Twenty Years A Pioneer

Twenty years ago, Toyota sent their first Prius models across the Pacific. It would spark a new chapter on vehicular engineering towards maximum efficiency while emitting nominal emissions. 

We do forget that the Prius first appeared in Japan back in 1997. However, it’s arrival stateside in 2001 may have predicted the future that have taken it for a wild ride throughout its two decades. 

When the second-generation model was introduced for 2004, it became the darling of the environmentally friendly celebrity set. Instead of a limousine, certain luminaries would arrive in a Prius at any given award show. Instead of being a car for one to aspire to own; it became the butt of jokes and a point of derision by the enthusiast set. 

If we skip to the current generation, it seemed that Toyota have pushed the limits of their hybrid trailblazer. The design may have put off some customers, but it would introduce a new rear suspension for its upper models that put some excitement into the Prius. It was the first Prius to gain a plug-in version with the Prime. And, how about the addition of an electronic all-wheel drive to make it more palatable in the Northern Climes?

Even with the explosion of new electrified versions of various vehicles, along with new models focused on being electrified, is the Toyota Prius still relevant in today’s marketplace. It may not be a huge seller as it once was a few years ago, but it did experience an increase in volume through the third quarter of 2021. 

Just like most Toyota models these days, the Prius is not available in abundance as it once was. You can still find them, which is probably a good thing for consumers. 

As I look at the 2022 Toyota Prius XLE e-AWD today, I wanted to see whether it still holds up today. Not to mention, I wanted to test out the e-AWD system in winter conditions. 

The immediate concern I had with this Prius was the tires this tester wore. The P195/65R15 tires came with advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is a taller sidewall, which makes the difference in terms of ride and wheel protection when having to deal with larger snow accumulations and curbsides. They were all-season tires, however. While designed for high efficiency vehicles, I was concerned about grip. Yes, “go slow in the snow and pray that there’s no ice on the road.” 

The electronic all-wheel drive system should compensate for that, right? 

Well…the system does work. Given the mix of unplowed roads from a recent snowfall and some icy conditions, the Prius e-AWD did a god job dealing with them. They maintained balance on the roads, even with the low-rolling resistance all-season tires. Those tires provided enough grip to keep you on the road. 

However, a set of winter tires should do the trick. You do have some choices for them on this Prius. 

The other thing that floated in my mind was comfort. I talked about my hospitalization due to serious back issue. The good news is that the seats gave me the comfort I needed. The driver’s seat was manually adjustable for rake, height, and recline. Combined with the SofTex upholstery, I felt comfortable and competent behind the wheel. 

Adding to the interior is a comprehensive and clear instrument binnacle in the center of the dashboard, canted towards the driver. My tester added a package that included a head-up display. In total, I had a distraction-free command center to get my information from. 

Some say that I should have the larger 11.6-inch screen found on Limited models. The XLE’s 7-inch screen is sufficient. Plus, you have smartphone integration, wireless device charging, and all of the modern infotainment needs one should have. Those six speakers on board this tester sounded quite decent to my ears.

There are plenty of constants in the Prius. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder and attached parallel hybrid electric drive system remains the same. I don’t think the Prius is underpowered by any means. It’s just right. Don’t expect it to run like a Camry Hybrid or a RAV4 Prime. Let it do its job by returning good fuel economy figures and run on highway speeds. 

You know, there is the Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control on board. It does a good job – just like every Toyota that has the same system. 

In terms of fuel economy, I was fine with the 48.2 MPG I averaged in winter conditions. The Prius could easily return north of 50 MPG in any other time of the year. 

As for pricing, this 2022 Toyota Prius XLE e-AWD tester with the upgraded package came with a sticker price of $32,084. It is one of eight Prius models to choose from. Plus, you can also shop one of three Prius Prime plug-in models The Prius L Eco with front-drive kicks things off at $24,525. 

This is what twenty years of leadership in selling electrified vehicles have framed the future for Toyota. While the future looks tempting, the present is in good hands. Yet, the vast bulk of the brand’s hybrid/electrified lineup is focused on the larger 2.5-liter engine combination which appears across the heart of the lineup – from the Camry and RAV4 to the Highlander and Sienna

As I pointed out a couple of years ago, there is the Corolla Hybrid with the same gasoline-electric combination as the Prius. While it is great to have a choice for the consumers, there are still those who would rather drive something more mainstream than the Prius. If you look at the sales numbers, the Prius has the advantage over the Corolla Hybrid through the third quarter of this year by about 5,000 units. 

The point to all of this comes to the fact that this chapter of Toyota’s electrification strategy should be celebrated at the cusp of the next one. You may not have to plug in a regular Prius hybrid, which in plenty of cases would not be a bad thing. Yet, you can drive around emitting less carbon into the air while sipping less fuel along the way. That is one thing that has not changed in the past twenty years since the Toyota Prius first arrived in this country. 

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor North America

All photos by Randy Stern

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