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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New driver assist technology is coming to the Lexus lineup later this year.

Photo courtesy of Lexus

New Lexus Teammate driver assistance technology will debut on the 2022 Lexus LS 500h later this year. Its availability is constrained to all-wheel drive models.

The technology was developed based on the Mobility Teammate Concept. This automated driving concept is unique to Toyota sough to enhance communication between drivers and cars, "enabling them to reach out to each other for mutual assistance". The concept sees cars and humans interacting and partnering rather than having automation take over for drivers. This approach allows drivers to enjoy the experience of driving but allowing the vehicle to take over some functions of driver's duties at times. In this way, the tech works as both guardian and chauffeur.

2022 Lexus The company's flagship sedan will get the technology first.Photo courtesy of Lexus

2022 Lexus LS 500h

On the 2022 Lexus 500h, Lexus Teammate will offer two functions: Advanced Drive and Advanced Park.

Advanced Drive is design to "accurately detect driving conditions to plan and execute acceleration, braking, and steering commands to maintain the vehicle within the lane, follow other vehicles, change lanes, navigate certain interchanges and traffic jams and overtake slower vehicles." It's a Level 2 functionality that "allows for driving on limited-access highways with partial hands-free, eyes-on-the-road operation".

This description makes it sound a lot like the suite of lane keeping, lane centering, and adaptive cruise control technology that Hyundai offers rather than true Level 3 technology that General Motors's Super Cruise delivers.

Lexus will show operation of the technology on a screen with information displayed like this.Photo courtesy of Lexus

Advanced Park operates similar to how the Genesis GV80's hands-free parking assist technology works. The Lexus tech automatically controls steering, acceleration, braking, and gear changes with parallel parking or backing into a parking space. It uses a combination of 360-degree sensing technologies and a bird's eye view display to perform the task while allowing the driver to monitor progress.

"We are very proud of Lexus Teammate, which is the culmination of five years of close collaboration between our technical centers in Japan and the US. We conducted simultaneous development and rigorous testing in both markets with the goal of achieving industry-leading advanced driver assistance functionality," says Derek Caveney, executive engineer at Toyota Motor North America's Integrated Vehicle Systems team.

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The WarnerMediaRIDE App provides thousands of hours of streaming content to Toyota and Lexus vehicle owners.

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

If there's one thing parents want, it's a way to keep kids from fighting in the car. Not only that, it has to work. Toyota and AT&T have teamed up to deliver just such a solution to Toyota and Lexus vehicle owners.

When connected to AT&T in-car Wi-Fi, the WarnerMedia RIDE App allows Toyota and Lexus owners to connect up to five compatible devices to browse, stream and share content from the open road. Passengers can view a rotating selection of live and on-demand content, including thousands of hours of hit TV shows and movies from top channels and services such as Cartoon Network, CNN, HBO Max, and TruTV, spanning animation, news and sports programming and more.

Owners of select 2020 model year and newer Toyota and Lexus vehicles are eligible for a complimentary Wi-Fi data plan trial for up to 90 days. Owners can activate their trial within the Toyota and Lexus owners app.

2021 Toyota Highlander Select Toyota vehicles will get the tech. Expect the Toyota Sienna to be one of them. Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

"By working with AT&T to provide access to WarnerMedia RIDE, we are reimagining the in-vehicle entertainment experience and ensuring that passengers have access to their favorite content wherever the road may take them," said Steve Basra, group vice president, Toyota Motor North America, Connected Technologies. "We're also excited to offer additional enhancements within our customer app and to provide one resource for our customers to access their in-vehicle features."

"Customers are hungry for access to new experiences with integrated, everywhere connectivity. Our relationship with Toyota is helping us deliver more for our customers – whether they're on a long road trip or short commute," said Joe Mosele, vice president, Mobility & Internet of Things, AT&T Business. "Since the launch of WarnerMedia RIDE, passengers are enjoying their favorite animated friends with 'Looney Tunes', 'Tom & Jerry', and 'The Jetsons' as some of our most watched content."

The WarnerMedia RIDE is available now in the App Store and Google Play for all U.S. unlimited data plan subscribers. WarnerMedia RIDE is included at no additional cost for existing and new unlimited subscribers. The Toyota and Lexus Owner App download is available for iPhone or Android smartphones.

Toyota isn't the only company getting into the streaming game. Stellantis recently announced that select customers will be able to stream Amazon Prime TV programming in their new Jeep Wagoneers.

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