2020 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e: An eco-breed of winter warrior?

Price: $31,005 as tested. Advanced Technology Package added head-up display and turning and leveling lights for $800.

Marketer’s pitch: “Find your element.”

Conventional wisdom: I need a Prius that goes in the snow.

Reality: The winter-warrior part remains to be tested.

What’s new: Toyota has added electronic all-wheel drive to the venerable hybrid lineup for the 2020 model year.

Fuel economy: I averaged right about 50 mpg in a rather high-performance round of testing. I’m sure my fellow drivers remain stupefied by the Prius that whipped past them in many instances. You can take the Mr. Driver’s Seat out of the BMW, but …

Note that the vehicle came to me with 53 mpg average on the computer readout, but I don’t think it had too many miles on the trip. Your mileage likely will be a little higher.

Anyway, feed the Prius whatever.

Up to speed: The Prius is no hot rod. The two-part power plant creates 121 horsepower, via a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and a motor driving the front wheels, plus an additional 7 horses from a motor adding some oomph to the rear as needed. Its 0-to-60 time is recorded as a sorry 9.8 seconds by Motor Trend.

The vehicle has a Power mode, which is required when hauling a couple of passengers up hills or onto interstate highways in a hurry, but I mostly ran it in normal mode. EV mode runs up to about 25 or 30 mph.

On the road: The Prius handles pretty nicely for a small family hatchback. We traveled north to visit family and ran over some real winding country roads, and the Prius held its own on some roads that I wasn’t all that familiar with.

Handling can be described as vague in normal mode, but the car is small and light enough that it doesn’t matter. Power mode punches up the steering feel a bit.

Highway traveling is also a pleasure in the Prius, as it’s not too rough over highway seams and patches. Winds, though, knock the vehicle around.

Will it have good traction on the snow? This winter, of course, didn’t allow for any testing. But in the rain, the Prius needed some serious speed reduction to remain stable on highways, and the tires disappear into road seams pretty easily, so I wonder.

Shiftless: Prius hangs on to its space-age shifter, under the HVAC controls. Reverse swings up and to the left, Drive down and to the left. It moved the car down the road effectively, which is important, if not exciting.

The interior of the 2020 Toyota Prius keeps the traditional Priusness, and the stereo system keeps to a less venerable Toyota tradition.
The interior of the 2020 Toyota Prius keeps the traditional Priusness, and the stereo system keeps to a less venerable Toyota tradition.

Driver’s Seat: The Prius cockpit definitely offers a comfortable place to view the road. The manual seat only goes up-down, recline-straighten, front-back, but it fit Mr. Driver’s Seat just right. The wings are a hair tight and the seat off-center, though.

The speedometer remains part of the digital center readout perched atop the dashboard, a throwback from Prius days of yore. I find it an easy adjustment, and reports have been made that I’m generally whiny.

Mr. T-Rex Seat: The Prius steering wheel didn’t telescope enough for me. Either my legs are getting longer in my old age, or my arms are getting shorter.

Friends and stuff: Tall Sturgis Kid 4.0 spent a couple of hours in the backseat and pronounced it livable, although the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat was pushed forward pretty substantially.

Cargo space is 62.7 cubic feet with the seats folded, 24.6 with the seats up.

Play some tunes: The Prius radio is left over from the Toyota parts bin. Sound is tinny and kind of sad, although I can’t say it’s particularly unclear. People who prefer their music bassy are not going to be happy; heavy bass lines just smashed together, and I had to dial the bass down from my usual low levels. Call this a C-. Ick. Makes me want to trade my Sienna with the similarly unsound sound system, just because.

Dials control volume and tuning, although their pretty flat cylinders are tough for my big fingers to operate. The 7-inch touchscreen is pretty straightforward.

Keeping warm and cool: The Prius runs a little cool on cold days, and getting enough heat into the cabin seemed to mean cranking up the temp higher than my normal settings in every other car. Not sure if that’s a big deal, but noted.

Cool little levers control temperature, fan speed, and the source.

Where it’s built: Aichi, Japan

How it’s built: The Prius gets a 5 for 5 on Consumer Reports reliability scale; there’s no separate entry for the E-AWD.

In the end: The Prius remains a nice vehicle to live with, and the E-AWD is really not that much more expensive or fuel-swigging.