Review: 2010 Toyota Prius

Jay Shoemaker
by Jay Shoemaker
review 2010 toyota prius

[Editor’s note: This is a highly subjective and polarizing review. For an alternative review of the 2010 Prius, click here]

Sitting in the new Toyota Prius, I suddenly blurted out, “Open the pod bay doors, Hal,” half expecting something to happen. Alas, I was still entombed in the resin chamber that passes for an automobile interior. If Ralph Nader had been an engineer, this is the car he would have designed, a vehicle for people who loathe automobiles.

Nothing about the insides feels familiar in the traditional sense, unless you are a prior Prius person. The new interior is swathed in low rent plastics which emit nauseating vapors, leather seats (if so equipped) that made me long for Naugahyde and gauges which were not only situated well out of sightlines, but rendered in a primitive digital manner which were indecipherable even up close. Of course I could always tell how slowly I was driving from the desperate looks on the faces of the drivers eager to get past me.

The 2010 Prius’ ergonomics were designed for only two kinds of creatures: those who like to sit five inches back from the front windshield and orangutans. Everyone else will find that the steering wheel, adjustable now for tilt and reach, is still too far away for a proper seat position. There is a nice new electric lumbar support in the seats, which are otherwise unsupportive and ill-shaped.

The driving experience was engineered by faeries. There is an Unbelievable Lightness of Steering, flagrant disregard for handling and a general sense that you are not in a car at all but some anti-gravity device which yaws and rolls without regard for normal physics. I would rather visit my dentist than drive the Prius again—at least he gives me laughing gas.

The one positive aspect of my Prius experience: the serenity of the ride quality. It may have been totally non-involving but it was otherwise quite placid. This proved to be a disaster as I developed a case of narcolepsy while operating the Prius (you don’t drive a Prius, you just sit there and moan along in harmony). On one occasion I drifted off and when I was able to refocus, I discovered I had driven well past my intended destination. If you have a small child or spouse with trouble sleeping, this might be your ride. This sample was mounted with optional 17″ wheels and I found that they not only magnified the road impact but they did little to add interest to the “driving experience.”

The Prius is rendered silly by its own gimmicks. Let’s begin with the transmission. It has three buttons for its various modes, a stubby stalk and a fourth button for park. The car defaults to its economy mode to start, which makes it impossible to make it up my driveway or escape the neighbor’s kids on their bikes. Hammering the throttle only causes a dull moan to be emitted from the engine compartment. The car doesn’t really accelerate—I think it uses sound waves to attempt forward progress.

There is also an EV mode which only goes to 20 mph and only for a mile or so; it’s perfect for when your golf cart breaks down; otherwise it is totally useless.

Finally, there is power mode, which is much like economy mode only the moaning is louder. The transmission stalk made me smile: It provided me with a false sense of control over the driving experience. I could only choose forward or reverse or braking, which was nice since the brakes themselves felt greasy and wooden at the same time and did little to retard forward progress.

To place the car in park required a push of the “P” button, which was separate from the transmission for some reason. My favorite part is that they hid some of the controls underneath the center console; I think there were switches for the seat heaters down there and maybe something else, I couldn’t really tell.

I tried to get into this Prius thing; after all, I receive e-mail from Al Gore all the time. It’s not like I am some Neanderthal gear head (my M3 and S65 notwithstanding). I have a Honda Civic hybrid in my garage. I Grok hybridese. But I must not speak butterfly.

The Prius is the anti-car and no manner of sport package or aftermarket modification can transmogrify the eco-worrier [sic] into anything resembling an automobile. The 2010 Prius needs a new moniker like, “personal vehicular transportation module,” or something similar. It just doesn’t meet my definition of an automobile. At least my Honda Civic hybrid drives and feels like a car, albeit a very slow and dull-witted one.

Maybe that is a good thing. But I have a feeling that one day soon we will be able to drive something that gets outstanding mileage while stimulating its operator in the process. Here is the punch line: the Prius I drove with the technology package approached $34 grand before dealer tack-ons. Honda Fit anyone?

[NB: TTAC does not allow comments flaming the website or its authors. Please restrict your remarks to the review itself. If you wish to question our editorial stance or style, or offer an alternative review, e-mail]

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2 of 210 comments
  • Ozzy Modo Ozzy Modo on May 04, 2010

    Great review, Michael. The comments on TTAC are usually quite predictable, with any car that "makes sense" for 95% of the population getting slammed while cars that make very little sense getting praised. This is a Prius, not a IROC Z-28, not Wrangler, not a Boss 302, and certainly not a Murcielago. If you expect a Prius to hit 60 in 4 seconds or handle like an M3, you're probably the type that tries to dance to Bob Dylan songs or listen for the deep meaning in the lyrics of Funkytown. Your life will always be filled with confusion and unhappiness. As for criticism of drivers who only select a Prius to impress others, I doubt the Prius is high on a list filled with macho trucks, ticked-out noisy muffler rice burners, off-road vehicles that never see so much as a gravel driveway, and six-figure Euro brands parked in front of trendy restaurants. Today, driving a Prius means blending in with all the other beige Priuses. Driving a Prius will allow you to send the fewest possible dollars to oil-rich terrorist countries while insulating you from the harsh realities of a workday commute in the big city. That it is one of the most reliable vehicles on the road is an added bonus. So, manage your expectations. Take your 911 to the track, and your Prius to the mall. Dance to techno and contemplate Dylan.

  • Rupesh Pawani Rupesh Pawani on Nov 12, 2010

    For 2010, the Prius is larger inside and outside, than the car it replaces. Its gasoline and electric motors are more powerful than ever, providing an acceleration that rivals today with a conventional four-cylinder sedan. But its battery is smaller, allowing 15.7 class competition cubic meters of cargo space. The car now offers three modes so users can choose to focus on fuel economy or performance. There are even roof-mounted solar panels available for an additional fee, but they serve only to run a fan that cools the car parked.

  • Theflyersfan There are times in the comments section where I think either some meds really need to be increased, or meds need to be started...Guys, man, this sort of crap is the new normal. Yes, in 2019, a VW project car would have been in very low four digits, but "in these difficult and trying times," I think the only used cars that exist in that price range are stripped and on concrete blocks in a burned out part of town, or are being used as taxis in less wealthy parts of the world. And all that being said, to the wannabe tuners out there who envision themselves croaking about "family," sucking down product-placed Corona beers, and launching Fieros into space or outrunning submarines on ice in Siberia, I don't think there are enough suckers out there who want to pick up the pieces of your bombed-out Fast and Furious fantasies. Watching YouTube videos and having some help from your cousin fresh out of rehab doesn't turn anyone into an expert under the hood, especially on a quality nightmare called the 2003 VW GTI.
  • Azfelix From certain angles the bonnet appears oversized with respect to the rest of the car - like a skinny teenager wearing a bulky sweater nicked from her older sister's wardrobe.
  • Tassos This is way too god damned OLD, 21 years old to have all the necessary options you need TODAY. You need a 10 year old or less car. AND if you give us THIS POS, a 21 year old model, that is not even a LUXURY car, whoever pays $10k for a Golf, And I Do NOT care what anniversary it is (they are all UTTERLY INSIGNIFICANT) deserves to get this MOST UNRELIABLE AND COSTLY TO REPAIR OF ALL LOUSY ECONOBOXES< EVEN THE DOMESTICS AND THE KOREANS.
  • Tassos As you say, Toyota confirmed this on TUESDAY. Today is WEDNESDAY. Why is everything on TTAC held back one or more days before you tell us the NEWS when it is NO MORE THE NEWS?
  • MRF 95 T-Bird You can find a decent and far more stylish Audi TT or an S4 of a similar vintage for under $10k.