Car Reviews

2019 Toyota Prius AWD-e First Look: Thrifty Snowbird

All-wheel traction arrives in the Prius family

All-wheel traction arrives in the Prius family

At long last the Prius family of fuel-sipping hatchbacks offers an electric all-wheel-drive variant of the mainstream non-plug-in model, dubbed the Prius AWD-e, adding surefooted traction to its list of virtues for snow-belt drivers. And if you’re thinking, “Big deal, they just added the rear-axle hardware from a RAV4 or Highlander,” think again.

The motors needed for those hefty soft-roaders would have been overkill in a Prius and as such would have delivered window stickers unbecoming of this subbrand. So the motor is new and features magnet-less induction technology, just like the front motor in the new dual-motor Tesla Model 3. The advantage of this design is that, when the motor is not needed, there are no spinning magnets to generate stray current that might otherwise create drag. In the Prius, the rear motor engages from launch until 6 mph (10 km/h), and then as needed for traction at speeds up to 43 mph (69 km/h). As of this writing, Toyota has not provided power, torque, or performance specs for this motor.

Another bold departure from the rest of the Prius lineup is the battery pack. It still resides below the rear seat, and as such affords the new 2019 Prius AWD-e model an identical 65.5 cubic feet of max cargo space, but it reverts to “a newly developed compact” nickel-metal hydride chemistry. Toyota cites excellent performance in cold weather as one reason for this change (RAV4 and Highlander Hybrids still use nickel-metal hydride; front-drive models continue with the lithium-ion technology). Again, Toyota has yet to disclose the new battery’s capacity as of press time.

One key statistic Toyota is sharing now is the estimated EPA fuel economy for the Prius LE AWD-e and XLE AWD-e: 48/41/45 mpg (4.9/5.7/5.2 L/100km) city/highway/combined. For reference, the L Eco model (formerly known as “Two Eco”) earns a 58/52/56 mpg (4.1/4.5/4.2 L/100km) rating, while the LE, XLE, and Limited front-drive models (formerly dubbed One, Two, Three, Four, and Three/Four Touring) get 54/50/52 mpg (4.4/4.7/4.5 L/100km) stickers. By our reckoning, if you want to see higher window-sticker numbers on an all-wheel-drive vehicle, you have to go fully electric.

Also new for 2019 is revised and refined front and rear styling that deletes the strange downward dangles from the headlights and taillights. The look is considerably cleaner—some may say “more generic”—while remaining completely distinct from the Prius Prime plug-in. Adaptive headlights are offered on the XLE and standard on the Limited model. Inside there are some color and trim revisions, too, and on AWD-e models the 4.2-inch dual multifunction display will offer screens portraying things such as the front and rear torque distribution. Top Limited models get Toyota Safety Connect, which provides emergency assistance, stolen vehicle locating, collision notification, and more, free for three years.

Toyota expects the AWD-e feature to account for up to 25 percent of Prius sales in the U.S.