Toyota finally goes all wheel drive with the new Prius AWD-e, though it is a bit deceptive. Aside from the all wheel drive system not being entirely what it claims, the Prius AWD-e does manage to impress in typical Toyota fashion with some tech updates and an impressive interior for a sub $30,000 car. The best part? It’s actually fun to drive, read on to find out why.
Out of Spec Score: 60/100
On the outside, there’s really not much that sets it apart from the standard Prius aside from the ‘AWD-e’ badging, as there haven’t been many changes in general since 2019 rolled in the fifth generation. Current model headlights flow more smoothly than its predecessor and the front end looks more like a proper hatch, which is a welcome change.
While there’s good news up front, the rear end looks a little bit bunched up with all of the black trim surrounding the taillights and wide arches with brake lights that do not flow well. That said, it does have the typical Prius quirkiness to how it looks and at least it’s consistent. It earns a styling score of 5 out of 10.
Interior wise the Prius does score a bit better, as there’s little else you would need from a simple A to B economy hybrid. The typical Prius dash centered instrument cluster remains, though updated and improved with better pixel quality. While not equipped with the massive Tesla-esque infotainment system from the Prius PRIME and Limited trims, the 7 inch unit has decent pixel quality, and turns from a white background with black font to black background with white font in the dark, which is a neat touch on something that is so economical.
Other Prius-isms that remain are the odd shift knob, overall airy and open feeling, and simple heating and air con controls. Supportive heated cloth seats and a heated steering wheel are a nice feature for potential cold weather buyers interested in the XLE AWD-e trim. It should be noted I really liked how small the steering wheel was as well, more on that in the performance section. For a car that is meant to simply get you from A to B while being environmentally friendly, the Prius’s interior wears its 5.5 out of 10 with pride.
Prius and performance are rarely used in the same sentence in a positive manner, and while I hoped that would change with the introduction of an AWD system, sadly it remains the same. Here’s why, the AWD-e badge is a bit deceptive, as the Prius AWD only uses a seven horsepower electric motor out back, that for all intents and purposes, makes no difference. Allegedly, the system powers all four wheels up to 6 miles per hour and as needed up to 43 miles per hour. I was able to test it on both fresh and packed snow, and am disappointed to report that it did not make a difference, as there was still plenty of wheel spin while accelerating, especially from a stop.
That said, for an economy hybrid that on paper doesn’t perform well, it’s fun to drive. Diving into a corner it feels lightweight and the small steering wheel offers plenty of feedback. You’d never buy one for these characteristics, but if you enjoy a bit of sporting potential, you can thrash it a bit and have a laugh. Though the 1.8L combustion motor and 98kWh system only makes a net total of 121 horsepower at 5,200RPMs, it is kinda peppy for what it is, akin to a small kitten growling as furiously as it can. Due to this surprisingly fun quirkiness, it earns back a few points at 4 out of 10.
There are few vehicles as low fuss for getting from point A to point B as the Prius, and the new AWD-e subscribes to the same notion. Between Toyota reliability and hybrid mileage, the Prius is the perfect economy daily driver, even if you don’t particularly enjoy hybrid economy cars such as myself. In addition to that, there is plenty of cargo room for groceries or anything else you may need to fit in your Prius, which rings to a total of 25 cubic feet. The heated seats and steering wheel make driving it in the cold no issue at all, as they heat up quickly and offer a good level of comfort, which may be practical for cold weather buyers, though the same cannot be said for the all wheel drive system. Overall I score the Prius at 6 out of 10 for practicality, it’s highest score yet.
As mentioned above, the Prius is a superb A to B vehicle, and it does offer a comfortable ride in the process of doing that. Sure, it’s not a Mercedes-Benz, and the non-active dampers do reverberate a bit of NVH through the chassis over certain road imperfections, but no more than any other car in its price range or class. Ingress and egress is easy, and once you’re in the cabin is airy and open, especially for a car of its size.
As mentioned above, the heated seats and steering wheel perform exceptionally well in cold weather environments. Overall, you’d be hard pressed to find any gripes about the comfort of the Prius, especially for its intended purpose, earning it a score of 6 out of 10.
Though it may be an economy vehicle, the Prius does have some usable tech. Two things that are fresh for 2021 specifically are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities as standard. In addition to bluetooth connectivity, the infotainment system has the capability to change from a white background with black font to black background with white font when it detects that it is getting dark. A heads up display that also displays traffic signs is standard on the XLE as well.
Other useful tech features include multiple USB ports, wireless charging, and an easy to use backup camera. The standard sound system isn’t going to make your ears bleed, but it still has plenty of bass and offers decent mid and treble, earning the Prius a tech score of 5.5 out of 10.
Connected Services 6/10
New as standard for 2021 on all new Toyotas (except the Land Cruiser) is compatibility with the ‘Toyota App’. Appropriately named, the Toyota App offers a lot of useful features for potential buyers, including checking your Prius’s health and accessing maintenance information, remote control abilities, ability to connect with smart watches, and the option to make payments through the app. Other connected service features include ‘Safety Connect’, which includes 24/7 crash and roadside assistance, and Wi-Fi Connect, though my Prius did not have the latter option.
Sadly, the 2021 Prius does not receive over the air updates for its infotainment system or engine control modules. The only thing that can be updated outside of the dealership is the ‘Entune’ audio system, which must be done through the app and is not over the air. In 2021 I believe all vehicles should have over the air updates, especially something like a Prius that has hybrid technology, which knocks its connected services score down to a 6 out of 10.
Active Safety 8/10
Despite starting at under thirty thousand dollars, the Prius does come with an impressive amount of active safety equipment. Starting with what’s standard, the Prius has VSC stability control and a ‘smart brake’ system, which help apply extra braking force and reduced engine power in certain situations where the driver needs an extra bit to stop.
Blind spot monitoring is standard, along with cross traffic and pedestrian detection. Also standard for the XLE is intelligent clearance for curbs and an intelligent parking assist system, which the latter works extremely well. Finally, the XLE trim includes Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 which includes a whole bundle of active safety features, it’s a lot so bear with me. Included systems with this package include a pre collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert and lane keeping assist, lane tracing assist, full range dynamic cruise control, and road sign assist. It’s a lot of active safety tech for a car that starts at under thirty grand, and due to that it earns a very respectable score of 8 out of 10.
If you fancy the prospect of a Prius in XLE AWD-e trim, you’re looking at a base price of just under $30,000. For a pure from A to B vehicle or for those who are not concerned with performance and have a more green mindset, it’s a great value. Pricing is similar to the Honda Insight and Hyundai Ioniq, and arguably neither carry the same reputation as the Prius. The XLE trim really does make it hard to justify anything else in the economy hybrid class at the price point, the interior is quality and offers plenty of utility, there’s a good amount of space, and tons of active safety equipment as standard. Arguably best of all, it’s still fun to drive despite being the furthest thing from a sports car, earning it a value score of 8 out of 10.
Editors Influence 6/10
This section is bittersweet for the ‘all wheel drive’ Prius. While I really wanted to talk about how good the new all wheel drive system was prior to trying it, I have a duty to report how well things actually work, and the Prius AWD-e’s system really isn’t more than a marketing gimmick as it offers little if any reworld usability. Even in snow, it offers no advantage over the standard front wheel drive Prius. Toyota is normally pretty straight forward about vehicle capabilities, this isn’t consistent with them which I dislike.
That said, as someone who typically doesn’t enjoy driving economy hybrids, I smiled in the Prius way more than I care to admit. Simply put, it is a fun car to get from point A to point B without trying to be a fun car. The interior is refined and quality, the infotainment system is perfect for its price point, and seats are great for a sub thirty thousand dollar car. I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I did, but it’s been a pleasant surprise. I would have scored it at an 8 out of 10 if the AWD system worked as advertised, but I have to knock a few points off for how disappointing it was and the fact that it offers no practical benefit whatsoever. Due to this massive shortcoming, it earns a score of 6 out of 10 from me for editors’ influence. Maybe next time we will get an AWD system that is more than just a badge, but I won’t hold my breath.