Behind the Wheel

2020 Toyota Prius AWD-e Review: Reliable on the road, more capable than you'd think in the snow

The all-wheel drive model is designed to tackle tough driving conditions.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sakes U.S.A. Inc.

When the first Toyota Prius came out twenty years ago, it was for environmentalist wackos and early-adopter do-gooders who didn't mind driving a weird car (according to cynics), and actually did so proudly.

The Prius was (and is) odd-looking compared to other autos because it's so focused on aerodynamics. Everything on this car is made to maximize fuel economy and, if you drive a long way to work every day, it's worth a look just for the financial benefits alone. That said, if you like owning a big truck and driving everywhere by yourself even though you never haul anything, maybe this isn't the car for you.

2020 Toyota Prius AWD-e There are a lot of Prii on the streets of New England these days.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sakes U.S.A. Inc.

My test unit was an XLE AWD-e trim, the highest in the Prius lineup. With an $800 Advanced Technology Pack that added a heads-up display and slightly better headlights, it priced out at $31,005.

During my week test driving, I felt a little conspicuous in the thing because of its looks alone, and I live in New England which is full of Prii — and yes, that's the official plural of Prius. Toyota had a contest. It's in the dictionary and everything.

The Prius is so unique looking that everyone knows how green you are and, probably, who you voted for. I wanted to put a Trump sticker on the thing solely because it would confuse people. It'd be like putting a Bernie sticker on your pickup and then rolling coal. Confusing and, potentially, hilarious.

Trolling and visual weirdness aside, the Prius is what I've known it to be for at least ten years: a normal car. Mostly. It has four doors and heated seats (standard in the XLE trim), absolutely enormous windows and great visibility thanks to the high roofline, Apple CarPlay is standard for 2020, and beginning last year there's an all-wheel drive variant too. Toyota calls it the Prius AWD-e.

2020 Toyota Prius AWD-e The car was tested on the snow and on bare roads for this review.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sakes U.S.A. Inc.

It's a standard front-wheel drive car but at the back there's a standalone electric, magnet-less rear motor that will power the rear wheels from a stop up to six mph. If more rear wheel torque is needed because of conditions, it can keep driving the wheels up to 43 mph.

Naturally, this means the system runs in front-wheel drive mode most of the time, but the rear wheels get a little kick of power when traction-needs demand it — or just to improve fuel economy with the electric motor like a normal Prius would. On dry roads, you'll never even notice it. It feels like any other Prius. The engine turns off when coasting to a stoplight, and kicks on again once you start moving.

At very low speeds, the car is capable of driving itself in full EV mode and then the engine (an ultra-efficient 1.8-liter four-cylinder unit making a whopping 96 horsepower) takes over. Unsurprisingly, it isn't fast. In total, with gas and electric combined, the car puts out 121 horsepower and 105 pound-feet of torque.

In real-world driving conditions, the Prius AWD-e will be in front-wheel drive mode most of the time. After testing on relatively dry pavement in New England, I went to Utah to test it on the ice and snow. On the highways from Salt Lake City to Midway, by way of Park City, the model was easy to drive with no thrills or reason to exert its tech.

2020 Toyota Prius AWD-e The interior of the Prius is made to be lightweight but is relatively well appointed.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sakes U.S.A. Inc.

Out on the snow course Toyota built at the former home of the Salt Lake City Olympics Nordic Racing facility, it was a different story. As promised, torque was sent to the rear wheels as winter slipperiness increased, and the all-wheel drive system kept things under control with surprising ease. The transition to all-wheel drive is seamless and more invisible than some of the systems on Toyota's SUVs.

The AWD version weighs in at just 3,220 pounds- that's 210 pounds heavier than the Prius base model.

As the Prius is a hatchback, the rear cargo area is absolutely massive. A Costco run was easy to load and there was plenty of space left over.

Rear visibility is atrocious thanks to the split rear window that looks huge from the outside but is sloped so aggressively (again, thanks to aerodynamic concerns) that it is tiny from the inside.

The car comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa compatibility as well as a USB port. The standard 7-inch infotainment screen in the XLE model is too small, with a lot of space wasted by unnecessary buttons around the outside and the unbranded stereo is pretty terrible. There's also a dearth of sound dampening, likely to reduce weight and, again, improve fuel economy.

2020 Toyota Prius AWD-e The car, as tested, comes standard with Amazon Alexa and Apple CarPlay compatibility.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sakes U.S.A. Inc.

Upgraded versions of the screen and audio system, and additional USB are not available in the all-wheel drive model like it is in the traditional Prius.

But both the heated seats and heated steering wheel work excellently, which is good news for colder climes. My XLE had automatic high beams and windshield wipers, which are increasingly becoming standard on lower-trim vehicles. And there is a full safety suite including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure assist, and blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Toyota puts most of this in all the cars it sells now and it's worth calling out and praising them for. Car companies that aren't on the bandwagon here are going to be left behind soon.

I don't know that I would buy a Prius, even if I had a long commute. The RAV4 Hybrid appeals to me a bit more and I like the high seating position and, let's be honest, it's much more subtle in its good-fuel-economy-having-ness. But if you don't care if other people know you care about the environment or, more likely, if you want them to know, the Prius remains at the top of its class.

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The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder arrives on dealer lots this summer.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder doesn't have to be capable of rock crawling or deep water fording. What it has to do is service the needs of families in their daily life and give them the opportunity to competently go off-roading on rocky trails should they desire. The new, fifth-generation models does just that and adds in enough nifty features to make it among the most compelling choices for three-row SUV buyers.

The 2022 Pathfinder is thoroughly modern though not the boxy off-roader it once was. The SUV's styling harkens back to that time with a tilted, darkened C-pillar and a return to a more muscular body style. That styling makes straightforward visibility good but for shorter drivers seeing what is immediately in front of the grille is a challenge that necessitates using surround view camera technology (available only in upper trim levels) when navigating challenging terrain.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder The Pathfinder can easily handle the roads less traveled.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Under the hood is a 3.5-liter V6 that offers up 291 horsepower and torque - plenty to do the job without complaint. The SUV's nine-speed automatic transmission replaces the continuously variable transmission (CVT) from the previous generation and delivers smooth shifts. Though low-end torque isn't as robust as I like it to be, once up over 35 mph, the Pathfinder's powertrain delivers smooth, powerful sailing.

The redesigned architecture and components underpinning the Pathfinder make it stable on the road and don't allow it to wallow on winding roads. Even off-road, the suspension provides the right blend of stability while the drive dynamics allowing the driver to feel engaged with their surroundings whether on freshly paved roads, city streets, or muddy trails.

Nissan has given the Pathfinder a 6,000-pound towing capacity and even when maxed out the engine's functionality is strong as ever. The transmission can get held up in a gear mid-range when performing this function, however, with 5,000-6,000 rpms registering on the tachometer but a quick release of the gas pedal recalibrates the offering bringing it down to a more traditional 2,000 rpm range.

The eight-seater Pathfinder clearly has the Toyota Highlander in its sights, with good reason. It's the top-selling three-row SUV in the country. Nissan boasts that three adults can fit across the rear bench seat of the Pathfinder and, as long as they're average size or smaller, the marketing talking point holds up. There is gobs more room back there than there is in the Highlander.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder Nissan has given the Pathfinder ample cargo space.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Getting in and out of the third row is easy thanks to one-touch buttons on the outboard side of the second-row chairs that move the SUV's captain's seats forward creating enough room to get through to the back. Smartly, Nissan's engineers have put duplicates of these buttons on the back side of the same seats allowing third-row passengers to simply press the button to move the seat up.

The third row can also be accessed via a split between the captain's chairs as well, a space traditionally occupied by a center stowage bin/cup holders/arm rest. Owners can quickly remove the center console by opening a panel on the front and pulling the release mechanism. The one-handed operation takes seconds and the console can be easily stored in the under-floor trunk space behind the third row seat for ease.

Speaking of cargo space... The Pathfinder is one of the most spacious midsize SUVs on the market today for both passengers and cargo. There is a substantial amount of room behind the third-row seat and the under-floor storage area is nearly twice the size of the one in the Highlander. Plus, it has a feature that allows the area cover to be automatically propped up when pushed up by a user. This is especially help when carrying groceries or plants home and keeps them from being crushed.

The first- and second-row seats are suitably comfortable, even for extended periods of time and standard trig-zone climate control makes finding the right in-cabin mix easy. Bottle holders in the pockets of the front doors are exceptionally large, fitting even bulky water bottles.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder The Pathfinder's front row seats are comfortable.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

In front of the driver is a standard tachometer, speedometer, and 7.0-inch driver information display. Buyers can upgrade to a fully digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster and head-up display but they're not reason enough to upgrade to the top-tier Pathfinder Platinum on their own.

Nissan packs the new Pathfinder with a host of desirable features that make living with the Pathfinder easier including one-touch auto up/down windows, a wireless phone charger, grocery hooks in the rear cargo area, USB ports in all three rows, second-row sunshades, rear door keyless entry, wireless Apple CarPlay, and a motion-activated lift gate.

The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is priced to start at $33,410 for the two-wheel drive S base model and $35,310 for the four-wheel drive S base model. The model tops out around $50,000 with destination and delivery included, which seems fair when comparing the Pathfinder to other vehicles in the market.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder The Pathfinder can tow up to 6,000 pounds.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

If you're thinking of purchasing a Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, Honda Pilot, or Highlander, do yourself a favor and schedule a test drive of the new Pathfinder when it arrives at a dealer lot near you. You may just be surprised how seamlessly it fits into your daily life compared to the competition.

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New crossover

Toyota Announces 2022 Corolla Cross

The Corolla Cross is smaller than a RAV4.

Toyota

Almost a year ago, Toyota released yet another crossover, this time in Thailand, but it wasn't the release's location that made news. Toyota unveiled the new Corolla Cross, a crossover based on the automaker's legendarily dependable car bearing the same name. The rumor mill kicked into action, speculating on when the new vehicle would make its way to the U.S., and now we have our answer. Today, Toyota announced the 2022 Corolla Cross for the United States and released many key details on its features and configurations.

Toyota will offer the Corolla Cross in three trims: L, LE, and XLE. All three will be powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 169 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. The engine is paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and front-wheel drive by default, but all-wheel drive can be added to any trim level. The CVT has been configured with a physical first gear, which Toyota says improves driver engagement, but it should also help with off-the-line acceleration. The base L trim will ride on 17-inch steel wheels and the top XLE trim gets 18-inch alloys.


2022 Toyota Corolla Cross The Corolla Cross is less "out there" than the C-HR.Toyota


Though it will share a platform with the C-HR, the Corolla Cross will be slightly larger than the funky vehicle. It slots into the Toyota lineup between the quirky smaller crossover and the massively popular RAV4, giving the automaker yet another competitor in the crossover-crazed U.S. auto market.

The Corolla Cross will at least have some capability to back up its name. The vehicle will be able to tow up to 1,500 pounds, and when equipped with all-wheel drive it will offer a torque vectoring system. When needed, the system can send up to 50 percent of drive power to the rear wheels, but disengages when not in use. Beyond improving traction, the system helps conserve fuel, netting the Corolla Cross a 32-mpg combined rating with FWD and 30 combined mpg with AWD.


2022 Toyota Corolla Cross Inside, the Cross looks quite a bit like the standard Corolla.Toyota


Inside, the Corolla Cross' front cabin area could easily be mistaken for that of its sedan counterpart. Screen placement and overall design are quite similar to that of the good old Corolla. Standard technology features for the Corolla Cross will include a 7.0-inch touchscreen that runs Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The LE and XLE models will get an eight-inch touchscreen and can be upgraded with an optional nine-speaker JBL sound system.

Toyota will include its Safety Sense suite of advanced driver aids with every Corolla Cross, which includes blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts for the base LE model. The XLE trim picks up front and rear parking assist with automatic braking.


2022 Toyota Corolla Cross Passenger space is a priority in the Corolla Cross.Toyota


The Corolla Cross doesn't have a set release date yet, but its 2022 model year is a good indication that we'll see more on the vehicle in a few months. Pricing details will become available as we approach the vehicle's on-sale date.

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