The new Prius engine lacks belts — a first for Toyota. Power steering and the water pump are electrically operated. That improves fuel economy, because drag on the camshaft is reduced.
The 2010 Prius uses a new hybrid transaxle that is smaller, 20 percent lighter and capable of handling a higher torque load. A gear drive replaces the previous chain drive. The electric motor runs as high as 13,500 rpm, resulting in less reliance on the engine. The previous system was limited to 6,400 rpm.
The hybrid system offers three new driver-controlled features.
1. Eco Mode controls the throttle opening. It reduces air-conditioning operation, cutting fuel consumption in stop-and-go traffic.
2. EV Mode keeps the vehicle in electric-only mode longer at lower speeds. The vehicle can operate up to about 25 mph for as long as a mile.
3. Power Mode offers quicker acceleration by boosting throttle response.
The exterior and interior of the Prius have been redesigned. The apex of the roof is about four inches farther back, to provide greater rear-seat headroom.
In response to complaints from some current Prius owners that the driver's seat is uncomfortable, the seat on the 2010 version can be raised or lowered. The cushion is wider and longer and offers better bolster support. Power lumbar support and heated seats are available.
Notable features: A solar panel attached to the optional sunroof creates electricity to run a fan that cools the interior when the car is parked.
The 2010 Prius offers several options touted by luxury brands. Dynamic Radar Cruise Control adjusts vehicle speed, applies light braking if necessary and warns the driver to take evasive action if a crash is imminent. Intelligent Parking Assist guides the car into a parallel parking space.
What Toyota says: "This car will move us from a secondary car in the family fleet to a primary car," Carter told Automotive News.
Nuts and bolts: The redesigned Prius has seven airbags; a driver's-knee airbag has been added. Stability control and antilock brakes are standard.
Sales begin in late May. Toyota has not announced pricing.
The skinny: Toyota fixed the Prius' faults and boosted fuel economy to boot. The result is a more appealing package.