We’d like to do more full new car reviews. After all, the vehicle is at least half of the equation when it comes to protecting children in motor vehicle crashes. Of course, the problem is that it’s a lot more difficult to obtain review samples of cars than carseats. Someday, perhaps a wise, new media marketing exec will happen across this review and recognize an opportunity to promote kids, family and safety in their vehicle;-)
We bit the bullet again on an “all new” model, this time a third generation 2010 Toyota Prius. We have a history of such questionable choices. I mean, the smart thing to do would be to buy a proven, low miles, 2008 or 2009 Prius, right? My 1991 Saturn SL2 was really all new from scratch, as was my wife’s Chrysler Cirrus that we bought in its debut year. The 2000 Subaru Outback we swapped for the Prius was “all new” as well, though more like the Prius in that there was a previous generation that shared some systems. Those cars were all decent, but each had its share of quirks and issues. While none were reliability nightmares, not one of them was exceedingly reliable, either.
Our Prius has more things in common with the Outback it replaced. Back in the summer of 1999, the new 2000 Outback had just been released. Models were hard to find initially. Many dealers were short on supply and it was hard to find the trim level we wanted (base wagon with cold weather package). Local dealers wouldn’t actually deal, either. We took the Cirrus to the local Carmax for a quote to use in our negotiations. They mentioned that their new car dealer in Kenosha, Wisconsin sold new Subarus. A call confirmed they even had a couple of the trim level we wanted at a better price. The trade-in offer was generous, so off we went and back we came with a new car.
It wasn’t so different with the 3rd gen Prius. They were very hard to find in the Chicago west suburbs during the peak of Cash for Clunkers. It was a bad time to be buying, but the Outback needed to go. The very few Prius in stock at local dealers were all higher level trim versions and no one was willing to allow test drives. It seemed we’d have been lucky to pay full MSRP and accept one that is coming in a few weeks, sight unseen. On a whim, I looked on the Carmax website on a Sunday night and found one. A call Monday morning verified it was in stock and the salesman (Dan B) promised to hold it until we could get there that evening. And he did! Plus, it was $500 under MSRP.
We know the fuel economy is awesome, but what about a test drive? No problem. We took an extended drive, too, just to be sure. Nice car. You know, it’s a Toyota. That means it’s pretty boring in general, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The design looks small on the outside, but it’s almost as roomy as the average midsize car on the inside. On the exterior, it’s sleek for aerodynamics. The interior is nice and well made, but also boring, outside of the Hybrid Information Display and a redesigned center console. Acceleration? Boring. Steering? Not as loose as I expected on a Toyota, but still boring. Handling? Secure (i.e. boring). Braking seemed quite good, but hard to find much excitement in the brakes. Fit and finish? Toyota has made that boring with their nearly flawless quality, too. The only minor issue was a driver’s side window seal that was a bit mangled in one spot. We tried to fix it by hand without success and the service department couldn’t fix it, either. They said they would make an appointment to replace the seal or a dealer local to us could do it under warranty. Oddly enough, the next morning the seal had fixed itself. I’m guessing one of the techs must have done just enough to get it to pop back on its own.
Nothing really to complain about on the test drive, other than perhaps visibility. It wasn’t bad; I didn’t note any major blind spots. My main issue is that if you adjust the driver’s seat too high for a better view of the road in front and out the back hatch, then the mirror and A-pillar get in the way somewhat to the right. It’s also hard to judge the front bumper because the hood slopes way down out of view for aerodynamic reasons. The rear view is fair; the split hatch window and tapering side windows take a while to get used to them. Overall, it’s probably about what you’d expect from most hatchbacks, but not nearly as good as our Outback that was above average in my opinion. The other important things, seating position/adjustments, comfort, controls, power, handling, etc, all seemed to be just fine.
Anyway, we were still interested. The guaranteed offer on our trade-in wasn’t as good as we hoped; it was right at the level we had privately agreed was our minimum. Given its condition and our desire to put shopping behind us, we ended up driving home a Prius II in Blizzard Pearl (i.e. white). The only other option included was the floor/cargo mat package. The drive home? No issues. 75 miles and our estimated trip fuel economy was over 60 miles per gallon, with our 5 minute averages above 50mpg almost the entire way. Impressive for a Prius with only 32 miles on the odometer. Our first fill-up was at 508, or 476 miles later. We put in 9.675 gallons, with just over 2 gallons left in the tank (capacity is 11.9 gals). That’s 49.2 mpg, perhaps even higher, if the dealer didn’t quite fill it up all the way at purchase. At our second fill, we got 464.6 miles and needed 8.581 gallons for a hair over 54 mpg around town (computer estimated 56.8). Not bad for first time hybrid drivers who haven’t yet mastered the fuel economy game!
I’m certainly not an expert car reviewer. So, after 4 weeks and 1000 miles, I’ll just list out my general likes and dislikes so far, then get onto the kids and safety viewpoint.
- Gas Mileage (duh!). As advertised, about 50 mpg
- Seating position, adjustments and control layout are good
- Impressive safety features & crash results from IIHS & Europe
- Price. Under $23k (our deal was $500 below MSRP)
- Steering and Handling better than expected, but not Honda-like
- Ride comfort & road noise also not Honda-like; Prius is relatively smooth/quiet
- Initial quality very good, no obvious issues yet
- All the tech information you get on the display is great
- Outside looks small, but inside as roomy as our Outback, except cargo area
- Ergonomics, interior design, look and feel are very good
- Nice feature set even in base model (Prius I not yet available)
- Smart key is awesome. Never need to take it out of your pocket.
- Lower half of split rear window should help to see small kids while backing
- The split part of the rear window sometimes blocks nuisance headlights
- Aux input standard, thanks Toyota! iPod integration optional
- Visibility isn’t great, but is acceptable overall
- Decent crash ratings from NHTSA (4/4 stars frontal, 5/4 stars side).
- Seats are overly firm, like our Subaru. Seem supportive enough, though
- Brakes sometimes get touchy in reverse
- Faint but audible odd noises. Clicks, whirrs, whines. All normal, I’m told
- Blizzard Pearl looks sharp, but hard to clean yellow residue from dirt/bugs
- How about a shade of GREEN as one of the exterior color choices?
- Reverse beeping. Shouldn’t this be heard outside of a silent car, not inside?
- Getting used to power/park buttons. Accidentally left car on for 45 mins!
- Safety Connect and Advanced Tech Package not available on all trim levels
- HID screen is distratcing and location keeps your eye off the road
- Mediocre OEM Yokohama Tires
- Rear window wiper coverage is poor and lower window stays dirty
- Blurry climate control display screen
- No child seat lower anchors (LATCH) in the center rear position
- General lack of storage spaces in door, console, dash, etc. No coin tray
- Center console storage lid is quirky, the tray inside is nearly useless
- Aerodynamic front makes it hard to judge where bumper is for parking
- Foglight blanks look cheesy, as do the interior dash blanks for missing options
- 0% domestic content. At least it is made in Japan where wages are comparable and environmental and labor laws are similar
Safety is one of my main concerns, of course. Stability control and side curtain airbags with rollover sensing were included or I wouldn’t have even considered it. There are also side torso airbags up front, along with the frontal airbags and the driver’s knee airbag. Handling seems secure, without play or numbness in the steering. Braking was good and predictable. My only misgiving was the lack of crash test results at the time we purchased. Toyota added weight to the new Prius. It’s now over 3000 pounds. While weight isn’t great for city mileage, it does come in handy in vehicle vs. vehicle head-on crashes. Supposedly, weight reductions in the drivetrain and other areas were offset by chassis improvements for overall stiffness to improve crash protection and handling. I wasn’t disappointed when the IIHS gave the 2010 Prius a “Top Safety Pick” award shortly after our purchase. The European 3rd Gen Prius also did quite well, getting a 5-star overall EuroNCAP rating and relatively high individual category marks all around.
The NHTSA results were decent, but not great. A pair of 4-star ratings in the frontal crash tests. The side impact test numbers were actually quite good overall, but a slightly high thoracic trauma number in the rear seat kept it from earning a 5-star rating like the front seat. The Prius also got a 4-star rollover rating with a 1.36 stability factor and a “no-tip” dynamic rating. That’s also pretty good. Confused from all these different results? You have every right to be! Fortunately, there’s an organization called Informed For Life.
They’ve taken all the statistics and analysis from the IIHS, NHTSA and other resources. That allows them to combine all these results and safety features into a single risk score that can be used to compare any passenger vehicle in terms of safety, regardless of weight or class. This is all based on research, rather than on a whim (like some other publications have done). They give the 2010 Prius a risk SCORE of 64.9. That is a very good SCORE, right at the borderline of being in their top 10%. They recommend vehicles with a SCORE below 65, provided they are equipped with stability control and side curtain airbags, have no 3-star or lower results from the NHTSA and no “Marginal” or lower results from the IIHS. So, the new Prius is really quite reasonable in terms of overall safety. For me, it’s still a bit of a disappointment, as I would expect new cars to receive 5-star NHTSA results in most categories. On a thread at Priuschat.com forums, Toyota representatives have hinted that the new Prius was designed to do well in the updated NHTSA crash test rating system that will debut for 2011 model year vehicles. We shall see!
I am also very disappointed that safety features like Safety Connect (similar to OnStar) and the Advanced Technology Package (includes pre-collision system, lane keep assist and dynamic radar cruise control) are not options on all trim levels. I don’t care much about any of the other features in upper trim models. The Homelink system would have been convenient to eliminate a garage door remote on the visor. Foglamps I’d consider as an accessory, if only because the blanks on the bumper look really bad. Big ticket items like a moonroof, JBL audio, DVD/Nav and Leather I’d rather skip. In fact, after buying a Honda Odyssey with a leather interior, I’m happy to go back to cloth. I find leather to be sweaty and it shows gouges, scrapes and wear marks a lot easier than our cloth interiors ever did. With carseats, it’s even worse. On the other hand, I would have happily paid the premium for the great advanced safety features if I didn’t have to pay for a bunch of stuff that didn’t interest me at all. Shame on you, Toyota (but feel free to send me a Prius V with all the safety features for a long term test and review!).
Carseats? Well, two sets of LATCH, outboard only. Surely, Toyota could have put in one or two more anchors to allow LATCH in the center, as Honda and others have done on small and midsize vehicles. There is an extra top tether anchor for the center. The lower LATCH anchors are recessed more than average. They can be a bit tricky to find, so be sure you double check to make sure any LATCH attachments have engaged the anchors correctly. The three lap/shoulder belts in the back seat are all seat mounted and lack any type of height adjustment. Should be OK for most passengers, but might be problematic for very short or tall people as well as some kids in backless boosters. My daughter just turned 9 years old and is 4′ 5″ tall. She barely passes the 5-step test in the Prius rear seat (center or outboard) without a booster. Her legs are just long enough to bend at the edge of the seat, the shoulder belt is just off her neck and the lap belt is adequate, though it could be lower. If your child is much shorter, they may well require a booster. Head restraints are provided in all three positions; the center one is smaller than the outboard ones. All three can be removed if needed for a child seat installation.
The seatbelt stalks are very short. That’s usually good for carseat installations, but it could be tricky to install seats side-by-side. That’s because the left and center positions share the same spot for the stalks, while the center lap belt crosses over with the right side seatbelt stalk and lower anchor. This also makes it tough for kids to buckle themselves, especially if there is an adjacent carseat or passenger. Overall, the rear seat is wider than many compact cars, but will still be cramped for 3-across carseats. You’d have to choose child seats carefully, like this owner, but it can probably be done in various arrangements. The rear outboard seatbelts are not particularly long. They are just barely long enough to install models that require a reverse belt path, like the Britax Frontier (left). The seat cushions don’t appear to be overly sculpted or angled, so hopefully most carseats should install well in them. Finally, there’s a vent in the seat back at about hip level, near the rear door on the passenger side. It’s there to allow air into the hybrid battery system and it probably should not be blocked completely. This shouldn’t be a problem in general, as it is off to the side a bit and the armrest may prevent a large carseat from completely obstructing it.
Overall, I’d say the child friendliness of the rear seat is about average. Toyota didn’t go out of their way to make it easy for parents, like they did in the Sienna, but it’s still quite adequate. I do like the auto-reverse feature of the windows in case an arm or neck is in the way. I can fit a carseat seat like the SafeGuard Go (above right) in the middle for my son and give the older kids plenty of room in the outboard seats. The better setup for us seems to be to have a single child seat behind the driver, like the Safety 1st Complete Air (right). That makes it easier for kids in boosters or seatbelts to buckle in the center and right outboard spots. Whichever way, it’s cozy, but fine for around town. We have a minivan for very long drives with the whole family.
Anyway, that’s my opinion. Truth is, my wife is the primary driver. What does she think? She says it’s awesome. Well, she’s neither a car person nor a computer geek, so that will have to suffice for a very positive endorsement. She has no complaints so far, so it’s quite likely that all my “Cons” are pretty trivial.
Competition? We briefly considered the other hybrids. The Fusion and Camry are very nice and very safe, though they sacrifice some fuel economy. Both appear to be excellent choices if you want to pay thousands more, but we didn’t. The Altima is another safe choice and still gets a full government tax credit, but none were to be found in the area. That left the Civic and Insight. The main strike against both was their smaller interior size and cargo space, especially given that the Prius seems barely big enough for fitting all 5 of us now. I’m sure it could be done, but even less comfortably, especially as the kids get bigger. Plus, both Hondas get worse gas mileage and have a lower cruising range than the Prius. A similarly equipped Civic hybrid was no easier to find around here and street prices actually seemed to be somewhat higher, so there didn’t seem to be much reason for us to even consider it, based on our particular needs.
Insights are relatively plentiful and comparisons to the Prius are common. The Insight LX model is also a bargain. Unfortunately, it lacks cruise control and stability control. The latter is a deal breaker for me, especially given some reports about its handling. The EX model that is similarly equipped to the Prius II is only slightly less expensive. For the small price premium, the Prius II adds a few perks I liked, such as SmartKey, a cargo cover, rear disc brakes, an extra airbag for the driver’s knee area, auto up/down on all four windows, auto-off headlights, steering wheel controls and a second DC power outlet.
To be fair, the Honda Insight EX does offer a few unique features vs. the Toyota Prius II, such as steering wheel transmission paddle controls and a standard USB audio interface. While those things didn’t interest us at all, I do wish the Prius had daytime running lights and larger rear view mirrors with integrated turn signals like the Insight EX. I like my Honda Odyssey, but I also know Hondas tend to have a harsher ride and more road noise in exchange for better road feel. We never test drove the Insight to find out if this was true, though some reviews of it have been less than forgiving. The Insight EX is similar in overall safety and it looked sharper than the Prius at the auto show. I’m sure it’s a nice ride, overall. It just didn’t meet our needs as well as the Prius did, at least on paper. TrueDelta has a paper price comparison, including a comprehensive feature chart.
The 2010 Prius is a winner in our book so far. I highly recommend it. Given that we own a 4400 pound minivan and just replaced an all-wheel-drive wagon, we’re certainly not the typical green car enthusiast. Some reviewers seem to miss the point that even a typical buyer wants good fuel economy at a reasonable price. These writers also seem stuck on having a metal key, an analog tachometer, doing 0-60 in less than 8 seconds and cornering on a dime at the race track. Others demand riding in ultimate quiet and comfort with every possible creature comfort, like a $50,000 luxury sedan. They just don’t get that most people actually use their cars running errands around town or commuting in stop-and-go traffic for a couple hours a day (or more). Also, many families prefer to spend under $25,000 on a midsize sedan for a family of four or five (Our Prius II was $24k after taxes and fees). With supply increasing after Cash for Clunkers and the Prius I being introduced later, prices should be dropping. Of course, you can spend $35k or more on a loaded Prius with all the advanced safety features, but well equipped models can be found for much less.
So, don’t be duped by the typical auto press. It’s not a toy, a novelty or something only the ultra-green-enviro-crazy crowd could appreciate. Sure, it’s not exciting, beyond the geek factor of the hybrid information display. It’s not sporty, aside from the aero styling. What the 2010 Prius really is? A safe, competent and quality midsize sedan that also just happens to get 50 miles per gallon. For our part, we are now doing a little more to cut our dependence on foreign oil, conserve resources and reduce pollution. I already find myself driving quite differently. Avoiding jack-rabbit acceleration, coasting in anticipation of a stop and not driving as close to cars in front of me. Those are things that are not only good for fuel economy, but for safety, too! That’s never a bad thing, when you know that motor vehicle crashes are the #1 killer of kids and young adults in age groups from 1 to 34 years old.