2011 Toyota Prius Review and Prices

Last Updated: Oct 10, 2011

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2011 Toyota Prius Buying Advice

The 2011 Toyota Prius is the best car for you if you want the most fuel-efficient hybrid on the road -- and aren’t self-conscious about it.

The 2011 Prius is a rerun of the 2010 Toyota Prius. It retains its 50-plus-mpg rating and innovative options such as a solar-powered ventilation system. The 2011 Prius represents the third-generation version of the world’s most recognizable hybrid. Following a full redesign for model-year 2010, Prius is larger, more powerful, and more fuel-efficient than the second-generation 2004-2009 model. And it remains the world’s best-selling hybrid by far.

Should you buy a 2011 Toyota Prius or wait for the 2012 Toyota Prius? Wait for the 2012 Prius if you’re intrigued by the latest advance in gas-electric science, the plug-in hybrid. Plug-in capability extends a hybrid’s electric-only range by tapping a power outlet for a portion of the battery charge. The 2011 Chevrolet Volt is the first to market, and Toyota is preparing to introduce a plug-in version of the Prius during model-year 2012. Cost, range, and mileage advantages over a conventional Prius are unknown. Today’s Prius technology is arguably the most advanced of its kind in the world, and if that’s enough for you, no need to wait for the 2012 model. The car’s core values of fuel economy and high-tech wrapped in a futuristic four-door-hatchback body won’t change for model-year 2012.

2011 Toyota Prius Changes back to top

Styling: The 2011 Toyota Prius styling is unchanged. It remains a highly aerodynamic five-passenger car with a low hood, radically swept-back windshield, arching roofline, and tall tail.

Prius has compact-car exterior dimensions but enough interior room to qualify as a midsize car under federal standards. Its high ceiling creates large doorways and chair-like seating with plenty of head room. Wide front buckets accommodate those who shop the big-and-tall store, though only the optional leather seats, with their adjustable lumbar bolstering, provide good lower-back support. Rear seaters have generous knee and toe space, but the bench isn’t quite wide enough to hold three adults in comfort.

All dashboard gauges are digital and are mounted centrally atop the instrument panel rather than in front of the driver; it takes some getting used to.

The hatchback opening is large and folding the rear seatbacks creates a flat, carpeted surface. But the load floor is rather high, so cargo volume is less than in most similarly sized hatchbacks. A small bin beneath the cargo floor compensates some. Small-items interior storage isn’t generous; only the front doors have map pockets, for example, and they’re really just cup holders.

Mechanical: The 2011 Toyota Prius powertrain and mechanical features are unchanged. Prius uses Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive System, which allows it to move at around-town speeds on electric power alone. Sensors decide when to employ engine power or a combination of gas and electric propulsion: the goal is to efficiently balance acceleration and economy.

The gas engine is a 1.8-liter four-cylinder. Two small electric motors are powered by nickel-metal hydride batteries. Combined output is 134 horsepower. Prius uses a continuously variable transmission, which acts like an automatic transmission but employs infinite ratios rather than preset gearing. Hybrid Synergy Drive uses the engine and regenerative braking to recharge itself; there’s no plug-in capability. With the batteries sufficiently charged, the system can further save gas by automatically shutting off the engine and restarting it while the car is stopped.

Dashboard buttons allow the driver to activate three power modes: EV-Drive to tap battery power alone at low speeds for about a mile; Power for sportier throttle response; and Eco for best mileage. Despite slightly languid acceleration off the line, Prius easily keeps up with fast-moving traffic. Highway-speed passing maneuvers are stress-free, though EV-Drive and Eco modes put a real damper on performance.

Prius has a nose-heavy handling balance and a numb, disassociated feel to its electric steering. Both are drawbacks to competent cornering; even straight-line tracking seems compromised by the steering’s artificiality. Engine start-stop is unobtrusive, ride quality is good, and noise well-muffled. Burnishing the point that this is no ordinary car is the unorthodox view through the radically raked windshield and over the long dashboard top. To the rear, the hatchback’s combination of angled and vertical glass panels proves obstructing.  

Features: The 2011 Toyota Prius’s range of features does not change, though perhaps by now it should have, given Toyota’s promise to release an entry-level stripper model, tentatively called the Prius One.

Announced when this third-generation Prius was launched for model-year 2010, the Prius One was to have a base price of $21,000 ($21,750 with the destination fee), some $1,000 below the next-most expensive Prius. Toyota used that $21,000 figure to blunt much of the impact Honda hoped to garner with the release of its all-new 2010 Insight hybrid. Honda touted Insight’s $20,510 starting price (including destination) as triggering the affordable-hybrid age. As it turned out, Insight proved smaller, less powerful, and less fuel-efficient than the latest Prius, and is one of Honda’s rare product misfires.    

The 2011 Toyota Prius, then, returns a four-model lineup, labeled Prius Two through Five (the automaker no longer identifies them by Roman numeral.) Every 2011 Prius comes standard with a tilt/telescope steering wheel whose spokes hold controls for audio, climate, and the multi-information displays. The multi-information display uses the dashboard screen to monitor the gas-electric power flow in real time and to illustrate fuel-consumption history, average fuel economy, distance to empty, average speed, and trip distance.

Automatic climate control, power windows, doors, and locks, manual adjustable-height driver’s seat, auxiliary audio jack, and a 60/40 split rear seatback also are standard. So is remote keyless entry and pushbutton ignition so the driver can unlock the car and start it without removing the keyfob from pocket, purse, backpack, or briefcase. (To shave costs, the Prius One was to have eliminated such features as the EV Mode, cruise control, and steering-wheel buttons for the multi-information display.)

Among 2011 Toyota Prius options, the Solar Roof Package combines a power sliding glass moonroof with solar panels. It can collect enough energy to run an air-circulation fan while the car is parked, thereby reducing air-conditioning loads.

The optional Advance Technology Package includes Dynamic Cruise Control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead; Intelligent Park Assist that automatically backs the Prius into a parallel parking space; Lane Keep Assist that steers the car back into the intended highway lane; and Pre-Collision that cinches seatbelts and pre-applies the brakes in an impending crash.

The Navigation Package option includes a voice activated touch-screen DVD navigation syste with rearview camera, XM satellite radio with NavTraffic (includes 90-day subscription), and USB iPod interface.

Prius’s cabin design is efficient and modern. It’s nicely assembled from high-quality materials. Most controls are logically arrayed. The digital instrumentation is comprehensively displays real-time gas-electric power flow and various fuel-consumption data. But its central dashtop placement isn’t ideal, some of its graphics are too small or poorly lit, and, oddly, there’s no readout for instantaneous fuel economy. The navigation system is excellent, with a big, clear screen and sensitive voice-recognition software that can search for restaurants and stores by brand name.

2011 Toyota Prius Prices back to top

Base-price range for the 2011 Toyota Prius is $23,810-$29,080. That represents a roughly $1,000 increase per model over initial model-year 2010 base prices. (All base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandated destination fee; Toyota’s destination fee for the 2011 Prius is $760. Note that Toyotas sold in some Southeastern and Gulf states are delivered by independent distributors and may carry different destination fees.)
The 2011 Toyota Prius Two has a base price of $23,810 and comes with the standard equipment listed in the Features section above.  

The 2011 Toyota Prius Three starts at $24,810 and adds a standard JBL audio system with eight speakers, two more than in the Prius Two, plus Bluetooth cell-phone and music-streaming connectivity. Eligibility for the optional navigation system, at $1,930, and the Solar Roof Package, at $3,730, begins with the Prius Three.

The 2011 Toyota Prius Four base price is $27,610. Among standard features it adds to the Prius Three are leather upholstery, heated front seats with driver power lumbar, automatic-dimming inside mirror, and HomeLink remote garage and gate transceiver. On the Prius Four, the navigation package is a $2,380 option and the Solar Roof package costs $4,180. The premium for these packages in the Four is because they also come with Toyota’s Safety Connect service that features automatic-collision notification, stolen-vehicle locator, and emergency and road-side assistance; a one-year subscription is included.

The 2011 Toyota Prius Five base price is $29,080. It comes with 17-inch tires on alloy wheels versus 15-inchers on alloys on the other Prius models. And it adds to the Prius Four model high-efficiency Light Emitting Diode (LED) headlamps that Toyota says reduce energy consumption and help save fuel. The LED lamps come with washers and automatic leveling to compensate for the pitch of the Prius when loaded with passengers or cargo.

The navigation package with Safety Connect is a $2,380 Prius Five option. And the 2011 Prius Five is again the only model that can be ordered with the Advanced Technology Package. It’s a $5,080 option and includes the navigation system, as well as the Pre Collision, Lane Keep, and Self-Parking features, and adaptive cruise control that maintains a set distance from traffic ahead.

2011 Toyota Prius Fuel Economy back to top

Fuel-economy ratings for the 2011 Toyota Prius are unchanged. The 2011 Prius’s EPA ratings of 51/48 mpg city/highway remain the highest of any car sold in the U.S.

The higher city mpg figure confirms that Toyota’s hybrid system is most efficient in low-speed, city driving, where it can run exclusively on electric power and can utilize its engine stop-start feature. The Prius uses 87-octane gas.

2011 Toyota Prius Release Date back to top

The 2011 Toyota Prius went on sale in late summer 2010.

What's next for the 2011 Toyota Prius back to top

The next frontier in hybrid technology is plug-in capability. The 2011 Chevrolet Volt is the first widely available plug-in hybrid. Toyota says a plug-in Prius will go on retail sale during calendar 2012, and reports speculate that it’ll be included in the model-year 2012 Prius lineup. The carmaker has already released 150 experimental plug-in Priuses to government and corporate fleets in the U.S. as a demonstration program.

Plug-in capability saves gas by extending a hybrid’s range on electricity alone. Charging from residential outlets or from stronger commercial-grade connections enable a plug-in hybrid to run longer on battery power and delay running the engine. A full charge could take five hours or more. Plug-in systems depend on advanced lithium ion batteries, which have not been proven for automotive use.

As for “conventional-hybrid” versions of the current Prius, don’t expect major changes for several years, though adjustments to optional and standard equipment are possible (how about that instant fuel-economy readout, Toyota?) Due in April 2011 is the Prius PLUS Performance Package from the company’s Toyota Racing Development (TRD) arm. It leaves Prius’s powertrain untouched to concentrate on sportier looks and improved handling. An aerodynamic body kit, “PLUS” insignia, a lowered, road-tuned suspension, and lightweight 17-inch forged alloy wheels fitted with low profile tires do the trick.

Longer term, Toyota could be maneuvering to create a broader family of hybrids under the Prius label. Reports include the possibility of a sporty Prius coupe for model-year 2013 as an aswer to the Honda CR-Z hybrid coupe. There’s even speculation about a Prius light-duty pickup truck that might share its basic design with Toyota’s youth-oriented Scion division.

2011 Toyota Prius Competition back to top

2011 Honda Insight: Honda takes a simpler approach to the dedicated hybrid with the Insight, a four-door hatchback that looks something like the Prius, but is smaller inside and out. The Insight hybrid system is less-sophisticated than Prius’s, but also less-expensive. Fuel-economy ratings are 40/43 mpg and with just 98 horsepower, Insight is slower than the Prius. It’s noisier and less luxurious as well, though it does feel marginally sportier on the road. Like Prius, Insight suffers an electric steering system with overly artificial response. Insight prices start around $20,500 and top out around $24,000 for the navigation-system model. No changes are planned for several years.

2011 Chevrolet Volt: In its own way, as big a game-changer as the original Prius. Designed to allow average-distance commutes on electric propulsion alone, Volt is the first mass-market plug-in hybrid. The compact-sized four-passenger, four-door hatchback is about as large as Prius on the outside but smaller inside. Volt drives its front wheels with a 149-horsepower electric motor. It has an onboard lithium ion battery pack that fully charges in about 11 hours from a 110-volt household wall socket or in about four hours from a 240-volt connection. Depending on conditions and driving style, Volt can go 25-50 miles on battery power alone before its 84-horsepower 1.4-liter gas engine kicks in to generate juice for the electric motor. Fuel economy with the gas engine alone is estimated at around 40 mpg in highway driving. Base price for this technological trailblazer is $41,000, though a federal tax credit of $7,500, plus assorted state-level incentives, help reduce the initial purchase price.  

2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid: Insight and Volt are really compact hatchbacks we count among Prius competitors because they’re dedicated alternative-powertrain vehicles with obvious green-car styling. But some environmentally conscious shoppers are content with hybrids that don’t look much different from the conventional models on which they’re based. If that’s you, check out the Ford Fusion Hybrid. Like the Prius, it’s a four-door car with midsize interior dimensions, though in an ordinary if pleasantly styled sedan body. The hybrid system is state of the art, rating an impressive 41/36 mpg and generating 191 horsepower for lively acceleration. And handling is much better than that of the Prius or Insight. Prices start around $28,500, but the Fusion Hybrid delivers lots of substance, efficiency, and driving satisfaction.