As we reported before, the current generation of Toyota Prius isn't exactly lighting up the sales charts. We get that Prius-lovers want something unique, but it appears Toyota pushed things a bit too far with all the creases, pinched features, and weird front fascia and taillights. Well, for the 2019 model year, Toyota made some changes, the biggest one being the addition of All-Wheel Drive. You read it correctly. Efficiency AND traction in what's still a really ugly car. Hrmm. The question is, will this make much of a difference at all?

prius awd reveal
Here it is in all its, ahem, glory at the 2018 L.A. Auto Show. Note the snowboards. 

Well, Toyota thinks the addition of AWD will get more customers in the door by setting it apart from other hybrids that only offer FWD. After the car debuted at the 2018 L.A. Auto Show, Toyota revealed the least expensive 2019 Prius with the AWD-e system at $27,300 including destination fee. The least expensive 2018 model (FWD only) costs $23,475. That's a $4,175 price difference, which isn't a small sum. 

But AWD-e isn't available on all trims, only the middle two. The lowest trim L Eco and the top trim Limited still have only FWD. The price of adding AWD isn't consistently applied, either: LE (+$1,400), XLE ($1,000). $400 isn't an insignificant amount, but the XLE offers more features overall.

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prius awd rain
AWD will definitely be an advantage in wet weather conditions.

Now to the actual AWD-e system. It has an electric motor that powers the rear wheels, but it's not full-time. The system typically engages at speeds between 0 and 6 mph but will activate when additional traction is needed at speeds up to 43 mph. Efficiency drops from 58 city / 53 highway to 52 city / 48 highway, and 50 mpg combined. That might seem like a small amount, but Prius devotees care... a lot. Will customers give up hypermiling bragging rights for better traction? We've seen Prius drivers, and they can use all the driving skill help they can get. 

The AWD-e will actually utilize a different Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) battery for improved efficiency during temperature extremes. Regular FWD Prius models will continue to use Lithium Ion batteries.

prius awd badge


The system is rather unique in that it's not a typical system that requires a driveshaft from the front wheels to the rear or any differential. The Prius AWD-e uses an independent electric, magnet-less rear motor to power the rear wheels but only when needed, giving the Prius continued great efficiency. What the Prius with AWD-e doesn't get is more ground clearance. So, it'll be better in the wet (and the dry), as well as small amounts of snow, but it will still be a challenge to get around when the white stuff gets deep.

prius awd rear
We're not sure why someone wouldn't choose a car with better ground clearance for snow.

Thankfully, some visual tweaks are made but aren't enough to eschew the 2018's weirdness factor. The front and rear exterior styling changes slightly with a revised front bumper, more conventional headlight design, and a much-needed updated taillight design. Separating AWD-e models from the FWD Prius pack are new foglamps and new LED accent lamps.

Interior changes include new piano black accents on the gearshift surround, on the steering wheel, and on the center console cover. Tech changes include 2.1 USB ports, an bigger Qi wireless phone charging dock, and a heated steering wheel on XLE, XLE AWD-e and Limited models that will come standard. 

prius awd cabin
The interior is still strange to us. At least there's a huge touchscreen.

In its corner the AWD-e Prius does have a rather capacious interior with 62.7 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. That's big for a hatchback. Really big. That's actually larger than the Honda HR-V crossover with 58.8 cubic feet. What's more, Toyota will offer Genuine Toyota Accessory cargo crossbars so you can haul skiis, snowboards, kayaks, etc. to make your Prius look kind of outdoorsy.

Only time will tell if the addition of AWD-e and minor styling changes will send Prius sales north and back into bragging territory. Our guess is that it will move the needle up a bit, but what will really help stem the tide of sliding sales for the model is a total redesign that doesn't look like a neutered spaceship.

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