2021 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e Hybrid

Look for our upcoming video review of the 2021 Toyota Prius XLE AWD on our Queer4Cars YouTube Channel. Please like and subscribe to the channel.

Two decades ago, and yes that is a long time ago!  At the turn of the 21st century, Toyota brought to market the first viable hybrid-powered car, the Toyota Prius.  Combining an internal combustion engine with a battery-powered electric motor. In essence, Toyota really started what we know today as the electrified car market.

First generation Toyota Prius
The first-generation Toyota Prius from Toyota media.

Hated by auto enthusiasts as much as it has been embraced by consumers and owners, the Prius is a car that is available in over 90 different markets around the world, with the USA and Japan being the largest consumers of these highly fuel-efficient vehicles.  And understandably so, with our experiencing 50-plus miles per gallon during our seven-day media review of the vehicle.

2021 Toyota Prius XLE AWD in Classic Silver Metalic
2021 Toyota Prius XLE AWD in Classic Silver Metalic

We spent a week in a 2021 XLE AWD-e model to see what it was like. Note: we reviewed one in 2017 check out that review here on Queer4Cars.

Styling

When the Prius first came to the US Market in the year 2000 it was a dull-looking little four-door sedan. Since that time it has taken on a very aerodynamic, almost spaceship-like exterior design, with seating for up to five passengers, four comfortably, and plenty of cargo space, as the Prius is now a hatchback, or a small station wagon, the sedan (four-doors and a trunk) have since been discontinued.

Left rear side view of a 2021 Toyota Prius
The aerodynamic styling of the 2021 Prius helps make it the fuel economy master. Though it is a bit too spaceship-like for some.

The 2021 XLE model we drove has a time-tested exterior design, a little out there for my taste, but it stands out in the crowd, and you know that it is a Prius. Unlike so many other cars that you wonder what model or brand you are looking at.   We found the four doors easy to get in and out of the vehicle, and the hatch very ample for carrying various cargo, including luggage for two full-size adult men.

Powertrain

2021 toyota prius engine compartment
Prius hybrid powertrain features a 1.8-L 4-cyl gasoline engine and a hybrid synergy drive system

Here is where the Prius stands out, with the hybrid Synergy Drive System, a 1.8-liter double overhead cam 16-valve, four-cylinder engine mated to an electrical all-wheel-drive system.  The Prius we drove had EV, ECO, and Power Modes.  The transmission stalk is located on the dash to the left of center and provided plenty of on-demand power when we needed it.  Fuel economy range was from the 40s to 56 miles per gallon, with a posted 51 City, 47 highway, and 49 MPG overall.   The hybrid is most efficient around town or on the highway at posted highway speeds.  I tested that out.

On the first leg of our 700-mile trip, I drove at or just above the posted speed limits, as I normally do when driving on a highway trip. This resulted in 56 miles per gallon, which was excellent with today’s fuel prices. On the return trip, I hightailed it, or should I say went above the speed limit, thus resulting in only 50 miles per gallon. That is a considerable drop of six miles per gallon.

The Prius is best at providing high miles per gallon running around town or driving like a sane person on the highway. Though I think I am sane, some others may not be so sure.

Technology

2021 Toyota Prius wireless charging pad
2021 Toyota Prius wireless charging pad

Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 includes pre-collision, system with pedestrian detection, Intelligent Clearance Sonar with intelligent park assist, dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams Road Sign Alert, Blind Spot Monitor with rear cross-traffic alert.

And of course most important to our overall experience is the fact that it has a wireless charging pad in the center console. Which more cars should offer at a size that fits modern phones.

I was pleased to find a wireless charging pad that fit my smartphone and case. Though we did find it to be quite slow at charging, and that if you choose to plug your phone into the regular USB port the device will charge faster.

Interior

toyota prius center driver dash display
The driver display of the Prius is in the center of the dash, unlike many other cars.

While this is Toyota’s top-of-the-line XLE trim, it was not all leathered and burled walnuted out.  The piano black plastic finishes were tasteful and comfortable to the touch as are the SofTex-trimmed heated front seats, and the 60/40 split-folding rear seat.  That includes a fold-down center armrest with two cup holders. For the rear passengers, there are more bottle holders on the door panes and two USB outlets at the rear of the center front console.  The only thing that I could find fault with on the interior was the comfort of the front seats. Both of us traveling felt that the seats were not supportive enough and that we found ourselves uncomfortable in them after about an hour.

The one thing that stands out with the interior design of the Prius is the center driver’s dash display. While this model did have the Advanced Technology Package an $800 option that included a color heads-up display or HUD, projected on the windscreen above the steering wheel.  I could not find out how to really adjust it to fit where my eyes were looking to make it the most ergonomic for me. 

The center display screen of the Prius
The center display screen of the Prius provides access to audio, phone and apps. Navigation comes from your mobile device once it is wired into the USB outlet.

The center stack below the driver’s gauges has a 7-inch touchscreen that controls the audio, and many of the various functions within the vehicle. It also displays the map when connected via a cord to your mobile device.  Below that is a separate HVAC controller, and below that are the controls for the transmission. A separate P button for park a stalk for Reverse Neutral and Drive, as well as a B function that seems to provide more power to the battery when engaged.

This vehicle like most today is activated by a remote key fob that once in the car lets it know that you can push the start button to begin operation.

Cargo Area

The nice thing about this vehicle is that it is a hatchback with plenty of cargo area. I was able to load it with a bunch of plants from the garden center. And with the $259 optional all-weather cargo and floor mats, complete with a leaf imprinted on it, worked out well, and helped keep the car clean from tracked-in dirt and debris.

Overall Thoughts

Love or hate the Prius. My thoughts are that it is a pretty darn good little car. Though it is showing its age with some of the technology that it offers. Though high mileage and fuel economy will never go out of style. The design is a little far out for me, but in general, it was a great car for getting us and our gear to and from a long-distance event, and cost very little in fuel. The only downside we could really find was the comfort of the seats, though that is a familiar complaint across the board on Toyota vehicles. 

2021 Toyota Prius rear
Plenty of rear glass and tail lights on the Prius

Styling is a bit far out for me, though Toyota does offer the hybrid system in the more conventionally styled Toyota Corolla which has a classic look. Toyota really is the pioneer in hybrid technology, and most other brands have maybe one or two at the most hybrid models. While the hybrid is available in most of the other Toyota models as well. 

Would I buy a Prius?  If I had the need to drive enough miles where fuel economy mattered as if I were commuting back and forth. Yes, but I can tell you I would not be one of those annoying Prius drivers in the Left Lane going the speed limit.

Words and Images by William West Hopper

William West Hopper at the National Press Club in Washington DC
William West Hopper opening a Washington Automotive Press Association Meeting at the National Press Club in Washington DC.

Mr. Hopper is a life-long automotive enthusiast and has been producing reviews of cars for the last half-decade, while before that he wrote various pieces for local enthusiast publications.  You can find Mr. Hopper giving VIP Tours at the Washington DC Auto Show each year, or online on various social platforms like Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, and more.  He is the President Emeritus of the Washington Automotive Press Association and a member of the International Automotive Press Association.


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