How does the 2017 Toyota Prius handle in the snow?

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Not bad, given its front-wheel drive and narrow tires. But probably not quite as well as a conventional front-drive car of similar size and tire width. That’s because the Prius spreads its weight out front to rear rather than concentrating over the front tires. The explanation is the rear-mounted battery pack, about 100 pounds of mass that counter-levers weight off the front drive wheels.

Plus, as with most vehicles optimized for high mileage, its tires are not necessarily chosen for maximum grip on slippery surfaces. Ultra-low-rolling-resistance tires fitted to hybrids, electric vehicles and the like are made from a harder rubber compound than standard treads. This characteristic reduces friction with the road, and it can also mean that they will not provide as much traction in the snow. The difference in traction isn’t enough to consider dangerous. But it is something to keep in mind if you live in a snowy climate. As always, driver vigilance is key in treacherous conditions.

Prius is the best-selling hybrid in history, although demand has fallen because of low gas prices. This four-door hatchback – Toyota calls it the Liftback — was redesigned for model-year 2016, getting flashy new styling and improved fuel economy. Unfortunately for Americans who drive where it snows, the automaker has for now decided not to make North American-market versions available with the all-wheel-drive system it offers as an option in Japan. Feeding power to the rear wheels to quell tire slip would be a huge boon to slippery-surface traction. However, the automaker evidently believes drivers interested in an all-wheel-drive hybrid from Toyota would prefer the gas-electric version of its RAV4 compact crossover, which comes standard with all-wheel drive.

For 2017, the Prius Liftback makes news with the addition of some newly standard safety equipment designed to help avoid a collision. Called Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P), this group of technology includes pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection; lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction; automatic high-beam headlight control; and adaptive cruise control that can maintain a set following distance. These features might not provide much assistance when driving in the snow, but give Toyota credit for making them standard on every 2017 Prius Liftback, including the least-expensive model. See our 2017 Toyota Prius review for more information, including prices.

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About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]