How does the all-wheel-drive Prius drive when it isn’t snowing?
It’s almost impossible to write about the 2019 Toyota Prius AWD-e without mentioning snow. From the beginning, Toyota’s been up front about the fact that it developed the all-wheel-drive Prius for snowy climates, even going so far as to show the car driving on snow in most of its press photos. It then launched the Prius AWD-e with a drive event on snow to drive home the point.
If you want to be cynical, it would be easy to dismiss the Prius AWD-e as an unnecessary addition to Toyota’s lineup. And to a certain extent, you’d be right. The extra $1,000 USD or so it takes to get the all-wheel-drive Prius could be used to buy a set of winter tires, and even on all-seasons, the vast majority of people would be fine.
In fact, when my wife and I lived in Boston, I don’t remember a single time we felt like her car needed all-wheel drive. Even during the snowiest winter in Boston’s recorded history, the streets were salted and plowed frequently enough that we were able to drive that tiny, front-drive Chevrolet Aveo without issue. Granted, there were plenty of problems with the car itself, but the lack of all-wheel drive wasn’t one of them.
Yet if the demand for a feature is there, it only makes sense for an automaker to offer it. Considering how popular all-wheel drive is these days, especially in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest, we have a feeling those regions will love the Prius AWD-e.
In sunny Los Angeles, on the other hand, the all-wheel-drive Prius makes a little less sense. In fact, it’s hard to understand why anyone would buy the Prius AWD-e if they live in an area where it rarely if ever snows. On dry pavement, it drives just like a regular Prius.
That’s because, in the interest of maximizing fuel economy, the motor that drives the rear wheels only engages between 0 and 6 mph (0 and 10 km/h). That means that unless you’re stuck in stop-and-go traffic, the car stays in front-drive mode the vast majority of the time. As a result, the EPA rates the Prius AWD-e at 50 mpg (4.7 L/100 km) combined, only 2 miles (3.2 km) per gallon less than the regular Prius.
In theory, having the rear motor to help get the Prius going should improve initial throttle response, but honestly, I couldn’t feel it. It was nice to average a little more than 48 mpg (4.9 L/100 km) over an entire weekend of apartment hunting, but I never once noticed a difference. As far as I could tell, the AWD-e felt like a regular Prius in everyday driving.
That said, when we took the Prius AWD-e to the track, the test team did find a few differences. Road test editor Chris Walton was able to get a slightly better launch than with a front-drive Prius. He also noted that it didn’t matter whether he used Eco, Normal, or Power mode because all three resulted in consistent runs.
Compared to the regular Prius, the AWD-e posted an identical 0–60 time of 9.8 seconds and a negligibly quicker quarter-mile time of 12.3 seconds. Even though both vehicles wear identical tires, we did record a better 60–0 braking distance—125 feet versus 131 feet. According to Walton, it felt like Toyota had changed something in the braking system, perhaps adding more aggressive regenerative braking.
Interestingly, there was a much bigger difference between the two Priuses in our handling tests. The AWD-e averaged 0.81 g on our skidpad and ran the figure eight in 28.1 seconds at an average of 0.58 g. Those figures were all significantly off the ones laid down by the Prius Limited we tested earlier in the month.
“You can feel the tail move a bit,” testing director Kim Reynolds said. “Maybe due to extra weight or maybe it’s the regen-drag/power-accel taking place. I’m not sure. Otherwise, it’s a Prius—modest lateral seat support, dull steering feel.” As Walton pointed out, adding the motor resulted in a 3 percent shift in weight to the rear, which could very well explain the differences Reynolds felt.
So if you really drive the Prius AWD-e hard, being able to break the tail end loose every now and then might make it a little less dull to drive. And if you live in an area where it snows frequently, the added traction from the rear wheels should give you more confidence next time a nor’easter blows in. Because of that, in another six months, don’t be surprised to see the Prius AWD-e all over snowy northern states.
But does the electric all-wheel drive provide a measurable advantage in regular driving conditions? Nope.
|2019 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$32,146|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||1.8L/96-hp/105-lb-ft Atkinson cycle DOHC 16-valve I-4 plus 71-hp/120-lb-ft front and 7-hp/40-lb-ft rear elec motors; 121 hp combined|
|TRANSMISSION||Cont variable auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,206 lb (59/41%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||180.0 x 69.3 x 58.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||9.8 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||17.3 sec @ 79.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||125 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.81 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.1 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||52/48/50 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||65/70 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.39 lb/mile|