetooth implementation or Toyota’s, but it’s annoying either way. Fortunately, the only time we regularly have to touch the car’s bluetooth settings is when ours was not the last device used, such as if our significant other used the Prius with her iPhone. In those cases, when we start the car up, we have to tell it to look for our iPhone instead, but then we’re off five seconds later with streaming audio goodness.
Mandatory conclusion paragraph.
We didn’t get a chance to play around with previous Prius incarnations, but judging the car on it’s 2010 build, the Prius IV is every bit as comfortable as other “premium” cars in its price range. What you give up is base performance, but most families don’t care about raw performance as much as safety anyway. What they care about is getting from one place to another, and these days, doing it as cheaply as possible. Raw fuel savings may not be spectacular compared to a cheaper, non-hybrid car that’s still considered fuel efficient, but the Prius epitomizes fuel efficiency in a package that greenies can put on a pedestal for not supporting terrorism and being slightly more earth-friendly.
While the Prius still takes top honors among “alternate fuel vehicles,” we realize that’s partially because the respective roster is so thin right now. As this roster grows, the Prius will have to keep getting better, not just in respect to its hybrid engine, but in terms of features and polish as well. Right now, the Prius IV is slightly above middle-ground when it comes to in-car comfort, meaning that Toyota has a solid platform for building more budget-oriented vehicles, or more premium models. Whether the Prius maintains its position as Toyota’s flagship standard for hybrids remains to be seen, but with only a little more polish, we easily see it holding its ground for the immediate future, especially if other titans like Honda aren’t able to quickly capitalize on hybrid technology (e.g. the Insight’s sad resurrection).
Oh, also, the Prius’ brakes seem to work fine, in case you were wondering.