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Fuel Efficiency

2021 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With the 2021 XLE AWD-e and other hybrid models, the Toyota Prius is coming of the age of majority. It is in its 21st year and continues as the favorite among gasoline-electric vehicles in the United States, with a total of 2.4 million sold.

When Toyota decided in the late 1990s that Americans were ready for a hybrid, the company gave automotive journalists a taste of the future by lending them right-hand drive Priuses built in Japan, where motorists drive on the left — or correct, as the British like to say — side of the road.

The 2001 Prius came with a 75-horsepower four-cylinder gasoline engine working in concert with a 44-hp electric motor. Together they delivered an EPA fuel economy rating of 52 miles to the gallon in the city and 48 on the highway. City numbers were higher because urban driving made more use of the electric motor.

As this column reported then, customers lined up in droves, with some waiting six months for delivery. Buyers included celebrities, environmental activists, and citizens looking for old-time virtues of cleanliness and economy.

It carried a fairly stiff price for an economy car then of $20,855. Even at that, Toyota at first lost money on every sale. It was one of only two hybrid cars on the market. The other was the Honda Insight, a streamlined two-seater that used a different hybrid system.

Over the years, the Prius proved its mettle, toting up solid credentials for quality of construction, low maintenance, long battery life, and anvil-like reliability.

Now, for 2021, Toyota adds all-wheel drive. It’s called the Prius AWD-e Hybrid. Tested for this review was the SEL trim level, which carries a base price of $30,570, including the destination charge. With an advanced technology package that included a color head-up display, adaptive front lighting, and auto-leveling headlights, the bottom-line sticker came to $31,629.

Standard equipment includes modern safety equipment of automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping warning and assist, and adaptive cruise control.

The AWD-e still carries some of the funky styling and other touches that have always been a Prius characteristic. With its split rear window and additional busy styling, along with the rear headrests, the AWE-e has severely limited rear vision through the inside rear-view mirror. So it’s essential to adjust the outside mirrors correctly to eliminate the big blind spots.

Overall, however, the AWE-e now resembles a handsome fastback with a rear hatch that provides access to 25 cubic feet of cargo space. It also continues with the Prius signature instruments nestling in the top center of the dash, perhaps to make it easier to build this Prius with either left-hand or right-hand drive for different markets.

But most drivers would likely prefer not to have to look toward the middle of the dash while underway. On the tested SEL, the head-up display negated some of that with hybrid system information.

Despite the location, the instruments and the seven-inch center infotainment screen are easy to decipher. The tested SEL came with SXM satellite radio, Bluetooth capability, USB connectivity, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa compatibility.

There’s plenty of space for four passengers, though as usual, the center-rear unfortunate gets disrespected. But the AWD-e has decent ride quality, so complaints from the back seat should be pretty rare.

The power train is quintessentially Prius: a 1.8-liter gasoline engine mated to a 71-hp electric motor. Overall, the system delivers 121 hp and 120 lb-ft of torque. A separate small electric motor drives the AWE-e’s rear wheels. Toyota’s smooth continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which uses planetary gears instead of the more typical belts and pulleys, transmits the power.

On the highway, the tester cruised serenely, with little intrusion of mechanical, road, or wind noise. The exception was during hard acceleration, which elicited loud grating noises from the gasoline engine.

The AWD-e is no stoplight drag racer, taking nearly 10 seconds to reach 60 mph from rest. But it feels responsive in traffic and, likely because of the modest power common to most Priuses, encourages drivers to hammer their little hybrids to the limit. 

Every motorist has seen a Prius driver bolt from a stoplight, pedal to the metal, to stay ahead of traffic — and never mind the cost in fuel economy. That’s the way it goes.


  • Model: 2021 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e Hybrid four-door hatchback.
  • Engine/motor: 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with 71 hp electric motor; total system 121 hp, 120 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 93/25 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,300 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 51/47/49 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $30,570.
  • Price as tested: $31,629.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Toyota

2017 Toyota Prius Three: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Although it continues to be a pokey performer against most other passenger cars, the 2017 Toyota Prius hybrid sparkles on ride and handling, safety, comfort and—most important to its buyers—fuel economy.

It is the most successful hybrid in history with more than 1.7 million sold in the United States since 1999. In 2016, sales totaled 136,632, down from 184,794 in 2015 as low gasoline prices prompted buyers to gravitate toward pickup trucks and more fuel-hungry automobiles.

2016_Toyota_Prius_Four_Touring_02_54CECFE89DE5799B719C2EAF21ECC6C6629C98A8Manufacturers, however, know that the price pendulum is likely to swing back, so they continue to develop more fuel efficient vehicles—from installing small displacement gasoline engines with improved power to developing more hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric and even hydrogen-fueled cars.

Though it had a major overhaul a year ago, the 2017 model adds notable improvements that make it the best Prius ever. For one thing, it has a new independent rear suspension system that noticeably delivers a better ride and handling.

It also comes standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense package that includes forward collision warning with emergency braking and pedestrian detection, lane departure mitigation, adaptive radar cruise control and automatic headlight high beams.

2016_Toyota_Prius_Four_Touring_01_AAF3DB5F2B355991BFED40260A08D0B3A9EFBED5Perhaps as important for anyone who has driven an earlier Prius with leisurely—some would say sluggish—acceleration, the tested 2017 Prius Three model comes with driver selectable motoring modes: Eco, Normal and Power.

Though the zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration time hovers around the 10-second mark — nothing to brag about — punching the Power button changes the Prius’s personality. When you press the accelerator pedal, it focuses all the power from the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and two electric motor-generators on getting a quick leap off the line.

The gear-driven continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) feels more connected as it sends the combined gasoline-electric 121 hp to the front wheels. Though you likely could get the same acceleration in the Eco or Normal modes if you floored the gas pedal, the Power mode feels faster without that effort.

2016_Toyota_Prius_Four_Touring_20_FEE01BFAD36558F540C52B796CBE1BF649CEFD85There are six trim levels: Prius Two; Two Eco; Three; Three Touring; and Four Touring. All arrive with the Toyota Safety Sense system as well as a rear-view camera, automatic climate control, keyless entry and starting, Bluetooth connectivity, voice recognition with Siri hands-free and a six-speaker audio system with a CD player.

The tested Three, with a base price of $27,600, also came with a wireless phone-charging pad, Toyota’s Entune infotainment system with a seven-inch touch screen, satellite and HD radio, and access to apps like Pandora and iHeart radio when paired with a smart phone.

2016_Toyota_Prius_Four_Touring_23_BE7056CC857683DB0C36C4741BE0034035103CEFWith options that included a motorized glass sunroof, color head-up display, navigation system and a cargo net, the tester had a sticker price of $30,186.

In a clever bit of engineering and styling, the Three combined alloy wheels with plastic wheel covers that looked as if they were part of the wheel itself.

Inside, the tested Prius featured white accents and an attractive as well as comfortable textured cloth upholstery. Cloth seating surfaces are always the choice here because they offer cool seating in the summer and warmth in the winter, obviating the need for such expensive add-ons as the heated and cooled seats needed for perforated leather upholstery.

2016_Toyota_Prius_Four_Touring_03_C1B3C5A53F5DE658B1632893021A0DC3BF624913With passenger space of 92 cubic feet and 25 cubic feet for cargo under the rear hatch — expandable to 66 cubic feet if the rear seatbacks are folded — the Prius Three is classified by the government as a midsize car. Up front, the seats are comfortable and supportive with enough manual adjustments, along with a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, to accommodate almost any driver. There’s also ample space and comfort in the outboard back seats. The center-rear position is hampered by a small floor hump and a high, hard cushion — though it is usable for short trips.

Though the Prius is unlikely to be bested in popularity any time soon because of its enviable record of durability and reliability, other automakers have mounted serious challenges. One of the more formidable is the all-new Hyundai Ioniq. It is shorter by three inches than the Prius but boasts slightly more interior room — a large-car total of 123 cubic feet versus the Prius’s 117 cubic feet — the Ioniq delivers 139 combined horsepower and slightly better city/highway/combined fuel economy: 55/54/55 compared to the tested Prius’s 54/50/52. However, the Prius Eco model is rated at 58/53/56.


  • Model: 2017 Toyota Prius Three hybrid four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Engine/Motors:8-liter four-cylinder gasoline, 95 hp, 105 lb-ft torque; two electric motor/generators; 121 hp combined. 0.7 kWh lithium-ion battery pack.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 92/25 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,120 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 54/50/52 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,600.
  • Price as tested: $30,186.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2016_Toyota_Prius_Four_Touring_10_AAE9E5026F0118D0FD09E2B9C088B827F27B8471Photos (c) Toyota.

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As alternative power trains proliferate, South Korea’s biggest carmaker goes all in on a trifecta: the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq with hybrid, plug-in hybrid and dedicated electric models.

Depending on the consumer response and government fuel economy requirements, the payoff could be substantial. Whatever; the choices deliver a win for the motoring public.

The Ioniq is an all-new four-door hatchback from the South Korean manufacturer. Its name comes from ion, an electrically charged particle, and unique, or one of a kind.


By itself, the Ioniq doesn’t qualify as unique. But a manufacturer that develops three different motive forces for a single car certainly qualifies as special. Honda has done something similar with its new Clarity, which comes as a pure electric, plug-in hybrid and as a fuel cell electric that uses hydrogen fuel.

Because the three variants are being phased in separately, the emphasis at the Ioniq introduction was on the electric and hybrid models. The plug-in hybrid differs from a standard hybrid because, with a fully charged battery pack, it can be driven up to 27 miles on electric power alone. A standard hybrid runs on electricity and gasoline, with only short bursts of pure electric power.

For owners whose daily driving consists mainly of short trips, it would be possible to avoid many stops for gasoline, as long as the plug-in was plugged in regularly. Range anxiety, however, is not a problem; once the battery pack is discharged, the Ioniq plug-in runs on its gasoline engine.


The Ioniq electric has a range of 124 miles, which the EPA works out to 136 miles per gallon equivalent of a gasoline-engine car. It delivers instant power off the line, cruises silently except for some road noise, and has capable handling and good road feel.

Its disadvantage is that an owner who wants to take a trip must plan the route to take advantage of charging stations—or at least places to stay where the Ioniq electric can be recharged overnight.

The electric and plug-in models come with a dual port for charging from a standard 110-volt outlet or a fast-charging 240-volt charger. Full charging time with the fast charger is two hours, 30 minutes for the plug-in and four hours 25 minutes for the electric.

The hybrid is likely to be the big seller. It incorporates a 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with a 32-kilowatt electric motor. Combined, they deliver 139 horsepower. Driven for this review was the Limited model.


Unlike some other hybrids that use continuously variable automatic transmissions, which have no shift points, the Ioniq comes equipped with a six-speed dual clutch automated manual transmission, which provides rapid shifts up or down and delivers city/highway/combined fuel economy of 55/54/55 miles per gallon.

There’s a driver-selectable sport mode, which enhances performance by shifting the transmission at higher engine revolutions. It also delivers a heftier feel to the steering. Of course, increased performance comes with reduced fuel economy.

Hyundai claims that the base Ioniq model, called the Blue, is the most fuel-efficient hybrid on the market. Its city/highway/combined rating is 57/59/58 miles to the gallon.


The hybrid also consolidates a standard 12-volt battery, used for lights and accessories, into the hybrid battery pack. If it dies, you simply touch the “12-volt battery reset” button and you’re on your way. No calling for a jump start.

Depending on the model, the Ioniq comes with advanced safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert. Also offered are Blue Link connectivity, Apple Car Play, Android Auto and wireless smart phone charging.

The Ioniq is being marketed as a compact, though generous cargo space of 27 cubic feet under the hatchback bump its interior volume into the large car class. Its total volume is 123 cubic feet; any car with more than 120 cubic feet is classified by the EPA as large.

But the Ioniq belies that classification and, at four inches shy of 15 feet, looks and feels more like a compact. There’s plenty of elbow and headroom up front, but the outboard back seats are tight on head and knee room. The center rear position, as on most cars these days, is an uncomfortable perch and a small hump intrudes on foot space.

Prices range from $23,035 to $31,335 for the hybrid and $30,855 to $36,835 for the electric, including the destination charge. The electric qualifies for federal and state tax incentives.



  • Model: 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid Limited four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Power:6-liter four-cylinder gasoline with 32kW electric motor; 139 combined hp.
  • Transmission: Six-speed dual clutch automated manual.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 96/27 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,172 pounds
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 55/54/55 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,335.
  • Price as tested: $28,335.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.


Photos (c) Hyundai

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The best thing about the 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid is that it’s a Honda Accord.

That means that it comes with all of the good stuff that has made the Accord a favorite for 40 years, starting with a compact two-door hatchback in 1976 that was so revolutionary early buyers were willing to pay well over the sticker price just to get one.

The 2017 model is the ninth generation, grown to a roomy midsize sedan or coupe that exudes quality, class and reliability—and in the tested Touring version, verges on near-luxury status at a popular price.

First-Generation 1976 Honda Accord

All Accord models deliver safety, with a five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a Top Safety Pick Plus crash worthiness rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Though they would not qualify as sports sedans, Accords have capable performance and handling, a quiet, comfortable ride and fatigue-free long distance cruising. The combination of attributes has enabled the Accord to make Car and Driver Magazine’s annual 10 Best list 30 times.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid

Early on, Honda developed hybrid technology that was elegant in its simplicity. Its Insight and Civic hybrid models came with low powered four-cylinder engines boosted by small pancake electric motors to boost power when needed.

Though the system worked fine, it was eventually abandoned after being overshadowed by the more complicated but surprisingly reliable Toyota hybrid system that led to more than a million sales of the Prius in the U.S.

Designing its new Hybrid, Honda engineers were shooting for the magic number of 50 miles to the gallon. With ever stricter U.S. government testing, they fell slightly short of the goal, ending up with a city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 49/47/48 mpg.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid

It’s part of a push by the Japanese manufacturer to expand its range of alternative fueled vehicles, including hybrids, plug-in hybrids, fuel cell and battery-powered electrics.

The 2017 Accord Hybrid uses a system with a 143-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine working with two electric motors. The total system is rated at 212 hp. A small lithium ion battery pack in the trunk supplies the electric power yet allows nearly 14 cubic feet of space for cargo.

In addition to the 2017 Hybrid, you can order the new Accord with standard four-cylinder or V6 power, and that’s where things get interesting. With continuing low gasoline prices, it’s hard to make a pure economic case for the Hybrid over at least one of its garage mates.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid

The tested Hybrid Touring, fully equipped, came with a sticker price of $36,790. That’s $5,285 more than a comparably equipped four-cylinder EXL-Navi at $31,505 and $1,275 more than a V-6 Touring model at $35,515. All three are top-of-the line with the Honda Sensing system that includes collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation, lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control.

The four-cylinder Accord’s city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 27/37/31 mpg with the V6 at 21/34/26.

Using a formula of gasoline at $2.50 a gallon and 12,000 miles a year of driving, an owner of a four-cylinder Accord could drive 15.4 years

before his fuel costs exceeded that $5,285 saving over the Hybrid. With the V6, it would take 2.4 years to use up the saving of $1,275.

So it’s likely that the Accord Hybrid will be more attractive to technology enthusiasts and environmentally conscious motorists looking to conserve natural resources. Economy minded buyers with sharp pencils likely would gravitate toward the four-cylinder Accord.

Nevertheless, with a base price of $30,440, the Accord Hybrid looks attractive. The price is around $4,000 less than the current average transaction price of a new car. The base car comes with all the same mechanicals as the tested Touring model, along with pushbutton and remote starting, Honda’s Lane Watch camera that eliminates right-side blind spots, Bluetooth connectivity, power driver’s seat and LED daytime and taillights.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid

The $33,740 EX-L model adds Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, HD and SXM radio, leather upholstery, a motorized sunroof and heated seats. The top-line Touring adds navigation, parking sensors and LED headlights, among other things.

The main Accord drawback is the paucity of buttons and switches. Most functions are controlled through the seven-inch touch screen in the center stack. It’s distracting to have to focus on the screen, touch and slide to do simple functions like tune the radio. The aggravation is mitigated somewhat by some redundant controls on the steering wheel.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid


  • Model: 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring four-door sedan.
  • Engines:0-liter four-cylinder, 143 hp, 129 lb-ft torque; two electric motors, 181 hp, 232 lb-ft torque. Total system 212 hp.
  • Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic (CVT) with sport mode.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 101/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,536 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 49/47/48 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $36,790.
  • Price as tested: $36,790.

Photos (c) Honda.


Why Fuel Efficiency Hasn’t Changed Much…

by Tod Mesirow

Most people think about their car’s mileage only when they get to the gas station, and realize they have to spend money for the privilege of sitting in traffic on the highway or in one of our clogged cities. Unless you’re a hypermiler, that rare denizen of driving with one purpose in mind: To squeeze the maximum mileage out of every sip in every tank of gas. If you’re not –like most of us aren’t — you may still wonder why we don’t have a car that gets 100 miles per gallon.

Hear Tod’s story on KCRW.

Photo (c) Toyota

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