Judging by how often we opt for it, Canadians and all-wheel drive are a match made in heaven. And hybrid fans aren’t left out: Toyota offers the Prius with it, called AWD-e, because the magic is made with electric motors.

It’s an interesting setup, but it works a little differently than most conventional systems. Be sure you know what you’re getting — and, of course, more on that in a bit.

The Prius starts at $28,550, while the AWD-e begins at $29,500 for the base trim. The next step up is the AWD-e Technology, at $33,450. There’s a sole option package, the Technology Advanced, which adds $1,800 and put my tester’s sticker to $35,250 before freight and taxes.

Like the regular Prius, the AWD-e self-charges its battery, mostly through regenerative braking. There is a Prius that plugs in to offer a range of fuel-free driving, the Prius Prime, but it’s strictly front-wheel drive.

The Prius uses a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine that makes 96 horsepower on its own. When the electric motor runs alongside, they make a combined 121 horsepower. The system runs on gas, electricity, or a combination, switching between them automatically and almost seamlessly, depending on driving conditions.

Under the hood of the 2020 Toyota Prius Technology AWD-e. — Jil McIntosh/Postmedia
Under the hood of the 2020 Toyota Prius Technology AWD-e. — Jil McIntosh/Postmedia

On conventional gasoline vehicles, all-wheel drive is achieved with a central driveshaft, which transmits power mechanically to the rear wheels. On the Prius, there’s an electric motor at the rear. It’s independent of the front engine/motor combination, and it powers the rear wheels.

You don’t get all four working all the time. Instead, the rear wheels kick in whenever you take off from a stop, and they stay powered until you reach 10 km/h. After that, they come on whenever they’re needed for extra traction on slippery surfaces, up to a maximum of 70 km/h. Go above that, and you’re back to the front wheels only. Still, there’s no swipe against it: acceleration or changing lanes on greasy roads at moderate speed is when many drivers are most likely to need that extra traction from the rear wheels. (And, of course, when the weather turns cold again, you’ll want to put winter tires on all four wheels.)

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The Prius drives and handles well, and it feels solid but not heavy. A very sharp turning circle makes it easy to spin around in tight quarters, too. The extra weight of the all-wheel system has a minimal effect on fuel consumption: the AWD-e version is rated at 4.7 L/100 kilometres in combined city/highway driving, while the regular Prius rates at 4.5.

The gearshift lever is an odd little nubbin that you flip up or down for Reverse or Drive. I don’t like any system where you must push a separate button for Park, but in its favour, it’s easy to tap the shifter down into Brake, which increases the rate of regenerative braking for battery recharging. It slows the car down while decelerating, although it’s not strong enough for the “one-pedal” driving available on some electric cars, which can bring you to a stop without using the brake pedal.

Back view of the 2020 Toyota Prius Technology AWD-e. — Jil McIntosh/Postmedia
Back view of the 2020 Toyota Prius Technology AWD-e. — Jil McIntosh/Postmedia

There’s an “EV” mode button for pure electric driving, but it’s not quite as it sounds. It will keep the Prius on battery-only, but only at low speeds and very moderate throttle – and if you’re driving like that anyway, the system automatically goes to electricity. Exceed the speed or push your foot too hard, and EV mode shuts off.

One thing that’s always driven me nuts about the Prius is that it beeps in Reverse. Not outside the car, where it might warn pedestrians that it’s going to silently back up, but inside, where it beeps incessantly in that gear. Does Toyota think its drivers are so absent-minded that they instantly forget they’ve selected the go-backwards function?

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A peek inside the 2020 Toyota Prius Technology AWD-e.— Jil McIntosh/Postmedia
A peek inside the 2020 Toyota Prius Technology AWD-e.— Jil McIntosh/Postmedia

While I liked driving my tester, I definitely didn’t like accessing most of its controls. For whatever reason, whenever an automaker builds a high-tech car, it somehow thinks it must include a high-tech interface to make things work. You get a few hard buttons and toggles, but on the AWD-e Technology trim level, the base Prius’ far simpler and button-heavier seven-inch touchscreen is replaced with an 11.6-inch screen, with most functions stuffed in behind its glass.

Everything requires steps. You tap the screen to bring up the menu, and then tap it to access the function you want, which is distracting. You have to tap-tap-tap or hold the temperature or volume switches, instead of quickly spinning a dial. And as annoying as it is to work through those steps, it’s even worse when the sun shines, because that big hunk of glass is very susceptible to glare. It washes out, and you simply can’t see the backup camera or screen functions. You can adjust some of the functions using the steering wheel buttons instead, but really — even with redundant controls, everything should be quick and simple to operate.

Overall, the Prius AWD-e takes a decent and proven hybrid performer and adds that Canadian favourite of rear-wheel support to it. But before you move all the way up the options ladder, take a long look at that functions screen. With all that’s happening these days, distraction might be a good thing at home, but never in your car.

Copyright PostMedia Network, 2020





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