Toyota Prius

The Grandaddy of Hybrids


Whenever I drive a hybrid such as the 2015 Toyota Prius I’m initially tempted to tiptoe on the throttle and creep away from stop signs in an effort to squeeze the most miles out of a gallon of gas. While it’s fun to see how little fuel I can use, driving slowly gets old and I soon resume normal driving. That resulted in an average of 41 miles per gallon during a week of cold weather. Even with gasoline at record lows that’s still enticing.

In 14 years, with sales of more than 1.5 million, the Toyota Prius hybrid has been so successful that it is almost a brand unto itself. Today there are four models: Prius, Prius c, Prius v and a plug-in Prius.

The uniquely shaped Prius connotes thrift, efficiency and innovation. It is available in five trim levels with prices starting at $24,200 and topping out at $30,005 for the Prius Five. That is the model I drove from Toyota’s press fleet, and it was equipped with dynamic radar cruise control, a pre-collision system that can apply the brakes in certain situations, lane-keeping assist, head-up display, navigation, safety connect and a JBL audio system. Safety connect includes automatic crash notification and an emergency assistance call button.

The Prius is powered by a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder, Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine that has 98 horsepower. Combined with a 60kW electric motor, the total output is 134 horsepower. The car can run on the engine alone or battery alone but it generally uses a combination of the two. There are four drive modes: Normal, Power, Eco and EV. The car can be driven on electricity alone for a mile in EV mode. Eco adjusts throttle input and climate control for maximum mileage. Power is as the name suggests. I used Normal.

The use of an electric water pump and electric power steering help save fuel, and exhaust heat is used to warm the engine coolant during cold starts. Regenerative braking recaptures electrical energy during braking.

The Prius Three and Four models can be equipped with a moonroof that has solar panels over the rear seat area. The solar panels power a ventilation system that lowers the car’s interior temperature when parked.

Because of low-rolling-resistance tires, and perhaps the weight of the batteries, I note that the Prius ride feels firm and often seems to lack compliance, as if the tires are over inflated. It is not objectionable, but noticeable.

The Prius is 14 inches shorter than a Camry but its interior volume is just 3 cubic-feet less. Rear-seat headroom is actually greater than that of a Toyota Corolla and the rear seat folds down to expand the cargo space. A high center console splits the front seats and contains a small, electronic gear selector. The speedometer is situated at the top center of the instrument panel.

In a nod to reducing driver distraction, the steering wheel switches are equipped with touch sensors. When touched, they show a duplicate image of the control on the instrument panel in the driver’s line of sight.

Price The base price of the test vehicle was $30,005. The optional advanced technology package included dynamic radar cruise control, a pre-collision system that can apply the brakes in certain situations, lane-keeping assist, head-up display, navigation, safety connect and the JBL audio system. The sticker price was $35,150.

Warranty Three years or 36,000 miles with a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty. The hybrid components are covered for eight years or 100,000 miles.

Point: The Prius has a small footprint with room for four. The hybrid system operates seamlessly and sips fuel.

Counterpoint: The high center console feels a bit intrusive, the ride lacks compliance and well-equipped models cost almost as much as an Avalon XLE.