2010 Toyota Prius V Best gas sipper of the year Car Review MarketWatch

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Toyota Prius v Electric Cars

Hybrid + civilization = best gas sipper of the year

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DAMASCUS, Md. (MarketWatch) — Rolling down a deserted interstate very early in the morning at a legal 65, it struck me how far the Prius had come over the years

Move upscale into the V model and you are a long way from the bare-bones models of the past, cosseted now in leather seats and entertained by a first-class audio system. There is a light bit of wind noise, the engine is hushed, the automatic AC system maintains a comfortable 72 degrees and all of the key buttons are softly lighted and easy to find.

You pay no comfort penalty for the 50 mpg that this third-generation Prius promises, and the term econobox never came to mind.

There are 2010 Prius models further down the scale with cloth seats and fewer goodies, but the one that Toyota delivered to the test driveway was a top-of-the-line V model. That moves you up to very comfortable and heated leather seats, a marvelous JBL audio system with eight speakers, 17 inch wheels, and LED headlamps, among other goodies.

The test car also included a $4,500 advanced technology package. For that rather substantial outlay, you get a pre-collision system and radar cruise control that tells you a big bus is up ahead and slowing down, just in case you missed it.

Along with a parking-assist program (not that this car is that hard to park), there is also an easy-to-use navigation system, a back-up camera, and various Bluetooth wireless stuff.

With delivery, that moved the test Prius V price up from $27,270 to $32,771. Frankly, I would leave that package unchecked and leave the four grand in the bank.

That would give you change back from $30K and you would still be able to brag about the EPA-rated mileage of 48 on the highway and 51 around town.

Combining in-city stop-and-go driving, parkway sailing at 50 mph and interstates at 65, I rang up 44 miles per gallon. That was using the third of three drive settings.

There is EV that allows just the electric motor to move the car forward. That seemed to work fine up to about 25 miles per hour. But truth be told, it was difficult without a tachometer to tell when the gasoline engine kicked in.

Button 2 engages the ECO mode that reduces the air conditioning and really reduces the power output. Your kid would beat you in a drag race with his 20-speed bike, and it was not great on a 90-degree day to have the AC stifled like Edith in All in the Family.

The power button maximizes what you have to work with. A 1.8-liter four that is good for 98 horsepower combined with the electric motor gets you 134 ponies. It is enough to allow you to keep up with traffic and cruise effortlessly on the interstates.

Regrets? We had a few

Steering-wheel feedback was virtually zip and I still believe that the speedometer and other vital information should be placed in front of the driver, instead of under a deep hood to the right and on top of the dashboard.

Toyota Prius 2010

The stubby little gear-change lever was nice, but the pattern is unlike anything you may have driven. Left and forward gets you reverse. Left and backward engages drive. Park is relegated to a button on the console just ahead of the shift lever.

What’s the matter with the system that we are all used to?

There was ample head and legroom up front and to the rear.

Beyond that, I loved the interior design of the new Prius, with the swooping center console running up and into the center of the dash. Outside, I thought the design was still very much that of a Prius, but contemporary, with the lone exception being the overdone taillights that stood out like that last big zit you had on your nose.

The bottom line for me was an extremely well-built car that promises excellent fuel mileage, is comfortable and quiet on long trips, can handle itself on the interstate and park easily in town, even without the silly assist program.

It may not be a blast to drive, but that is not what Prius owners are looking for. They are betting that gas prices are only going to go up in the future and (Toyota is betting) they want some luxury touches to go with the green-car image that Prius started lo those many years ago.

It is by far the best gas sipper I have sampled this year

Vehicles tested in this column are on loan from the auto companies through local distributors.

Ron Amadon is an auto writer and morning news anchor on the MarketWatch Radio Network, based in Washington.

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