Drive: Toyota shakes up 2020 Prius design with AWD option

We first encountered the hybrid Toyota Prius at the New York International Auto Show in 2003, and frankly were wowed by everything about what was then a new model — its sleek hatchback styling, the song and dance surrounding its introduction, and most of all, its staggering fuel economy. The 2004 Prius, which replaced a tiny sedan of the same name, delivered 48 mpg in the city, 45 highway — remarkable fuel-economy numbers in those days.

Since then, Toyota has retained the basic look, function and personality of the Prius, while tweaking its design to improve its fuel economy, comfort, technology and performance. The 2020 model is based on a redesign that took place for the 2016 model year.

The biggest tweak for 2020 was the addition of an all-wheel-drive option. This is no off-road warrior; its ground clearance is just 5.3 inches, and the AWD system cuts out above 43 mph. Moreover, the Prius’ narrow 17-inch tires are designed for minimum rolling resistance, not firm grip on snowy or icy roads. But all-wheel drive certainly is desirable in climates like New England’s, and may help boost Prius sales in the region.

Which brings us to our most recent test car, a 2020 Prius XLE AWD-e. It’s a 4-door hatchback, seating five. Powering this Prius is a gasoline-hybrid system that can be set to Eco, Normal and Sport mode.

We felt the new Prius was smoother and quieter than Priuses we’ve driven in the past, and its interior materials looked and felt like they were chosen for their quality, not their light weight. The hatchback’s fuel economy is everything one would expect from a Prius — 52 mpg city, 48 highway. We averaged about 52 mpg in mostly highway driving. Power is satisfactory and consistent, but unexciting — and sluggish in Eco mode.

With a 10.6-gallon fuel tank, the Prius can go more than 500 miles on a tankful. While plug-in versions of the Prius are available, the test car did not include this feature. The electrical side of the hybrid system requires no special treatment or maintenance. Notably, Toyota has extended the hybrid-battery warranty from 100,000 miles to 150,000 miles.

2020 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e

Price: $31,005

Engine: Gasoline-electric hybrid, 1.8-liter inline Four with two electric motors, 121 combined horsepower

Transmission: continuously variable automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Weight: 3,220 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 17-in. 5-spoke alloy with titanium-finished inserts

Tires: P215/45R17 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 24.6 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 50.7 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 10.6 gal.

Fuel economy: 52 mpg city, 48 mpg highway

Fuel type: Regular unleaded gasoline

Toyota offers several versions of the Prius, from the base front-wheel-drive Prius L Eco, priced at $24,525, to the XLE AWD-e, which starts at $29,250. With just one option, the Advanced Technology Package ($800), the test car had a sticker price of $31,005.

At this level, the Prius is quite well equipped, beginning with a full range of safety features — Smart Stop technology, pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, dynamic radar cruise control, lane-departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, and even intelligent parking assist. Many of these features are standard even in the lowest-priced model.

Also standard, in the test car, were hands-free Bluetooth phone and music, Apple CarPlay compatibility, heated seats and steering wheel, push-button start, and SofTex-trimmed seats. The front bucket seats are both soft and supportive.

The 2020 Prius received an overall 5-star rating in government crash tests, and the similar 2019 model was rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Competitors include the much-improved Honda Insight and the Hyundai Ioniq hybrid. Neither model has come close to the Prius in annual sales, notwithstanding the fact Prius sales have plummeted from a high of 236,655 in 2012 to 69,718 last year.

Steven Macoy ( is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.