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Justin Pritchard says the 2020 Toyota Prius AWD-E offers solid ride quality, good performance in the snow, a fantastic lighting system, and is hilariously easy on fuel. (Justin Pritchard)
Favourite attributes of the Prius AWD-E included very good rough-road ride quality and a killer lighting system that wouldn’t look out of place in front of a twice-the-price luxury ride. (Justin Pritchard)
The 2020 Toyota Prius AWD-E's large touch screen dominates the cabin's centre stack area. (Justin Pritchard)
Next time you need to blow your nose, you’ll hopefully go reaching for a Kleenex. It may just be an off-brand tissue of course, but you’ll call it a Kleenex anyways. That’s because Kleenex is the most popular tissue there is.
The Toyota Prius is the most popular hybrid car there is. Like Kleenex, it’s the first thing that pops into most minds when people think about hybrids.
But as popular among hybrids as Prius is, it was long lacking a major feature that many Canadians want: all-wheel drive.
In a move that’ll see more units into more northern driveways, Toyota now offers Prius with a clever AWD-E system for extra winter traction.
Here’s how hybrids like the Prius work.
Think of The Terminator: he’s one part man, one part murderous robot. That is, two very different things joined up to work as one.
That’s the definition of a hybrid, more or less. In fact, the Terminator is a man-machine hybrid, or hybrid for short.
In a hybrid car engine, it’s the same concept, but with a gasoline engine and an electric motor. They’re joined and work as one. This makes the engine a gas-electric hybrid, or hybrid for short.
The electric motor in a hybrid is powered by a battery that recharges itself automatically as you drive around.
In front-drive Prius variants, there’s one electric motor attached to the gas engine up front. The new AWD-E system adds a second electric motor that drives the rear wheels and sits within in the suspension between them. Both motors are fed from the same self-recharging battery. In models with AWD-E, that’s a cold-climate specific battery pack, by the way.
Result? The electric motor pushes the rear wheels while the hybrid engine pulls the front wheels. It’s hybrid all-wheel drive. Those rear wheels are powered immediately at takeoff, meaning a strong and steady initial bite from the first throttle input. From there, the rear wheels can be powered on as as-needed basis up to about 65 km/h — providing plenty of seamless supplemental grip where it’s needed most.
This lets drivers fire the car confidently through snow deep enough to glue down a front-drive. I was also able to repeatedly start off on a driveway so steep and slippery it was hazardous to walk on. Pulling out of a parking lot onto a roadway? Just point the wheel and squeeze the throttle and off you go. Out-accelerating all manner of front-drive car in deep snow never gets old.
Favourite attributes included very good rough-road ride quality and a killer lighting system that wouldn’t look out of place in front of a twice-the-price luxury ride.
Still, the AWD-E system is not for doing snow drifts and those with even a little weight in their right foot will wish for more horsepower.
But if you’re a light-footed driver and a fan of AWD in the winter, you’ll find this setup delivers what you’re looking for.
Existing owners looking to upgrade can expect a Prius-typical drive, but with a good deal more confidence when the going gets greasy.
Model: 2020 Toyota Prius AWD-E
Engine: 1.8L four-cylinder, hybrid, 120 horsepower
Transmission: continually variable transmission (CVT)
Features: LED headlights, automatic lights, heated seats, touch-screen with navigation, heated leather, automatic climate control, push-button ignition, Toyota Safety Sense system
What’s hot: solid ride quality, good performance in the snow, hilariously easy on fuel fantastic lighting system
What’s not: so-so infotainment system graphics, sometimes-noisy engine, won't appeal to sportier drivers
Price as tested: $35,000 (approx.)