Full 2011 Toyota Prius Review
What's New for 2011
After a major redesign last year, there are no significant changes for the 2011 Toyota Prius.
You could be forgiven for thinking the 2011 Toyota Prius has a big target painted on its side. After all, people like to gun for you when you're on top, and the Prius has been the king of the green car sales charts for years now. This year, in particular, there are many new choices for a fuel-efficient car. The question then becomes: Can the Prius keep its mojo going?
The good news for Toyota is that the Prius itself is better than ever. Last year, Toyota engineers reduced the car's aerodynamic drag, and the overall look is now sleeker and sportier. Under the hood, a larger gas engine and stronger electric motor combine for more power and better fuel economy -- the Prius has a combined EPA fuel economy estimate of 50 mpg, the best of any conventional hybrid vehicle. The newest Prius also has revised suspension tuning and improved electric steering to help make it more agile than before.
The 2011 Prius can also seemingly transform from a versatile utility hatchback to a small, hyper-efficient luxury sedan depending on how you equip it. On the higher trim levels, you'll find high-end appointments like heated leather seats, a solar-powered sunroof (it ventilates the interior when parked), a navigation system, adaptive cruise control (it matches your speed to the car ahead), a pre-collision system (tightens seatbelts and applies the brakes if a crash is unavoidable) and a lane-departure warning system. There's even an automated parallel-parking system to help you squeeze into tight downtown parking spaces.
There are some downsides to this latest Prius, however. Most concern the interior, such as too many cheap-feeling plastics, an awkward driving position and the lack of an iPod adapter on most models. If these attributes bother you, you'll certainly want to look around. Honda's Insight, also new last year, is the Prius' most direct competitor. It's less expensive and drives a bit more like a regular car, but it's not as fuel-efficient, it has a smaller backseat and it can seem too noisy and budget-oriented.
You might also check some of the top hybrid sedans, with the Ford Fusion Hybrid being our favorite. It doesn't have the top fuel economy of the Prius, but it looks like a normal sedan and drives with more vigor. The all-new Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima Hybrid are also worth looking at.
Then there are the two hyped green cars this year, the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf. The Leaf is 100-percent electrically powered, but its limited range and charging options mean it will be a niche choice. The Volt is probably more appealing -- it's basically a plug-in hybrid, giving it theoretically way better fuel economy than the Prius -- but it's also considerably more expensive. Toyota is also set to offer a plug-in version of the Prius to counter the Volt.
In sum, we think the 2011 Prius deserves to keep its status as the best all-around hybrid. With strong fuel economy, hatchback utility, a reasonable price and a feature list that can range from economy to luxury, the Prius earns its painted bulls-eye.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Toyota Prius is available in five trim levels: Prius One, Prius Two, Prius Three, Prius Four and Prius Five. Standard equipment on Prius One includes 15-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver seat and a 60/40-split-folding rear seat. The Prius Two adds 15-inch alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, automatic headlights, keyless ignition/entry, cruise control and a six-speaker stereo with CD player and auxiliary audio jack.
The Prius Three adds Bluetooth and an eight-speaker JBL upgraded stereo with six-CD changer. Prius Four includes this equipment as well as exterior locking buttons for keyless entry, leather upholstery, heated front seats, driver lumbar adjustment and an auto-dimming mirror. The loaded Prius Five comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, foglamps and LED headlamps with auto-leveling and washers.
The Navigation package, available on all but the Prius One and Two, includes a voice-activated touchscreen navigation system with real-time traffic, a rearview camera, a four-CD changer (replacing the six-slot), an iPod/USB audio interface and Bluetooth music streaming. The Solar Roof package can be added to the Navigation package and includes a sunroof with a solar-powered ventilation system that cools the car when parked, and remote-activated air-conditioning for cooling the cabin before you enter.
The Advanced Technology package available for Prius V includes all components of the Navigation package plus adaptive cruise control, pre-collision alert system, a lane departure warning system and automated self-parking.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 Toyota Prius is powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine combined with a pair of electric motor/generators; they send their power through a specialized continuously variable transmission (CVT). The result is total output of 134 horsepower.
In track testing, we clocked the Prius from zero to 60 mph in 10.1 seconds, which is about average for a hybrid vehicle. The most important number, however, is fuel economy. The EPA estimates the 2011 Prius will return a very impressive 51 mpg city/48 highway and 50 mpg combined.
Every 2011 Toyota Prius comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag. Optional equipment includes a pre-collision warning system and a lane-departure warning system. In brake testing, the Prius stopped from 60 mph in a short 118 feet.
The Prius has not yet been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash tests. According to 2010 ratings (which aren't comparable to 2011 ratings) the Toyota Prius earned four stars rating in frontal impact protection for both driver and passenger. In side impact testing, the Prius scored five stars for front passengers and four stars for the rear. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Prius the highest rating of "Good" in frontal offset and side-impact crashes.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2011 Prius features straightforward climate and audio controls that jut out toward the driver in a "floating console" that provides a storage tray underneath. It's a nice design that helps maximize cabin space. The digital instrument panel also features a floating layer that displays audio, temperature and trip computer information when the driver touches those controls on the steering wheel, minimizing eye movement. Some drivers might find the overall design a bit too busy-looking, however.
Materials quality in the Prius is disappointing, with harder and cheaper plastics than other cars in its price range. The corduroy-like texturing on the climate and audio controls seems nice at first, but collects oil from the skin and causes circular dark spots on most buttons.
In terms of versatility, though, the Prius is still a champ. The hatchback body style provides more cargo capacity than a typical midsize sedan, and the backseat offers plenty of space. Sadly, taller drivers still have to contend with a steering wheel that's placed too far away. There's a telescoping column, but it doesn't come out nearly far enough.
The 2011 Toyota Prius features a hyper-quiet cabin, made possible by its part-time electric motivation and extensive use of sound-deadening materials. The ride is also quite comfortable. The electric steering doesn't provide much in the way of feel, but it's user-friendly in parking lots and doesn't become overly boosted on the highway.
Acceleration is far from sprightly, but it's on par for a hybrid and certainly adequate for most drivers. Four driving modes -- Normal, Eco, Power and EV -- allow the pilot to decide the optimum powertrain configuration depending on conditions. Eco is measured and sluggish, but returns the best fuel economy. Power is useful for entering freeways or driving on hills. EV mode locks out the gasoline engine, but only up to 25 mph with at least a half-charged battery pack.