$8,393 - $9,631

2011 Toyota Prius Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2011 Toyota Prius was new.


Performance: 8.2

The first thing reviewers will tell you about the 2011 Toyota Prius is that it isn’t a sports car, and its performance is easily topped by gasoline-only cars.

The Toyota Prius’ greatest strength is its fuel economy ratings of 51/48 mpg city/highway that surpass hybrid and gasoline cars in this price range. To help drivers maximize mileage, the Prius allows drivers to choose one of three driving modes, each of which offers different performance characteristics and efficiency figures: Eco, the most fuel-efficient, Normal, and Power, the least efficient. 

  • "The Prius has not been transformed into a sport sedan, but it's no longer a penalty box to drive." -- Automobile Magazine
  • "Part of the Prius's driving success comes from its new three-setting drive mode selector. Drivers can choose Eco Mode, which slows down response from the throttle; Power Mode, which speeds up that response; and Normal Mode, which sits somewhere between the two." -- Jalopnik
  • "Toyota says that the new Prius is more fun and sportier. And no, I don't know what they are smoking. The car feels like the same humble, humming people pod, only lacquered with a bit more confidence and esprit." -- Los Angeles Times
  • "Toyota says the new car completed the government's test cycle with an economy rating of 51 m.p.g. in city driving and 48 m.p.g. on the highway. Combined mileage came out at an industry-leading 50 m.p.g. In much of the nation these days, you can fill the Prius's 11.9-gallon tank for less than $20. But get this: in my road testing of the new Prius, I managed 69 m.p.g. That happened on a 34-mile route of mostly stop-and-go driving, at an average speed of 27 m.p.h." -- New York Times
  • "The hybrid, officially rated at 50 mpg, performed well and delivered better-than-expected fuel economy. In fact, when we pushed the car's eco prowess by using the EV mode as much as possible and employing a few other tricks, we blew that EPA estimate out of the water by almost 15 mpg. And we weren't alone....In all, about half of the journalists were able to get over 70 mpg, while the rest, save two, were able to get more than 66 mpg." -- Autoblog
  • "We took a number of other trips, and the only time we didn't get 50 mpg or better was on one 12-mile uphill stretch in the mountains with no A/C. That particular trip also happened in a Prius with larger, 17-inch wheels that engineers said would return 5 percent worse mileage than the standard 15-inch wheels." -- Cars.com

Acceleration and Power

The 2011 Prius is powered by a 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder engine and a 60-kilowatt electric motor. This powertrain produces 134 horsepower and 105 pound-feet of torque, which exceeds the Honda Insight’s 98 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. The Prius, however, is less powerful than the Toyota Camry Hybrid and the Ford Fusion Hybrid. Combined, the Fusion Hybrid’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motor pump 191 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque, while the Camry Hybrid has 147 horsepower and 138 pound-feet of torque. But their power comes at a cost; both have lower fuel economy ratings of 41/36 mpg city/highway and 31/35 mpg city/highway, respectively.

The Prius will never be a sports car, but it will always prioritize fuel economy. The Prius doesn’t disappoint in this arena. The EPA says it gets an average of 51/48 mpg city/highway, which is the best mileage for a gasoline-run car in this price range.

Prius owners have the option of selecting more or less power depending on current needs because there are three driving modes -- Eco, Power, and Normal. In Eco mode, the car is most fuel-efficient, but accelerates more slowly than most four-cylinder midsize cars. In power mode, it is least efficient, but quicker away from a stoplight. EV mode, which turns off the gasoline engine completely and operates on battery power alone, is available only at 25 mph or less. In cold weather, EV mode is often unavailable. But it is useful for navigating parking lots without using any gas. The Honda Insight offers similar driving modes.

Drivers can page between several displays in the instrument cluster that aim to coach you toward more fuel-efficient driving.

  • "Initial full-throttle acceleration from a stop is mediocre at best, but the pace picks up quickly and increases steadily thereafter. Toyota claims the 0-60-mph time dropped from 10.5 seconds to 9.8, and the difference can be felt; Prius is now at least competitive with other 4-cylinder midsize cars.  What's most impressive, however, is its mid-speed throttle response. While it's not particularly strong, it is nearly instantaneous." -- Consumer Guide
  • "As the road grew curvier and climbed farther up into the hills, the Prius did not stumble. The give-and-take between internal combustion and electric power was far less apparent than before, and the car actually seemed eager to gobble up the tarmac." -- Automobile Magazine
  • "There's still a slight hesitation when you lift your foot off the brake and start to accelerate, as the engine kicks on, but getting up to speed doesn't take noticeably longer than it does in other four-cylinder Toyotas, like the Corolla." -- Cars.com
  • "The net horsepower from the new power train comes out to 134, over the older model's 110, which you can feel during hill climbs and acceleration at speed. Toyota claims a 0 to 60 mph time of 9.8 seconds for the new model. It's hardly a drastic change in power over the old car, but it is usable." -- CNET

Handling and Braking

Like most hybrids, the 2011 Prius uses electrically-assisted steering. Many reviewers dislike these systems, saying they lack the road feel most drivers are accustomed to from hydraulically-assisted steering systems. The 2011 Prius’ electric steering system receives positive reviews. While the larger wheels come with a slight fuel economy penalty, most reviewers say they give the car more grip, and lower levels of road noise, which makes the added investment worthwhile.

The Prius uses regenerative braking, recapturing braking energy to recharge its batteries. Reviewers say the result is a soft pedal feel, but braking performance is still strong. However, that’s nothing unique to this car -- many hybrids use regenerative braking, and recevied the same complaint.

  • "As a whole, the Prius, which now rides on a version of the midsize car platform shared with the Camry and the Lexus EX and RX, handles more like a real car and less like a science project." -- New York Times
  • "When equipped with 17-inch wheels, the body control and steering are on par with most European mid-size hatches." -- Jalopnik
  • "Unfortunately, the wobbly handling is still in full force with the new Prius. It makes no claims to sporting performance." -- CNET
  • "The biggest revelation was the Prius's electric-power steering, which was direct and accurate, making the car easy to place in corners. Although it's still lacking in feel and communicativeness, it's a major advance over the outgoing car's disconnected setup." -- Automobile Magazine
  • "The front MacPherson struts and improved body rigidity keep the ride smooth around town and on the highway. Overall, it's the same commuter-friendly conveyance you'd expect." -- Autoblog
  • "Braking will still feel odd if you're not used to driving a hybrid. Like most hybrids, the Prius employs regenerative braking. That means when you hit the brakes the hybrid system captures energy as the car slows down and sends it to the battery, recharging it. That's one of the reasons you get such great mileage. Unfortunately, you can feel this happen when you apply the brake. There's a slight squish, then the brakes kick in with relatively good grip. After that initial squish, the brakes are actually more responsive than recent Toyotas I've tested, including the non-hybrid Venza crossover." -- Cars.com
  • "The ride is also quite comfortable, and for [2011], the Prius' structure is tauter, resulting in a less flimsy feel when the car is driven over road imperfections. Another pleasant improvement is the electric steering system, which feels more substantial and better connected to the front tires while still being user-friendly in parking lots." -- Edmunds

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