• 2019 Toyota Prius

Toyota has pulled the wraps off its refreshed Prius at the 2018 LA auto show which brings a more toned down appearance and optional all-wheel drive to the table. It isn’t any significantly more efficient or any faster, but its less aggressive styling will be a pleasing comeback for some, while the new all-wheel drive is apparently going to be really popular.

Projected sales for the Prius AWD-e say up to 25 percent of all cars sold will have the option, despite the fact that it does have a small negative impact on overall efficiency - the main reason you went for a Prius in the first place. The most frugal Prius, the L Eco trim, can still hit a claimed 56 mpg combined.

Aside from the subtle restyling and addition of all-wheel drive, the 2019 Toyota Prius also gets interior updates, extra tech, and a simplified trim structure to help buyers and dealers alike understand the range better.

2019 Toyota Prius Exterior

  • * More toned down front fascia
  • * Revised rear end gets new lights and bumper
  • * New rear lights have busier design than old units
  • * Design changes make the car less distinctive
  • * New standard 15-inch rims on AWD-e-equipped models
  • * Generally more restrained look
  • * No major changes outside of front and rear fascias
  • * Trim structure revised
2019 Toyota Prius
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The Prius was designed by a young team of designers and thanks to advances in tech, the intricate shapes that make up its body are now easier to manufacture thanks to the use of hot pressing and plenty of high strength steels. And the initial design definitely reflected both these aspects by being bold and striking to look at, as well as quite revolutionary for a friendly fuel-sipping model like the Prius.

It had a very angry front fascia with big, slanted headlights with indicators that jutted down but integrated into the design. This look reminds you that it Lexus is owned by Toyota as it bears a bit of resemblance with what current models in the Lexus lineup look like, with slightly bulbous headlights and bold slats and creases in the bumper.

2019 Toyota Prius Exterior
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But many people didn’t approve of the way the outgoing Prius looked, pointing to its overly aggressive front fascia and a plethora of creases and curves that just made it look like too much was going on. Toyota has directly addressed this point with the refresh.

In short, the updated Prius retains the essence of the initial design, but it's smoother on the eyes and easier to digest.

The main changes up front are centered around the headlights that are now far more conventional looking. Gone is the exaggerated indicator that shot down from the main headlight assembly and in its place is just a just a simpler and more restrained design.

Aside from the headlights, they really didn’t do much else to the front end design - it looks like only the shape of the lower grille has been slightly tweaked. And now that the headlights no longer have the indicator sticking out of the bottom and down the bumper, the two side intakes (the ones with silver surrounds) just seem to make a little less sense.

2019 Toyota Prius
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Closely comparing the new and pre-facelift models, I actually think the old model was more distinctive and generally not bad looking for what it is. With the new one, it’s clear that Toyota has listened to opinions that it should be changed, but since it’s not a new model, they had to leave a vertical slat in the outer part of the bumper. On the pre-facelift model, it was integrated with the bottom of the headlight cluster, and it just looked more like it belonged there.

Moving to the rear, I again think the pre-facelift light cluster design was cleaner, as it was one single vertical swoosh.

The refreshed Prius now has another horizontal swoosh in the design and, for a car whose design was supposed to be cleaner and less fussy, they’re not doing a very good job. It also seems a bit of change for change’s sake in this instance, and it makes the overall design less cohesive.

From the side, it’s less apparent that the vehicle has undergone a facelift, although you may notice the new rim designs exclusive to the all-wheel-drive model. The 2019 Prius may also catch your eye if it’s finished in one of the two new colors called “Supersonic Red” and “Electric Storm Blue.”

2019 Toyota Prius
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You’ll be able to spot all-wheel drive-equipped examples by the AWD-e badge located on the lower left part of the rear hatch, below the “Prius” script. All-wheel drive is only offered on LE and XLE trims, the latter being the top grade offered for the model.

2019 Toyota Prius Interior

  • * 11.6-inch infotainment screen standard
  • * Revised steering wheel design
  • * Minor trim material changes inside
  • * Striking interior design still looks good for 2019
  • * Space for four inside
  • * Third rear passenger fits only if below average height
  • * Still not as premium feeling as some rivals
  • * Excellent assembly quality
2019 Toyota Prius Interior
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The interior remains untouched for the most part, designed around the center stacked screen setup where the upper screen shows speed and hybrid system information, while the larger portrait style infotainment screen below deals with navigation and pretty much everything else. It’s definitely quite futuristic looking and in-keeping with the daring exterior aesthetic.

In all-wheel drive-equipped models, the upper screen (the center digital gauge cluster) also displays information about the AWD-e system alongside hybrid the system information.

On top of this, it also shows Energy Monitoring, Eco Score, Eco Savings Record, Drive Monitor, Eco Wallet, Eco Diary, as well as climate control.

Like the exterior, the interior was quite a departure for the Prius model range (even if it bares a closer resemblance to older models than the exterior does). It looks quite radical, sure, but apart from the strange selector for the continuously variable transmission (which is not as intuitive or easy to get used to as it should), it’s really not bad from an ergonomic standpoint.

2019 Toyota Prius
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When it comes to quality, the Prius interior has excellent assembly quality (as you’d expect from a Toyota), plus materials aren’t bad either, with plenty of soft-touch surfaces in visible and frequently touched places. It doesn’t feel like a premium car, far from it, but it’s still a pleasant place to spend time.

Toyota says the 2019 Prius interior has been updated, but even comparing photos of old and new side by side, I wasn’t really able to spot any apparent changes.

The large 11.6-inch portrait screen is optional - as standard, the latest Prius used to get a smaller 6.1-inch screen.

The steering wheel also appears to be new, but it’s not a completely new design, just an evolution or variation of the one offered on the pre-facelift model.

All AWD-e models get Siri Eyes Free voice command, an integrated backup camera, Entune Multimedia Bundle that comes with a six-speaker sound setup, two USB charging ports as well as an integrated reversing camera. Examples equipped with the bigger screen (the Limited grade) get a better audio system, the Entune Premium JBL Audio.

2019 Toyota Prius
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Practicality levels in the Prius are high, and it’s also reasonably spacious too, although tall passengers may find headroom lacking in the rear - but average sized people will fit just fine in the back, even three of them when need be. The trunk offers as much as 27.4 cubic feet of cargo volume, and with the practical hatch opening, loading items in and out is easy since there’s no load lip to have to lift them over. That’s quite a bit more space than other electrified rivals, like the Kia Soul, which only musters 24.2 cubic feet.

Fold down the rear seats, and you get a properly cavernous 65.5 cubic feet.

Although the load bay isn’t flat all the way to the end (the seat backs create a ridge in the floor), the load bay is quite usable, and you could realistically be able to carry some furniture in the back of a Prius - just don’t try to fit a fully assembled wardrobe in there. A moderately sized chest of drawers would fit just fine, though.

Comfort aboard the Prius is generally good, thanks to great front seats that do a great job even on longer journeys. Rear occupants will also be fine, even on longer journeys, as long as they are not too much over average height - then the lack of headroom might prove tiring after a while.

2019 Toyota Prius
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Top models get power-adjustable front seats and faux leather upholstery to lift the interior ambiance; the big 11.6-inch infotainment screen also helps in this respect and it does a decent Tesla impersonation at a quarter of the price.

2019 Toyota Prius Drivetrain

  • * Uses 1.8-liter engine and electric motors combo
  • * Still makes no more than 120 horsepower
  • * All-wheel drive model gets predictably lower efficiency
  • * All-wheel drive only stays engaged up to 6 mph / 10 km/h
  • * Rear axle gets power up to 43 mph / 70 km/h when needed
  • * The only such model to offer all-wheel drive
  • * Between its skinny tires and new awd, it should prove capable through fresh snow
  • * CVT still makes unpleasant racket when you want hard acceleration
2019 Toyota Prius
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Under the hood of the 2019 Prius, Toyota has not really changed anything for the facelift.

It still relies on the same 1.8-liter non-turbo four-cylinder and electric boost from two separate electric motors for a grand total of 121 horsepower, so it’s not very fast, although the extra torque from the electric boost does make it feel more muscular on the move.

The continuously variable transmission (CVT) makes the most of what little power and torque there is, although when flooring the throttle, the way the engine revs ruins the interior serenity you feel when driving it sedately when it will run as much as possible on electricity. There’s also no escaping the annoying drone you get under hard acceleration (due to running through a CVT) as revs remain constantly high for the duration of the acceleration run and it really just makes you want to lift off to make it end.

2019 Toyota Prius Exterior
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Rivals like the Hyundai Ioniq hybrid have a much snappier and more enjoyable six-speed dual-clutch transmission which dramatically improves the way it feels on the move; it feels considerably more fun than a Prius, and its transmission is what puts it ahead. But Toyota and other Japanese automakers just seem convinced to keep using CVTs, even though aside from a claimed improvement in efficiency over a conventional automatic, they don’t really have any benefits and they always dull the driving experience of whatever car they happen to be fitted to.

The Prius is by no means a quick car, but it’s not really designed for neck-snapping acceleration, and the tradeoff is superb economy. Toyota says the Prius L Eco (the most frugal version available) returns 58 mpg in the city, 53 mpg on the highway for an average of 56 mpg combined.

The AWD-e model, on the other hand, is expected to achieve 52 mpg city, 48 mpg highway and 50 mpg combined
2019 Toyota Prius
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For the new all-wheel drive models, the rear electric motor kicks in from 0 to 6 mph (10 km/h), and after that point, it cuts out completely in the quest for maximum efficiency. However, it’s one of those systems that sends power to the rear if it senses slip or loss of traction at the front, and it can do this up to 43 mph or 70 km/h - above that speed you don’t get any kind of help from the rear axle as it’s not powered any more until you dip below that speed.

2019 Toyota Prius Pricing

2019 Toyota Prius
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Toyota will sell you the base Prius in the US starting from $23,475, while the top front-wheel-drive model is $30,565. The automaker has not announced how much more it’s going to charge for the all-wheel-drive model.

But even the base model will get the Toyota Safety Sense P range of crash culling gadgets which includes automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with steering intervention, as well as pedestrian detection and a pre-collision system as well. The rear-view camera is also standard, as is the large 11.6-inch screen, automatic climate control, 15-inch alloys, full-LED headlights complete with LED high beams, keyless entry with push-button start as well as the Entune infotainment system.

In Europe, a base Prius can be had from around €28,500, while a top trim level model starts from €32,400.

It’s really the wealth of standard features (especially safety features) it comes with that make the Prius even more desirable than it may have been purely based on its efficiency. No other rival model can match it in this respect, although all rivals do offer the same or similar systems but as extra cost options.

2019 Toyota Prius Competition

Hyundai Ioniq

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Exterior
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Hyundai wants a piece of the exact same market segment as the Toyota Prius with its hybrid version of the Ioniq model. It looks more conventional than the Prius, it’s better to drive and has a slightly sportier feel, its interior is quite competitive too (although materials and build quality in the Toyota are probably just a bit better).

It’s also a bit more powerful than the Prius too, thanks to a combined output of almost 140 horsepower. However, while it may be more powerful and feel peppier on the move, it’s only able to hit 62 mph / 100 km/h in 10.8 seconds, which is 0.2 seconds slower to sprint than the lower power Prius, even though they weigh almost exactly the same and one has extra oomph.

Read our full review on the 2018 Hyundai Ioniq.

Honda Insight

2019 Honda Insight Exterior
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Honda’s previous Insight was a direct rival to the Prius, but after it proved a bit of a sales flop, the automaker decided to repurpose the nameplate on the back of a new electrified sedan. It has excellent efficiency credentials with returns of up to 55 mpg in the city and up to 49 mpg on the highway.

Like the Prius, it comes with lots of standard safety features and its base price isn’t any higher and based on its size, price and the fact that it is a desirable hybrid, its starting price of just under $23,000 makes it very enticing.

Plus it looks quite good on the outside where it seems like a mix between the Accord and Civic - a successful mix with a hint of four-door coupe/fastback thrown in. Inside it’s also very modern looking with superb assembly quality, although being a Honda, its materials are only so-so. On the move it doesn’t feel like it has 151 horsepower and some rivals may feel more spritely and fun to drive on a winding road.

Read our full review on the 2019 Honda Insight


2017 Volkswagen Golf GTE High Resolution Exterior
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You can sadly only get the Volkswagen Golf GTE in Europe and select other markets, and I say sadly because it is inexplicably not sold in North America. I say inexplicably because it has hot hatch-esque performance and looks, but is a desirable fuel-saving hybrid at the same time.

Which part of that combination did VW think made it unfit for the American market? The Golf GTE is a direct (and sportier) rival to the Prius in Europe, though, where its nearly 200 horsepower and excellent driving dynamics give it the edge - it’s almost as good as you expect an electrified Golf GTI to be, although it’s not quite there as it does carry some extra weight over the GTI.

But as an electrified hot hatch proposition, there isn’t another vehicle like it currently on the market, and if you can come up with the €36,900 starting price and value driving fun above outright efficiency, then the Golf GTE could be for you. Oh, and it’s also a plug-in hybrid with good all-electric range and no other vehicle of this size can match it for premium interior ambiance - it leads in this respect by a considerable margin over all other similar size rivals.

Read our full review on the 2018 VW Golf GTE

BMW i3 with REx

BMW Unveils 2018 i3 and i3s High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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A more quirky alternative to the Toyota Prius is the BMW i3 with the range extender engine. With the twin-cylinder BMW motorbike engine in the back, it has a claimed total range of up to 180 miles and should return 109 mpge combined - the fuel tank only holds 2.3 gallons / almost 9 liters of gasoline, though, so if you want to take it on a longer trip, you’ll have to very frequently stop to top it up.

But if most of your business is done in and around the city, then the range-extended i3 makes for a valid choice, especially since like the Golf GTE it’s a plug in which you can run without even starting the gasoline engine for a long time. Plus it drives surprisingly well for what is essentially a tall plastic box that uses a body-on-frame construction and it’s the only rear-wheel drive car in this comparison, so that makes it unique. It’s also the most expensive car here, starting from $48,850 with the range extender, although it does qualify for the Federal Tax Credit which makes that number more palatable.

Read our full review on the 2018 BMW i3 with REx

Final Thoughts

2019 Toyota Prius
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The Prius may be the first mass market hybrid vehicle nameplate, but these days it’s frankly far more difficult for it to stand out among its varied and very talented rivals. It still makes sense to want a 2019 since it offers virtually unmatched efficiency, decent driving fun, decent practicality and comfort and strong reliability.

But now that Toyota has messed with the dramatic styling of the initial design, the car has certainly lost some individuality. It now looks more conventional, but is that such a good thing in an increasingly crowded market segment - whereas before the facelift I would have said the Prius is striking and polarizing, yet it’s a car with a unique look all its own, with the new model that’s not as evident.

Its main direct rival, the Hyundai Ioniq, is a very strong contender and definitely a more fun and rewarding car to drive quickly. There’s an urgency and fun character in there that is lacking a bit in the Prius.

It’s still competent as a car, but maybe Toyota should have done less about the styling and more about just making the Prius feel a bit more exciting to drive - it’s probably one of the most boring cars on the road to drive, and its rival from Hyundai proves that it doesn’t necessarily have to be so.

The addition of all-wheel drive certainly makes it more interesting and appealing, especially for those living in colder climates where all-wheel drive is a necessity for a large part of the year. It also has a lot of standard (especially safety) equipment and seems quite reasonably priced for what you’re getting, although it’s definitely not the only valid choice in the segment as it was for most of the last decade.

It will be increasingly difficult for the Prius to stand out, despite being the most famous electrified car nameplate in the world (because it was the first), as more and more electrified and fully electric models appear on the scene. The fact that Toyota backtracked on the design is also proof that the automaker is a bit unsure what will help the Prius sell, not the mark of an automaker that’s completely convinced in the product it offers.

Further reading

2019 Toyota Prius Exterior
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Toyota Finally Offers the Prius with AWD in the U.S.

2016 Toyota Prius
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Read our full review on the 2018 Toyota Prius.

Andrei Nedelea
Andrei Nedelea
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