2010 Prius promises to go greener

LOS ANGELES If there's an unofficial official car of Southern California, it's the /*Toyota Prius hybrid*/. They seem to be everywhere.

After 5 1/2 years of the current design, Toyota is bringing out an all-new Prius. To the likely delight of Prius fans, it still looks pretty much the same.

"We had to be really careful that we didn't change it," said Chris Risdon, Toyota. "We wanted it to still look new and different and have a lot of new attributes. But we still wanted it to be a Prius and still identifiable as a Prius."

It is only slightly bigger on the outside -- a fraction of an inch here and there. But it does pick up noticeable interior space for a roomier feeling.

It also gets some new technology.

"We have EV-mode, which lets you drive up to 25 miles an hour for about a mile on electric-only power," said Risdon. "And then we have eco-mode, which is an economy mode that allows a little better fuel economy."

For extra oomph, there's also a "power" setting.

One optional feature that should impress your passengers is an automatic parking system first seen on a high-end /*Lexus*/ model.

You can also load it up with other options, from a solar roof panel that helps cool the car when parked, to accident avoidance systems. No prices have been announced, but a Prius with everything will probably be over $30,000.

The new Prius has many improvements. It has more features available, the interior is more comfortable and the engine is more powerful. Yet with all that, Toyota engineers were able to give it slightly better fuel economy.

Horsepower is up by 24 and the combined EPA rating is now 50 MPG. The symbol of green driving is now a little greener.

But some Prius enthusiasts would like to see it become greener still, in the form of a plug-in version, which would travel farther on battery power alone.

"We will have a plug-in in the future," said Risdon.

Not everyone is into the Prius. Some even mock it. But those who do love the high-tech car can now find more to love in a very familiar shape.


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