HybridCars.com Gets 75.3 MPG in 2010 Toyota Prius

Seventy-five-point-three miles to the gallon! That was enough to win the 2010 Toyota Prius fuel economy competition that stacked 28 auto journalists against one another in Yountville, Calif. on Feb. 24, 2009. (The results were embargoed until today.) While it was a cheap thrill to score so high—that’s less remarkable than the average mileage for the group of journalists on the media preview drive: 69.9 mpg.

Of course, this level of fuel economy should not be expected for typical owners of the 2010 Prius. But the fact that it happened, and without applying any black magic or severe “hypermiling” techniques, is amazing. The drivers took between 70 and 85 minutes, traveling on average between 27 and 29 miles per hour on the 33.8 mile course through Yountville and Napa—not including one outlier that took more than two hours. I drove with the slow traffic and let most cars pass me, but my pace was certainly within legal limits—and could represent the efforts of a reasonable but motivated fuel-conscious driver.

The only way that I kinda cheated was that I fully charged the battery in the 2010 Prius by stepping on the accelerator and the brake at the same time, before I started the course. This trick—which Akihiko Otsuka, the chief engineer of the 2010 Prius, who was on hand, taught me—essentially used the gas engine as a generator to recharge the hybrid battery (which was a bit sneaky and a completely stupid thing to do under normal circumstances).

The average score for the journalists was seven mpg higher than the mileage earned by Chief Otsuka, the man who led a team of 2,000 engineers to create the third-generation 2010 Toyota Prius. So, clearly, all of our scores were a bit rigged by our desire to “beat the chief” as the competition was named. And yet, the auto journalists—folks who usually make their living by putting cars through high-speed paces—were able, with little effort, to get mileage off the charts. The official EPA numbers for the 2010 Prius are 51 in the city and 48 on the highway.

A Different Kind of Race

2010 Toyota Prius
Second Generation Toyota Prius

Top: Third-generation 2010 Toyota Prius.
Bottom: Second-generation 2008 Toyota Prius.

The reason that I was able to achieve 75.3 mpg—something I’ve never been able to do in the 2006 Prius that I have owned and driven for the past two-and-a-half years—gets to the core of the improvements in the new model.

Forget for a moment about the new Prius’s sharper more sporty design. Forget about the portfolio of new features, including telescoping steering wheel, adjustable seats, self-parallel parking, lane departure correction, moonroof with solar-powered interior cooling, and heated leather seats. And even put aside noticeable improvements in power, space and drivability in the new model.

The most critical and valuable improvement in the new Prius is the layout for the driver, most notably the dashboard display. The second-generation model, produced from 2004 to 2009, was all about the touchscreen monitor situated squarely between the driver and passenger seats—not at all in the line of vision for the driver. That monitor was required for everything from climate controls, stereo, navigation system, and for monitoring the energy use and mileage. The outgoing model’s graphics and animation indicating the flow of energy between batteries, motors, engine and wheels are, frankly, cheesy.

Great Mileage Within Reach

2010 Toyota Prius Dash
2008 Toyota Prius Energy Monitor

Top: 2010 Toyota Prius dashboard.
Bottom: Previous generation Prius energy monitor.

Otsuka and his team of engineers and designers made a brilliant move to abandon that approach by breaking out the primary driving functions into the three regions: the climate control right above the shifter, the audio a little bit higher up, and all the energy and mileage stuff tucked in just below the windscreen close to your line of vision toward the road.

The position of the old monitor, and the flatness of the dash from side to side, not only forced you to look at the middle of the dash, you had to reach for it. Instead, the 2010 Toyota Prius juts on in a bay of instruments that are much closer to your right hand. The design creates a convenient storage area near the floor between driver and passenger. Audio and air are also controlled on the steering wheel.

The Only Screen You Need

Toyota engineers also made the absolute critical decision to add a “hybrid system indicator” with a horizontal bar to indicate your level of “eco-driving.” Drive smooth and steady, and coast as much as possible, and the bar hugs left—exactly what you want. Slam on the gas and stomp on the brakes—sometimes necessary but mostly avoidable—and the bar shifts far right. Play the mileage game well and an “eco” indicator goes on. (Sorry, we were unable photograph the screen while moving.)

Right next to this display is the instantaneous mileage display, a set of vertical bars. On my 75-mpg trip, I applied even pressure to the accelerator to keep the instant mpg toward the top bar. When I saw it rapidly fall, I took my foot off the pedal, coasted for a few seconds and watched it return to a full set of bars. Then, I gently reapplied by foot to keep my speed.

After finishing the loop, I complimented Otsuka on keeping the graphics very simple—no mood-ring shifting from blue to green like in the new Honda Insight and no digital leaves growing or robotic voices chiding me, like on Ford’s system. In response to my comment about the simplicity of the graphics, he doubled over laughing and pointed to me, as if to say, “Absolutely.”

Other reviewers might make more of the EV, eco, and power buttons—but that’s pretty straightforward. Use the “eco mode” button as much as possible. Duh. And get into “EV” as often as possible. If there is not enough juice in the battery, you will be warned about it, and you’ll need to wait until the regenerative braking does its thing. You can stay in EV mode up to 25 mph, but the very second you drift to 26 mph, you will be warned that you fell out of EV mode. That was a bit annoying. But I was able to stay in EV mode for several near-mile stretches through school zones and quiet country roads on the route—which was one of the keys to the 75.3 mpg score.

That’s about it, folks. The 2010 Toyota Prius provides all the comfort, space and power you need to get you and your passengers to where they need to go—and offers all the tools needed to break past the EPA estimate of 50 mpg. What else do you need in a hybrid?

More Hybrid News...

  • _JOSH_

    “What else do you need in a hybrid?” Plugin from Toyota.

  • Carl


    What happens when your plug in hybrid doesn’t use enough gas to keep the fuel fresh? The gas and alcohol separate, this is called phase separation and that’s the end of your motoring day.

  • Matt Matics

    Figures Never Lie, But Liers Figure.

  • Jimmy jimmy

    Go 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid!! Check it out, at last an American hybrid I can buy. Yeah mileage isn’t quite as good as Prius, but the car is more practical and better looking.

  • RKRB

    Thanks for the article and for giving us something to aim for.

    We’ve enjoyed an Escape Hybrid for three years, and using the indicator gauges to try for the best mileage is still about as much fun as you can have in traffic. It also quantifies some advantages of slower, more attentive driving (driving too slowly is, obviously, dangerous at times). I think the indicator gauges make a difference.

    BTW Carl, fuel separation can be a problem if you store your car. You can buy fuel stabilizers and other products that supposedly keep water from condensing into the system. If you rarely use the engine, consider replacing the fuel filters more frequently or even adding an auxiliary water trap (after owning a classic car we rarely drove for several years, we learned this the hard way). You could always get the engine to come on even in a plug-in by just letting the charge run down now and then. Hope this helps.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    _JOSH_, the Prius plug-in is just a matter of time with the ability to upgrade to plug-in for the 2010 model and up. It will be interesting to see if Toyota ignores the incentive requirement of the 16 Kw batteries. Li batteries are not like metal halides in both cost and properties. Should battery failure be a problem, warranty cost would be reduced by putting in a smaller battery. A smaller battery would still cover one’s going to the store less than 10 miles away while the hybrid portion would still provide power and substantial gas use reduction for much longer trips.

    Carl, RKRB is right. Fuel stabilizers, ethoxylates (to keep the water, alcohol, etc. suspended in the gas), and other products will help to keep the “old” gas from going “bad”. And, like RKRB said, running the plug-in Prius in EV mode will draw down the battery to the point of turning on the engine.

  • Jason Fussell

    The new Prius looks and awsome and the MPG is great. I can’t wait to trade in my 07 Prius and get a new one.

  • Curious

    Hi Jimmy Jimmy,

    Why is Fusion be more practical than Prius? I’m very curious because it’s hard to beat a hatchback from practical point of view.

    As far as American car point of view, I’ve stopped believing in that since a lot of parts are from other countries and US car makers have demonstrated they would not think twice to manufacture in Mexico.

  • Ross Nicholson

    Wow. I wonder what would happen if they used eco-modder aerodynamics tricks, like enclosed wheel wells, slick belly pans, and boat tails? 95 mpg? 110 mpg?

  • sean t

    They may get > 80 MPG but not many people will buy it. Remember Insight mark I? Very high MPG, very low seller.

  • Stellis

    To the Editor:

    In the future, please add this disclaimer to each story. “Yes, we understand that actual mileage would improve significantly with enclosed wheel wells, slick belly pans, and boat tails.” That will save the Nicholson brothers lots of time typing, and will save the rest of us from having to read the exact same comments and replies after each and every article.

    Thank you!

  • João Prates

    Using the EV button as much as possible is a great mistake, and a common one too. Those of us in Europe learned it quite earlier. The juice you have in the battery was put there by spending fuel, and will get back there by spending more fuel. You are most probably wasting battery energy in places where normal hybrid mode would be more efficient, and preventing the Prius from using it later on when it would make a greater positive difference. Let the HSD system manage the battery alone. Use EV based only on necessity (getting car out of garage, or in closed parking lots to avoid emissions, etc). There are very limited scenarios where EV mode makes sense. One example is prior to a big descent, where you know beforehand you will be able to recharge the battery for free. Other than that, whatever you spent while going on EV will be paid big time in double consumption.

  • Lucien

    Agree fully charged isn’t real world especially given that the Prius has larger battery capacity than for instance the Insight. Difficult to tell how much that would make a difference but even an average of 70mpg isn’t significantly higher than 65mpg by Honda’s Insight organized event. I believe in that event they had a Prius II which scored about 10% higher.

    PS pricing for Insight III has been announced today for Europe and there’s no price change for most markets.

  • Samie

    Harsh words from some on this article but as said there is no claim that everyone would be able to get 75mpg the author spells that out clearly. The article is subjective but sometimes sharing driving experiences and actual changes in models can be a plus.

    What I noticed is the 25mph in EV mode this I hope improves to 35-45 mph bc. driving in any town at 25mph is highly unrealistic that is when you have to go on the main boulevards. Hope engineers at Ford and Honda take notice to improve all EV mode capacity beyond Toyota’s 25mph.

  • Lucien

    Ford Fusion’s Hybrid can run up to 47mph in pure electric mode: http://media.ford.com/images/10031/2010_Ford_Fusion_Hybrid.pdf

  • radiocycle

    Yup, that’s getting even closer! I’ve got my deposit sitting down at the Toy dealership waiting for the first PHEV to roll in. Can’t wait to plug in!

  • Dom

    The title of this article is groan-inducing and misleading. I can count on one hand the amount of time daily I spend in a 25-30mph zone (very little). Oh, and I got infinite mpg in my car by I strapping a team of horses to the front bumper. These results probably won’t be achieved by most drives, but the fact that it can be done is AMAZING!!

  • mpower830

    Real world, in real-life, with traffic and in the grind of the commute most of us face everyday, you’ll see 50mpg tops. Probably more line an average of 40-45. You can do this with a diesel and save yourself what I like to call the “Hollywood premium” you’ll face when you sit down at a Toyota dealership. There are other options out there.

  • Prius Built for Urban Driving

    “Real world, in real-life, with traffic and in the grind of the commute most of us face everyday, you’ll see 50mpg tops. Probably more line an average of 40-45.”

    Traffic jam is when Prius excels if driven with regen braking in mind, 50 mpg sounds low.

  • Brain

    If the gas in a plug in hybrid is unused to that degree, it’s time to trade it in for an all electric car, like a 1997 Toyota RAV4 EV.

  • Bill Borden

    I applaud the domestics for getting on board with hybrids but cannot over look this conundrum: F.O.R.D. Fix or repair daily. Japanese autos still adhere to Dr. Demmings quality assurance being the most important concept when manufacturing. Japan builds cars that do not break. I am on my second Prius and will be purchasing my third, a 2010, at the end of May.

    I am also alarmed with Ford and Microsoft forming “synch”. I cannot help but wonder and laugh when I visualize “rebooting” when the darn thing just “freezes” up. I have no evidence of this ever happening, I just chuckle thinking of the unlikely pairing of Ford and Microsoft. Imagine having to reboot just to change the radio station. Frightens me sufficiently.

  • carl

    Monkeys toally rock

  • Jonny

    If Plug-In is what some of you are yammering for, you can get a much superior aftermarket PHEV conversion done rather than waiting for the factory installed version. And you can get it now rather than wait another 2-3 years for Toyota to put one together.

  • darel

    Okay, I’ll admit I’m a hybrid neophyte, so please educate me without a barrage of anonymous bile, but help me understand…

    Why is a plug in so great, from any sort of environmental perspective? I live in coal country, so every bit of juice I get for my plug-in comes from a CO2 belching smokestack burning coal down river. In the east, its oil burning…Are we really helping ourselves, here?

    Second mystery of the universe–Diesel? What’s good about diesel again? Not price. Diesel’s price is highly variable and undependable. Decrease our dependence on foreign oil? Nope. Adds refinery jobs to the economy…okay, you got me. Otherwise, I don’t see the attraction.

    As a medium term solution, buy cars that use as little gas as possible, take a train, move out of the exurbs. Join the new normal.

  • perfectapproach

    It might seem at first that a coal power plant belches out a lot of pollution, but think of ALL the electric power that is generated. Now thing of ALL the electric cars that can be charged by that 1 power plant. Remove 1 standard car from the road for every plug-in car that can be charged by that 1 power plant. The amount of pollution eliminated from the air by removing all those standard cars FAR outweighs what even the coal power plant is spewing.

    About diesel. That’s a can of worms you’re opening right there… hehehe! Diesel fuel may be expensive, but the fuel has more energy density than gasoline, so it is inherently more efficient. In addition, combining diesel with a turbo will yield higher torque and horsepower than a comparable gasoline-hybrid. The downside is that diesel engines are inherently more dirty. The simple fact is that they pollute more than a comparable gasoline hybrid. I know, I’ll get flamed by all the diesel advocates, but nobody will ever convince me that a diesel can be even close to as clean as a comparable gasoline-hybrid. However, diesel technology has been making progress in becoming cleaner, and diesel-powered cars are usually cheaper than their hybrid counterparts in the short term. In addition, diesel fuel can be made from biological matter…plants. Gasoline cannot be made like this. Yes, I know, bio-ethanol can be a replacement for gasoline, but let’s face it folks: It’s not as efficient as gasoline. Either way, there’s no solid infrastructure for either bio-diesel or bio-ethanol, so this may be a moot point.

    And no, I don’t want to move from the suburbs. I like living out away from the urban areas. There’s no public transportation here. And I like it that way. And sometimes, I don’t want to drive a gas-sipper. Sometimes, I want to feel like I’m driving a hell-spawn demon that guzzles gas and craps horsepower. I like the idea of owning and driving a hybrid, but I also like the idea of owning and driving a 1968 Pontiac GTO with a 6.6L 360hp V8. I guess my point is that “normal” is in the eye of the beholder, and that some people just don’t want to sacrifice part of their lifestyle to live eco-friendly.

  • Joshua

    Today my teacher told me that a 220 watt plug (one that is required for plug-in hybrids) costs a couple thousand dollars just to install in your garage, or wherever.

    I can live without one.

  • dogger

    it is the same kind of plug in as your kitchen stove and clothes dryer

  • Isaiah Duhme

    so is a toyota pruis a hybrid, and does it really get 75.3 mpg going at an avreag pace? trying to do a report about hybrid cars and why they are good, need websites to use for my report to get 30-50 note cards. pleas please please respond right away I really need it!

  • jd

    if they can make this “moonroof with solar-powered interior cooling”
    why cant they make solar-powered battery charger to charge the battery of a hybrid vehicle or electric vehicle……..

  • steveblue

    We’ve got batteries, gas, and solar. Why don’t we add in a sliding floor panel for some Flintstones power next? I’m driving my 2007 Prius. My daughter took my hand me down 2006 model. I just need to find someone to buy my 2007 to get me into the 2010 next….

  • jonak

    Model S from Tesla

  • PK

    Ford Fusion hybrid? an all american hybrid? .. well I guess you need to know that Ford Licensed hybrid technology from Toyota that translates to toyota gets a piece of pie for every fusion hybrid sold.

  • JD

    Will using the AC have an effect on MPG?

  • JD

    will using the AC have an affect on MPG?

  • b

    We have a couple coal plants on Lake Michigan near us and I have yet to see them belching out any king of emissions other than what looks like white steam that dissapates very rapidly. They make absolutely no noise and are not dirty at all. I get a chuckle out of the people who still think coal is dirty. We are the Saudi Arabia of coal and if we don’t use it, we loose it.

  • Anonymous

    – Out of the entire US electric industry, coal-fired power plants contribute 96% of sulfur dioxide emissions (SO2), 93% of nitrogen oxide emissions (NOx), 88% of carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) and 99% of mercury emissions.
    – according to U.S. EPA, coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of mercury pollution in the U.S., and are responsible for 33% of the total mercury emissions from all known manmade sources nationwide.
    – According to the US National Wildlife Federation (NWF), a single 100 megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant emits approximately 25 pounds of mercury a year.
    – According to the US Center for Clean Air Policy, 50% of the mercury emitted from coal-fired power plants can travel up to 600 miles from the power plant.
    – According to U.S. EPA, mercury emissions by coal plants in the US reached 51 tons in 1994.
    – As little as 0.002 pounds of mercury a year can contaminate a 25-acre lake to the point where fish are unsafe to eat.
    – Coal emits 29% more carbon per unit of energy than oil, and 80% more than natural gas.
    – Every year, nearly 600 coal and oil-fired power plants produce over 100 million tons of sludge waste. In late 2008, a coal ash pond ruptured and sent a billion gallons of toxic sludge across 300 acres of East Tennessee.

  • ladie gah

    I just bought a 2012 Prius-c and if I keep the speed below 45 it shows I am getting over 75 mpg.

  • Mary Reeg

    Ho can I obtain permission to use the image located at:

    of the Previous generation Prius energy monitor.

    Would like to use it in Hybrid text. Need permission only
    Please advice

  • RobKH

    The number one millage killer in a Prius in town driving is allowing the car to to creep along when stopped at a traffic light. The Prius PMS believes the car is about to go so the engine continues to run and consume fuel when the stop could have been engine-less, all electric mode. I rent and do not own a Prius and many times picking up a car at the rental agency, I would find very low mileage. Driving the same car correctly, after resetting the system, on my typical rental trip, I could easily move into the 60 MPG range. When the car was picked up the MPG typically showed 40 or less (33 MPG once) consumed by one or more previous renters. My typical trip would include the Grapevine from San Diego to San Francisco. My other car is a non electric Toyota but driving the Prius rental saved enough in fuel costs to payback the rental fees, compared to my other car, and keep the wear and tear off the ‘house’ car.