2019 Toyota Prius Review

Liz Kim | Apr 30, 2019

Introduction

It didn’t happen with the first-generation Prius, which debuted in Japan in 1997 and the U.S. at the beginning of this century. It didn’t happen with the first Honda Insight, either, when the spunky little two-seater came Stateside in 2000. It wasn’t until Toyota introduced the second-generation 2004 Prius that Americans warmed up to the idea of driving a hybrid.

That car proved that hybrids could deliver maximum mileage with maximum utility. While the driving experience wasn’t very exciting, and the styling was downright different from everything else on the road, that was part of the second-gen Prius’s genius. Add the undeniable practicality of a hatchback and a near-midsized interior, and the 2004 Prius was the first hybrid to make Americans comfortable with the concept.

2019 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e photo
2019 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e

Today, almost every carmaker now has a hybrid or alternative powertrain in its lineup, but Toyota shows that it hasn’t rested on its laurels. Most recently redesigned for 2016, and continuing to adhere to the template that made the 2004 Prius a hit, Toyota updates the model for 2019.

All-wheel-drive is new this year, Toyota attempts to tidy-up the styling with minor updates inside and out, and the company makes other minor changes and updates for 2019.

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Prius XLE AWD-e equipped with the Advanced Technology Package, 15-inch aluminum wheels, wheel locks, a carpeted mat package, illuminated door sill trim plates, and rear bumper scratch protection. The price came to $32,146, including the $930 destination charge.

What Owners Say

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Toyota Prius, it is helpful to understand who buys this compact car, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

Compared to compact car owners in general, Prius owners are older and more affluent. They’re 63 years of age (vs. 48) and enjoy a median annual household income of $96,429 (vs. $70,279). In terms of gender, 56% of Prius owners are men (vs. 55%).

Significantly, 49% of all Prius owners identify as Baby Boomers, while 21% say they are members of the Pre-Boomer generation. Furthermore, 41% of all Prius owners choose Hometown Retired as a psychographic, while none select Working Utilitarian. This strongly suggests that retirees favor this hybrid hatchback, viewing it as a money-saving form of transportation.

Fuel economy is important to Prius owners. The J.D. Power data shows that 93% agree that a first consideration when buying a new car is miles per gallon (vs. 77% of all compact car owners).

Prius owners are also concerned about the environment, with 87% agreeing that they will pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (vs. 56%). Safety is another important factor to Prius owners, with 86% agreeing that they will pay extra to ensure that their vehicle has the latest safety features (vs. 72%).

At the same time, Prius owners are less concerned about performance and eye-catching design. Just over half (52%) agree that they like to drive a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (vs. 65% of all compact car owners). Meanwhile, 69% of Prius owners agree that they prefer a vehicle with responsive handling and powerful acceleration (vs. 87%).

People who buy the Prius are not car enthusiasts. Just 42% agree that their friends and family consider them to know a great deal about autos (vs. 55%).

Buyers say their favorite things about the Prius are (in descending order) the fuel economy, engine/transmission, interior design, and the driving dynamics and exterior styling in a tie. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the Prius are (in descending order) the seats, visibility and safety, climate control system, infotainment system, and storage and space.

What Our Expert Says

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the Toyota Prius measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2018 APEAL Study.

Exterior

For 2019, Toyota tries to tone down the Prius’s styling with new bumpers, revised headlights, and redesigned taillights. Don’t worry, fans of the distinctive: it’s still pretty wild.

Living in Southern California, where this car is commonplace, I quickly got used to the latest Prius’s spiky headlamps, serpentine taillights, and assymmetrical creases. Nevertheless, the styling does make you and the car stand out, and not always in a good way.

According to J.D. Power data, Prius owners rank the exterior design of their cars about mid-pack when it comes to their favorite attributes, so it appeals to some, while others put up with it.

Interior

Since the car’s last redesign, I’ve been a fan of the unique white trim used around the Prius’s cabin. Apparently, this was a bit controversial, so this year it’s gone, replaced by conventional black gloss trim.

Now, the most distinctive aspect of the interior is the central information pod that’s centrally located on top of the dashboard. That’s where you’ll find all the info that you would otherwise find within a conventional instrumentation display.

My test vehicle’s interior was relentlessly black-on-black, with little relief from the monotony. You can get a color called Moonstone, an off-white that adds needed visual contrast and pizzazz.

Seats

I have no objection with simulated leather if it’s done well. In the Prius XLE, Toyota uses a nice SofTex leatherette that feels and looks like the real thing.

The driver and front passenger seats are manually adjustable, and it was easy to find a good driving position. Riding as a passenger, I wished for a seat height adjuster. Both front seats were heated, though, useful during unseasonably chilly weather.

In the back, the Prius provides surprisingly roomy accommodations for two adults, with good leg and shoulder space. Passengers will appreciate the two USB charging ports for their devices.

Climate Control System

Because of the previously mentioned black interior, my test car got a lot more toasty on sunny days than vehicles with light colored interiors do. Despite mild temperatures, my kids protested against using the Prius instead of our own car, an SUV with a tan interior, rear privacy glass, and rear air conditioning vents.

The Prius lacks rear air conditioning vents. And because it’s not an SUV, solar heating is a genuine problem for the back seat. The SofTex upholstery roasts in the sun, scalding thighs and then trapping sweat. I can’t imagine what riding back there must be like during a Deep South summer.

Even up front, the single-zone automatic climate control system took a while to cool down the cabin, and by the time chilly air made its way to the back, complaints from the peanut gallery had grown vociferous.

Remarkably, Prius owners don’t rank this car’s climate control as their least favorite thing about it. The infotainment system, in their view, is worse.

Infotainment System

Despite its status as an XLE trim level (second from the top), my test vehicle’s infotainment system with its tiny 6.1-inch display screen was fairly basic.

Most egregiously, the 2019 Prius still doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone projection. Toyota is rolling these long-awaited features out to other 2019 models, but the Prius isn’t one of them. Additionally, you can’t get an embedded navigation system on a Prius unless you upgrade to Limited trim. That means that if you want the new AWD-e system, offered only with LE or XLE trim, you go without navigation.

If you do opt for the Limited trim, you’ll get an oversized, 11.6-inch, vertically oriented touchscreen interface with navigation, an upgraded JBL sound system, and Toyota’s Safety Connect service, among other features.

Overall, I can see why people aren’t happy with the infotainment offerings in the Prius. My test vehicle did have other conveniences, such as a Qi wireless charging pad that juiced up my smartphone, and a head-up display that projects your speed and other data onto the windshield, which helps in keeping your eyes on the road.

Storage and Space

A compact hatchback can be as capacious as a crossover utility vehicle, and the Prius AWD-e proves its worth by supplying 24.2 cu.-ft. of space behind the rear seat, and 62.7 cu.-ft. with the 60/40-split rear seats folded. Note that these figures vary depending on trim level and whether or not you have the AWD-e system.

Around the cabin, you’ll find a decent sized glove box and center console bin, and additional small storage spaces to keep your items from rolling around the cabin. Frankly, I don’t know why Prius owners rank storage and space as their least favorite thing about the car, aside from the irritating way the center armrest flips open only on the driver’s side.

Visibility and Safety

Every Prius comes with Toyota’s Safety Sense P suite of active safety technologies, which includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, an automatic emergency braking system with pedestrian detection, and lane departure warning with steering assist.

My test car also had a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, as well as a semi-automated parking assist function. However, visibility out of the Prius is so good, with its slender pillars and great view out front, that I never needed to use it.
 
When it comes to safety, the 2019 Prius scores well in crash testing. It receives a 5-Star overall rating from the federal government, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety deems it a “Top Safety Pick.”

Engine/Transmission

Press the Prius AWD-e’s accelerator, and you’ll actually get decent response. That’s because the small electric motor used to power the rear wheels is active up to 6 mph, giving the AWD-e an extra bit of juice from a stop. Between 6 mph and 43 mph, this rear motor activates to provide additional traction in slippery conditions. Otherwise, the Prius AWD-e functions like a standard Prius.

While the car’s 121 combined horsepower won’t make you feel like going to the drag strip anytime soon, a Prius AWD-e is actually quite lively around town thanks to the instant torque provided by its electric motors. At freeway speeds, though, you’ll have to time your lane changes well, as the power band narrows considerably.

A continuously variable transmission powers the car’s front wheels, and it tends to drone under hard acceleration, as all gearless transmissions do. Otherwise, it operates in seamless fashion. You just need to get used to the fiddly transmission controls on the dashboard.

With the AWD-e system, you get your buzz from a nickel-metal hydride battery pack instead of the lithium-ion technology in other Priuses. Toyota says it’s a better performer when things get chilly and icy, which is also when you need the additional traction of all-wheel drive.

Generally speaking, the Prius AWD-e offers limited functionality, but those living in areas with persistent freezes will find it moderately useful.

Fuel Economy

Oh yeah, the mileage. It’s only the primary reason that the Prius exists, and unlike nearly every other car sold in America, is the top-ranked attribute according to Prius owners.

With the AWD-e system, the EPA says that you should be getting about 50 mpg (52 city/48 highway) in mixed driving conditions. That’s a drop from 52 mpg for most other Prius variants (the L Eco gets 56 mpg). My test vehicle returned 48.6 mpg while driving on my test loop, which is comprised various types of roads.

Even given the tiny 10.6-gallon fuel tank, you should be able to travel about 450 miles before stopping at a gas station. Of course, your actual mileage will vary with air conditioning use, steep hill climbs, etc., but compared to nearly every other car on the market your monthly fueling bill will be small!

Driving Dynamics

The Prius may be efficient, but it is a snooze to use in spite of Toyota’s latest global vehicle architecture, which is purposely engineered to make the company’s products more enjoyable to drive.

While the Prius has fairly sophisticated underpinnings, it simply doesn’t feel responsive thanks to steering that lacks feel and precision, blended regenerative brakes that still exhibit some occasional stickiness, and occasional wooziness in the suspension. Still, with its battery pack and electric motors snugged down low in the chassis, it is a bit of a hoot to toss a Prius into corners while the skinny 15-inch low rolling-resistance tires howl in protest, confident that you’ll come out fine on the other side.  

Around town, you’ll take advantage of the tight turning diameter and tidy exterior dimensions to pop the Prius into small parking spaces. Also, the somewhat soft suspension damping is perfect in urban areas, soaking up what ails our infrastructure. And thanks to slippery aerodynamics and the tiny tires, a Prius is remarkably quiet on the highway.

While the Prius won’t arouse any passion, it’s an undeniably useful, convenient, and practical tool for daily driving.

Final Impressions

Many people view cars simply as a means to get from here to there. The 2019 Toyota Prius lets them do it in one of the most efficient, smartest ways possible. No, it’s not beautiful to behold or exciting to drive (unless you’re really into hyper-miling), but you will feel a thrill every time you see the tiny totals from your infrequent fill-ups at the gas station.

Toyota kicked off the normalization process for hybrids, and today you have a large field of choices when it comes to fuel-sipping cars. Nevertheless, the Prius remains one of the most rational, affordable, and easy ways to lower emissions and use less fuel, whatever your motivation.

 

Explore new car previews
2020 Mazda CX-30 Preview
2020 Mazda CX-30 Preview
Based on the redesigned Mazda 3 platform, the new 2020 Mazda CX-30 is larger and more sophisticated than a Mazda CX-3, but smaller and sportier than a Mazda CX-5.
Read the full review
2020 Subaru Outback Preview
2020 Subaru Outback Preview
Introduced at the 2019 New York International Auto Show, the 2020 Subaru Outback has been optimized to offer better fuel efficiency, a quieter and safer ride, boosted technology, and turbocharged power, which is something Subaru hasn’t given its Outback in over ten years.
Read the full review
2020 Toyota Supra Preview
2020 Toyota Supra Preview
Developed in partnership with BMW, the 2020 Toyota Supra is set to debuts in the summer of 2019. It is a cousin to the recently introduced third-generation BMW Z4.
Read the full review
Read all articles
New Car Preview
2020 Kia Soul and Soul EV Preview
Most Dependable
2019 Vehicle Dependability: Most Dependable Family Cars
Most Popular
10 Most Popular Midsize Cars
New Model Update
New for 2019: Kia
New Car Preview
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA Preview
More related
articles
Compare 0 of 3