There were significant changes in the 2010 redesign of the Prius, resulting in a sleeker car. The coefficient of drag was reduced to 0.25 from 0.26, enabling the Prius to continue its rein as one of the world's most slippery passenger cars. It's about half an inch longer, all in the cowl, a result of A-pillars that are moved forward to radically rake the windshield; and about 3/4-inch wider. The roof is the same height, but its apex was moved back 3.9 feet, smoothing the aerodynamic wedge. It's got a discreet double hump that adds character and curiosity.
The upper grille opening is smaller and tidier to more efficiently move air over the hood. A new lip over the rear deck not only improves air flow, it eliminates the chopped-off-tail look of the previous Prius. The fender arches are a bit more aggressive, almost bulkier looking, but they reflect additional aero improvement. The bumpers are sharper and squarer at the corners than before. You can't see the underbody covers with splitters, but they too are part of the aerodynamic scheme, to achieve that 0.25 Cd.
The blue-tinted headlights are elegant wraparound trapezoids, with optional LED lenses consuming 17-percent less battery power. There's a styling tweak, like a wave or a lip or, with a stretch of the imagination, a lightning bolt at the top, and it works, to deliver distinction. The taillights are standard LED, reducing power draw by 88 percent.
The rear wiper is huge, and effective in keeping rain off all that glass back there. The matt black trim around the windows on the Prius II and III trim levels doesn't do much to complement the car; the satin black finish on the Prius IV and V is nicer.
The Prius interior is satisfying, at least with the optional leather we tested. There's a nice cozy cockpit feeling in the driver's seat, nestled by a stylish center console that runs from dashboard to between the seats at a gentle slope. The CVT shift lever is located there, just ahead of the world's easiest-to-reach cubby. Inconveniently, the seat-heater button is located on the floor under the console, as if they ran out of wire and it couldn't reach.
The front seats are comfortable with good bolstering and adjustability. The trim looks nice, ecologically friendly plastic made of plant-derived resin with excellent recycling characteristics. The upper and lower gloveboxes hold a magnificent 12 liters.
There's 36 inches of rear legroom, not bad at all, and the 60/40 split rear seats have a folding center armrest with two cupholders, for when there's not a third passenger back there.
When the seats are dropped flat, there's nearly 39.6 cubic feet of cargo volume, easily accessible through the big liftgate. We hauled seven 16-inch wheels shod with Dunlop racing tires in the back. The eighth had to ride in the front seat, but we were impressed with the cargo capacity.
And there's another 2 cubic feet in the tray for tools and laptops, hiding under the floor of the cargo area. The compact spare tire is another level down. A tonneau cover for the cargo area is standard.
There's good forward visibility even over the long dashboard, stretched by the steeply sloped windshield, although, as with other aero cars (the Honda Fit comes to mind), you can't see the front corners. And visibility out the rear glass is compromised by the aerodynamically sloped roofline and the bar that separates the two pieces of glass.
The four-spoke steering wheel with many controls is interesting and not ugly. It's fun to watch the multi-function display of the instrument panel, although the novelty might wear off. On a 5-inch screen, there are graphs and images, including an Energy Monitor, displaying the battery charge in real time; a Hybrid System Indicator that reveals the efficiency of your driving technique; fuel mileage in 1- or 5-mile increments; past fuel mileage; and a Touch Tracer Display that projects steering-wheel-control information upward so you can keep your eyes on the road. Curiously, the USB port isn't standard equipment.