The Toyota Prius is updated for 2019, and it will offer optional all-wheel drive for the first time as a result of consumer demand in the snow belt. It will also get an updated exterior and new trim levels. Gone are the One, Two, and Three designations, as the Prius gets the same L, LE, XLE, and Limited trim names used by other Toyota vehicles.

We still think the practical Toyota Prius is the best all-around hybrid for most buyers—even though its class-leading fuel economy has been eclipsed by the slightly more efficient Honda Insight.

We got a chance to see the new Prius at the 2018 LA Auto Show. Here’s what we learned.

2019 Toyota Prius AWD in snow.

2019 Toyota Prius
Starting price:
Not yet announced
What it competes with: Honda Insight, Hyundai Ioniq, Kia Niro, Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid, Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, Toyota Corolla Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid
What it looks like: Toyota softened the edges and angles of the current Prius. The familiar silhouette is still there, but lights and air intakes now have a less aggressive appearance.
Powertrains: 121-hp, 1.8-liter 4-cyl. hybrid with a CVT. Front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
On-sale date: Early 2019

2019 Toyota Prius AWD in rain.

Outside

The current Prius has had a futuristic look that turned off some would-be buyers, who now have a wide range of conventionally styled, fuel-efficient competitors to choose from. For 2019, Toyota softened some of the more aggressive styling characteristics—including curved air intakes, gentler angles where the headlights meet the hood, and new taillights that extend horizontally across the hatch instead of climbing up the sides of the vehicle.

Still, the car’s teardrop silhouette makes it instantly recognizable as a Prius. That’s thanks to the styling limitations imposed by the need for super-efficient aerodynamics and the Prius’ voluminous storage. In fact, Toyota says that hatchback can fit 65.5 cubic feet of cargo with the rear seats down—only slightly less than the RAV4 compact SUV.

The all-wheel drive version can be visually distinguished from the standard Prius by an AWD-e badge and unique two-tone 15-inch wheels. 

2019 Toyota Prius AWD interior.

Inside the Cabin

The Prius’ interior has largely remained unchanged from the current car, including the confusing joystick-like gear selector and fussy controls. The Limited trim level gets the larger 11.6-inch touch-screen display that’s currently found in the Prius Prime and is even fussier.

Toyota says the additional hardware necessary for an all-wheel-drive system does not cut into interior space. Unfortunately, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are still absent—which is a glaring omission for an updated 2019 model. 

What Drives It

There are no changes to the front-wheel-drive Prius’ powertrain, and Toyota claims the freshened car will get the same fuel economy as the current Prius.

The all-wheel-drive version gets Toyota’s AWD-e system, which uses an electric motor to power the rear wheels when needed at speeds up to 43 mph. The setup saves weight over a traditional all-wheel-drive system because it does not require a driveshaft or differential. Unlike the lithium-ion battery found in the front-wheel-drive Prius, the all-wheel-drive version has a newly developed nickel-metal-hydride battery that was designed for the challenges of cold weather. It is packaged under the rear seat.

Toyota says the all-wheel-drive Prius will have a slight fuel economy penalty over the front-wheel-drive version. The automaker estimates the new car will get a combined fuel economy rating of 50 mpg. We got 52 mpg overall with the current Prius. 

Safety and Driver-Assist Systems

Every Prius gets Toyota’s Safety Sense P suite of advanced safety features. That includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, and lane keeping assist. Standard adaptive cruise control can maintain a safe distance between cars during highway driving. Unfortunately, blind spot warning is still optional.  

CR’s Take

Sales of fuel-efficient vehicles have been slow in recent years, thanks to low gas prices and America’s love of SUVs, but the Prius is still the hybrid leader. The absence of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is a major demerit, especially because nearly all the Prius’ hybrid competitors have those popular features. We think the 2019 model’s addition of all-wheel drive will make it more attractive for snow-belt buyers, although all-wheel drive is no substitute for winter tires. Toyota says it expects 25 percent of Prius buyers will opt for all-wheel drive. 

2019 Toyota Prius AWD rear corner light.