Years ago I had a Toyota Prius. The second generation with the current body style, but still relatively early on in the car’s lifecycle. Heck, I had to wait six months after ordering it to get the vehicle I wanted, as I recall. And then there was Boulder Toyota who tried to trick me out of an additional $1000 for a “high altitude prep package” which caused me to switch dealerships for the purchase, but… that’s ancient history, right?
While I really liked the vehicle and its high tech design, I also remember just how poorly it handled in bad weather. Bad weather we get with frequency in Boulder, Colorado and the mountains at our doorstep. The core problem was the combination of it being a relatively light vehicle coupled with front wheel drive only. It slipped and slid all over the road when things were icy or otherwise inclement, exciting in a simulator, not so much in real life. From there I upgraded to a Toyota Highlander Hybrid back when it was hybrid or AWD. Better handling (a heavier vehicle, for sure), but still, the latest vehicle upgrade to the AWD Mazda CX-5 is definitely noticeable on bad roads.
Which is why I was so darn interested when Toyota offered to loan me a 2019 Prius XLE with, yes, all wheel drive. The 2019 is the first model year to offer this feature and it’s about time for those of us in less than optimal driving environments. Unfortunately, it was also a bare-bones: The XLE is one of their entry level trim packages (they have FIVE different trim levels, not to mention the “Prime” line), and I was surprised at how much was missing from the car.
First off, the weather gods smiled on me and dropped a foot of snow, perfect for testing out the AWD feature, right?
Of course, I had to get the snow off the car to do so, but us cold weather residents have that skill pretty mastered after a while, so I cleaned it up each morning then let the sun do the tough job of that last little bit of snow and ice. Finally, once cleaned up it ended up looking like this:
Very much the classic second generation Prius lines in the back, though the front keeps being redesigned year after year. This is a beautiful “Electric Storm Blue” (great name, eh?) with a basic black interior.
The car’s powered by a Hybrid Synergy Drive AWD system featuring a modest 1.8L DOHC 16VV 4-cylinder engine, electric power steering and 4-wheel disc brakes. Like all hybrids, it’s peppy and fun to drive and the AWD definitely helped with traction and control in the snow. In fact, I had to work at it to get any slipping or sliding, unlike my old 2WD Prius, and when I did have any slippage, of course, the anti-lock brakes immediately kicked in.
The vehicle driven included Carpet Floor Mats (an optional upsell) and you can see in this front dash photo just how much it was needed with the inclement weather:
One thing to notice about the Prius dashboard design is that there’s no front gauge system immediately behind the steering wheel. That can take a bit of getting used to: I’ve had a speedometer, tach, gas gauge, etc, immediately behind the wheel for my entire driving life. Even my older Prius had a more traditional dashboard layout.
You can see that the gauges are just about all display screens and it’s in a rough “T” shape. The topmost component is actually three screens that offer up a substantial amount of information; I’ll get back to that momentarily. Below is the entertainment system, the environmental controls, then drive mode options along with a stubby gearshift. Below that on the central console is a Qi wireless charging pad, seat warmer controls and some cup holders.
Let’s zoom in to the top console display:
Leftmost is speed and instant fuel efficiency, along with that all-important mpg: I’m averaging 51.0mpg with this tank. Then there’s a central display that offers up information you’ll need the manual to decipher (somehow there’s a “score” for my fan setting?) followed by gear, time and various indicator and status lights. Pretty nice having it all spread out, but it is more than a bit puzzling if you just jump into the vehicle without a crash course in Toyota display design.
When you turn off the car after a drive, it’s also where your driving score is shown:
Looks like I’m not doing very well with my braking (too aggressive? Not aggressive enough?) and this particular 1.9mi drive saw me getting 8.9mpg on average. Pretty miserable considering I got 4/5 on acceleration and driving! Still, 57/100 leaves room for improvement. I actually really like this ‘gamification’ of driving and it’s a smart way to teach drivers how to maximize their fuel efficiency. If I had this car for a few months I’m sure I’d be trying to attain that 100/100 score, at least occasionally.
As I said earlier, there were things missing from this configuration that surprised me. One was no passenger climate controls. One temp for all is rather old school with modern vehicles. There was also a notable lack of CarPlay, to the point where it was startling to plug my iPhone into a 2019 vehicle and find that it’s showing up as an iPod. That’s not just standard, along with Android Auto? A strange set of choices.
There are also fewer USB plugs than you might expect. The front section has one USB-3.0 (rectangular) plug and that’s it. Sure there’s an AUX plug and a 12V “cigarette lighter” plug too, but even the back passengers are greater better with two, not one, USB plug:
Why they couldn’t add at least one more USB port is a mystery to me, but maybe getting the CarPlay electronics package adds it as part of the device interface upgrade?
The rear of the car is well appointed, actually, making me suspect that whatever trim package you get the rear passengers have the same experience and access to controls and electronics. Here’s a rear angle view:
The back hatch space? Roomy. No question:
I liked the addition of the cargo cover, a standard part of the Prius. Useful. Still, in this weather a more heavy duty cargo mat – and front mats too! – would be darn beneficial.
In conclusion, I wish I had been loaned a higher end premium Prius model, but there’s really a lot to like with the drive experience and handling of the Prius AWD-e model regardless. Though it’d handle better with a full passenger load or a few hundred pounds of cargo in the back, it was definitely more sure-footed and reliable in the bad weather, a welcome improvement over the standard Prius drive experience. If you’re in the market for an AWD vehicle with fantastic fuel efficiency (51mpg!) then this is definitely a vehicle for your short list.
CONFIGURATION: 2019 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e HYBRID, 1.8L DOHC 16V VVT-I 4-cylinder engine and Hybrid Synergy Drive. Optional inclusions: Advanced Tech Package, Carpet Floor Mats, Alloy Wheel Locks, 15-in Alloy Wheels, Rear Bumper Applique and Illuminated Door Sills. MSRP BASE: $28,820.00 AS DRIVEN: $32,146.00.
Disclaimer: Toyota loaned me the 2019 Prius XLE AWD-e for the purposes of this writeup. The snow was just darn good timing. Thanks Toyota!