For the 2019 model year, the Toyota Prius is getting a few updates — updated looks, a couple new paint colors, and a renaming and slight shuffling of the trim levels. Most important, though, Toyota has announced that the model will get an all-wheel-drive version called the Prius AWD-e, which the automaker expects could make up a quarter of U.S. Prius sales going forward.
The AWD-e system uses an electric motor to independently power the rear wheels, providing the car with better traction and stability without the need for anything resembling a center differential. It engages automatically from 0 to 6 miles per hour, then engages as needed at speeds up to 43 mph. The rest of the time, the unit disengages to save energy. As such, the Prius AWD-e is rated at 52 mpg city / 48 mpg highway / 50 mpg combined. (For comparison, the front-drive-only 2019 Prius is expected to get 58/53/56 mpg in L Eco trim, and 54/50/52 mpg across the rest of the range.)
The battery the all-wheel-drive Prius uses differs from the lithium-ion pack currently used by the rest of the lineup. Seeing as it’s more likely to be bought across the Snow Belt, the AWD-e returns to a nickel-metal hydride chemistry — offering improved cold-weather performance — in its newly designed pack. The battery pack sits under the rear seat, but doesn’t affect the car’s 65.5 cubic feet max storage capacity.
Toyota is moving away from the numeric nomenclature for the various trim levels of the Prius, and adopting the labels L Eco, LE, XLE and Limited. The AWD-e will be available in LE and XLE trims.
The 2019 Prius gets some visual updates, as well. The big differences are up front where the lighting gets streamlined, and is more subtly integrated into the surrounding bodywork. The rear lighting is all new, ditching the wild angles for a more conservative shape, with a more rectangular element underscored by a swooping, horizontal brake light extending onto the trunk. While the overall look of the car changes little, those tweaks make it look much more approachable. Finally, Toyota is offering two new exterior colors for 2019: Supersonic Red and Electric Storm Blue.
The 2019 Prius and Prius AWD-e still use the familiar 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine, electric motors and continuously variable transmission. The car makes its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week.