The 2019 Toyota Prius gets all-wheel drive

The Prius is now ready for winter weather.

2019 Toyota Prius
The 2019 Toyota Prius. –Toyota

The 2019 Toyota Prius gets a minor refresh with one major change: Until now, you could only buy the Prius with front-wheel drive. Toyota has finally added all-wheel drive as an option, so the Prius gets great fuel economy and winter capability.

Toyota also renamed the trim range to better match the rest of its lineup. Instead of the old numerical trim levels, there’s now the L Eco, LE, XLE, and Limited. The best fuel economy comes from the L Eco, which is front-wheel drive only. It gets a Toyota-estimated 58 miles per gallon in the city, 53 on the highway, and 56 combined.

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The rest of the front-wheel drive trims still get great fuel economy with a Toyota-estimated 54 miles per gallon in the city, 50 on the highway, and 52 combined. Fuel economy usually drops with all-wheel drive due to the extra weight it adds, but the drop is a small one in the Prius.

The Prius with all-wheel drive is available only in the LE and XLE trims, which get a Toyota-estimated 52 miles per gallon in the city, 48 on the highway, and 50 combined. This makes it one of the most fuel-efficient all-wheel drive vehicles money can buy. Sure, there’s an increased fuel cost, but it will be worth it during the next nor’easter.

Toyota calls the all-wheel drive system AWD-e; the “e” stands for “electric.” There is no center differential or front-to-rear driveshaft. Instead, it has an independent, magnet-less electric motor that powers the rear wheels only when needed in order to maintain better fuel economy.

The all-wheel drive motor kicks in only from zero to 6 miles per hour and then again as needed at speeds up to 43 miles per hour. It’s a little different than what’s found in other all-wheel drive vehicles where all-wheel drive is available at any speed. This limited activation is designed to provide that extra power when you need it most while preserving fuel economy.

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Boston.com Dealer Specials:

Power for the Prius continues to come from a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with two electric motors and a continuously variable automatic transmission. There’s 121 combined system horsepower, which isn’t a big number. That’s OK because the Prius isn’t about winning races. It’s laser-focused on providing the best fuel economy possible.

Although it looks at first glance like a sedan, the Prius is a five-door hatchback. The benefit is greater flexibility for cargo and a low load floor that makes putting heavy objects in back easier. There’s up to 27.4 cubic feet for cargo behind the 60/40 split-folding rear seats or up to 65.5 cubic feet with the seats down.

The Prius gets strong ratings with an overall five stars in crash-testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In addition to those positive results, it comes with standard Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) with pre-collision with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, and full-speed dynamic radar cruise control.

More bells and whistles include Entune audio with a 6.1-inch touchscreen and six speakers as a standard feature. The top Limited trim gets an available JBL audio system with 10 speakers, navigation, and a large 11.6-inch touchscreen.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are notably missing, though. Toyota only recently started rolling out Apple CarPlay to its models with no plans for Android Auto on any model. Neither is yet available in the Prius, unfortunately.

Pricing starts at $23,770 for the L Eco up to $32,200 for the Limited with front-wheel drive. In the middle are the LE at $24,980 and XLE at $27,820. Add $1,400 to the LE or $1,000 to the XLE for all-wheel drive.

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The 2019 Toyota Prius has always been an appealing car for its fantastic hybrid fuel economy, but the lack of all-wheel drive was often a deal breaker here in New England — until now. It’s due to arrive in dealerships in January 2019.