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Thanks to all-wheel drive, the 2019 Toyota Prius is ready for winter

The Toyota Prius is the quintessential hybrid, but that doesn’t mean it is a good fit for everyone. To date, the Prius has been front-wheel drive only, which has made the hybrid less appealing in snowy climates. But the 2019 Toyota Prius is ready to face winter, thanks to all-wheel drive.

The updated Prius, which debuts at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show, will still get front-wheel drive as standard equipment. But Toyota is adding the option of all-wheel drive, using a system similar to its existing hybrid crossovers. An additional electric motor powers the rear wheels, with no direct connection to the front wheels. The rear motor kicks in from a standstill to 6 mph, and continues working as needed up to 43 mph. Unless the extra traction is needed the system, dubbed “AWD-e” by Toyota, defaults to front-wheel drive in the name of fuel economy. That’s the whole point of a Prius, after all.

Speaking of fuel economy, Toyota expects the 2019 Prius AWD-e to achieve 50 mpg combined (52 mpg city, 48 mpg highway) in EPA testing. Ratings for front-wheel drive Prius models are expected to remain unchanged for 2019, with the Prius L Eco netting 56 mpg combined (58 mpg city, 53 mpg highway), and all other models getting 52 mpg combined (54 mpg city, 50 mpg highway).

The entire Prius lineup also gets some minor changes for 2019, including tweaks to the exterior styling. The updates don’t cover tech, however. The 2019 Prius has the same Entune infotainment system, with a 6.1-inch touchscreen, from 2018. It doesn’t get the Entune 3.0 system with an 8.0-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay used in some other Toyota models.

The 2019 Prius also gets the Toyota Safety Sense P bundle of driver aids as standard equipment, including adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, automatic high beams, and lane-keep assist. While the Prius does get a limited steering assist feature, it doesn’t have the Lane Trace Assist lane-centering feature rolling out in some other Toyota models. The Prius also lacks Toyota’s new Road Sign Assist, which uses a camera to read stop, yield, do not enter, and speed limit signs.

The 2019 Toyota Prius debuts at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show alongside another Toyota hybrid model. A new variant of Toyota’s evergreen compact sedan, the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid shares the same basic platform as the Prius, and is expected to offer 50 mpg combined. It also gets some of the tech features the Prius lacks, and more conventional exterior styling. Adding all-wheel drive to the Prius will provide an important differentiator between the two models, and a lifeline to snowbound environmentalists.

Updated on November 28, 2018: Added live photos.

Stephen Edelstein
Stephen is a freelance automotive journalist covering all things cars. He likes anything with four wheels, from classic cars…
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