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2019 Toyota Prius AWD-e: First Drive Review

The 2019 Toyota Prius AWD-e is for buyers who primarily want a hybrid vehicle with all-wheel drive as a useful addition. That’s different to wanting an AWD vehicle like a crossover with a hybrid drivetrain. For example, a Toyota RAV4 hybrid averages 32 miles per gallon in combined driving, while the larger Toyota Highlander returns 28 mpg combined. As we will see, the Prius AWD-e is far more economical.

The thing that puts the AWD-e into this all-new Prius variant is an extra electric motor driving the rear wheels. It’s relatively lightweight, makes 71 horsepower (the whole hybrid system develops 121 hp) and is only actuated when needed. While the front-wheel-drive Prius uses a lithium-ion battery, this model has a nickel metal hydride version, which is older technology, but it performs better in cold climates.

The Upside of All-Wheel Drive

Imagine living somewhere like Colorado (Colorado residents, stick with us, we’ll be back in a second). Winters are unfailingly snowy, topography is unrelentingly hilly. And let’s say a trip involves climbing higher as the road surface becomes more treacherous. In this scenario, the Prius AWD-e can do what its FWD counterpart cannot match. It provides more grip and traction by bringing the rear wheels into action.

AWD mode is always applied from standstill to 6 miles per hour, enabling the car to move off decisively. Between 7 mph and 43 mph (the kind of speeds a driver would be doing in tricky conditions), onboard computers bring the rear electric motor into play whenever necessary. There are no extra buttons to worry about. If a driver has to stop momentarily halfway up a slippery incline, the Prius AWD-e marshals its rear axle and gets things moving again. Chiming in or cutting out, the action is seamless and virtually imperceptible. The car stays in FWD above 43 mph.

The Downside of All-Wheel Drive

Even in the modern world of intelligent systems, AWD still brings a penalty in fuel consumption. The Prius AWD-e is estimated to achieve 50 mpg combined, while the FWD Prius manages 52 mpg.

There is a bit of extra weight, around 150 pounds. Alternating between a FWD Prius and the AWD-e version makes it easier to feel the difference, but swapping cars like that is an unusual occurrence. A driver will soon get used to the increase in heft and probably never think about it again.

The rear electric motor won’t contribute to energy regeneration, since it’s a lighter-duty unit designed just to turn the rear wheels. And the improvement in traction won’t make a faster 0-to-60 mph speed, but that’s not why anyone buys a Prius.

Depending on the trim level of the front-drive Prius, Toyota quotes luggage area behind the back seats as 24.6 cu ft. or 27.4 cu ft. This AWD-e model has the smaller space.

The Outside of the Prius

The introduction of the 2019 Prius AWD-e coincides with changes that affect the whole Prius range. The most easily discernible differences are the styling revisions at both ends. The headlights are smaller, while the fog lights are taller and thinner. The previous year’s upright, zig-zagging taillights have been replaced by a more conventional horizontal design that’s arguably easier on the eye. New designs of plastic wheel covers are also available to adorn the 15-in steel wheels. Overall, though, the Prius essence remains and there’s still that optical illusion where the rear wheels look smaller than the fronts.

The Inside of the Prius

Some reconstruction has happened in the cabin as well, throwing out some white trim accents and replacing them with piano black, then relocating the heated front seat buttons to places that are more easily accessible. Rear passengers gain a couple of USB ports as well.

The 2019 Prius lineup comes with the Toyota Safety Sense (TSS-P) bundle as standard, including dynamic cruise control that works over the full range of speed, forward-collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert and automatic high beams.

Trim level names have also been changed, becoming L Eco, LE XLE and Limited. The Prius AWD-e is available in LE and XLE trims only.

The Financial Side of the Prius AWD-e

When it goes on sale in January, the 2019 Toyota Prius AWD-e LE starts at $27,300, which is around $1,400 above what a FWD Prius LE costs. For the extra reassurance and driving confidence, while still keeping emissions low, that figure doesn’t seem excessive.

The XLE version of the Prius AWD-e starts at $29,740, bringing simulated leather upholstery (pretty convincing), a head-up display, heated front seats/steering wheel/side mirrors, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and wireless smartphone charging.

Toyota expects this model to make up about 25 percent of total Prius sales, whose graph has been looking somewhat lackluster these days compared with the company’s crossover and truck business. But considering the Prius is the world’s best-known hybrid, there will always be a place for it on some people’s driveways. Now that can include snowy driveways.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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Colin Ryan
Colin Ryan specializes in writing about new cars. But he has also covered trucks, vans, 3-wheelers, even the occasional motorbike. That’s the kind of thing that happens while contributing to the Los Angeles Times, Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book, Popular Mechanics, Variety, Mazda and Lexus customer magazines, as well as many enthusiast sites and publications. He was also a staff writer at BBC Top... Read More

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