The Toyota Prius. You don’t even have to say hybrid—everyone knows it. It’s the hybrid that’s gone a decade strong. As other manufacturers have clamored to release more hybrid versions, the Prius has patiently continued its reign as the best-selling and most popular hybrid in the world. The base Prius comes in at $23,880, our tester with Package #3 came in at $26,235. EPA estimates: 48 city/45 highway. Warranty: 36-month/36,000 mile base bumper-to-bumper, 60-month/60,000 mile powertrain and 8 years/100,000 mile on hybrid components.
Christine: “I kinda like this quirky little guy’s looks and definitely his efficient attitude. And when our nine-year-old daughter eagerly climbed into the driver’s seat with a big smile saying she’d like one as her first car, it sure seemed a good omen. Was this a positive harbinger of our test drive week with this little eco-machine?”
Scott: “I've always loved the peculiar looking and oddly appealing little Prius. It is the epitome of practical, frugal, efficient and green motoring. Of course, depending on your personality, the order of importance of those particular qualities might change a bit, but their validity is pretty unquestionable. I test drove the ’07 and came away happy—could I expect the same with the ’08 model?”
Look & feel
The Prius is the kind of car that appeals to the fun-loving kid as well as the practical adult that lives within us all. The high roofline, the big headlights and the split-rear window treatment give it almost an impish-cartoon appeal that your child-side can’t resist. But for the practical grown-up in you, the view through the windshield is wide and expansive, and the clever arrangement of the digital speedometer, fuel gauge, gear selection and sundry other control parameters make driving a safe, in-control experience. The net effect keeps the driver’s eye squarely on the road ahead of him, with nary a movement of the eye to monitor all systems.
Its smallish exterior belies a surprisingly spacious utilitarian interior. At 6’ and 6’4”, the guys in our house appreciate the wide open 96.2 feet of passenger space and the generous 38.6 inches of rear seating. But Prius’ spaciousness isn’t all about people; lay down the 60-40 split-fold rear seat and the Prius is ready to load up almost anything sized between a big screen TV and a washing machine. It’s that shape again. And while it doesn’t look like a car that would handle well—it does, with surprising finesse and agility. It is solid and precise, and will snap off sharp turns like a car with a thoroughbred pedigree.
It’s cute. It’s fun to drive and sure, it has enough room to (almost) carry your refrig, but it’s the fuel mileage that makes everyone think Prius. How many cars can sport a mere 12-gallon fuel tank and still crack off better than 500 miles of driving range? It’s all in the Hybrid Synergy Drive.
Start the Prius with a push of the on/off power button (part of the keyless ignition)—and within seconds, the hybrid system determines whether or not it needs to start the internal combustion engine. A ready light comes on within the same amount of seconds and the car is ready to go, but there’s no traditional gear shifter. Click the small joystick that electrically interfaces with the eCVT (electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission), and you’re on your way. It’s that simple—drive off and the system continuously monitors driving and vehicle conditions, and then calculates the most efficient combination of power. It’s able to drive on engine power, electric motor power or combinations of the two. All of this information is relayed back to the driver via the energy display monitor.
Not only is the Prius amazingly fuel-efficient, it also has pristine SULEV and AT-PZEV emissions ratings. It’s a combination of the hybrid system’s miserly fuel usage and the sophisticated 3-way catalytic converter exhaust scrubbing that makes this all possible. All together, these systems make the Prius a clean, green driving machine. The Prius actually produces over 70 percent fewer smog forming emissions than the average new vehicle. And that’s a winner in our book.
When it's all said & done
The Toyota Prius is one of the few vehicles that really offers a total package deal. What Toyota calls a “monoform design” gives the Prius mid-size car interior space with compact exterior dimensions. Think small, compact car handling and maneuverability with SUV-like utility (with that rear seat folded down).
The Prius’ 46 mpg combined rating is hard to beat (we were able to average a tick over 50 mpg with light and economical driving habits). Even though small diesels can be competitive with those mileage numbers, comparable diesel-powered vehicles don’t offer the same level of utility. There’s been some skepticism about using gas/electric hybrids to achieve good fuel economy—critics often say that a small diesel engine can produce like mileage without all the baggage of that complex electromechanicl system—and although that may be true, with the rising cost of diesel fuel compared to gasoline, diesels are losing their competitive edge. Not to mention that hybrid complexity worries are certainly mitigated with the 8-year/100,000 mile warranty.
The Prius has been with us for ten years and its popularity hasn’t waned—in fact, it’s increased. And that proves that people really want what it has to offer. It has that indefinable mystique that combines its kid-like fun (as our daughter can attest), with just enough adult-like serious business. And it does all this with a $23,880 base price.