The Toyota Prius is an interesting vehicle in that it draws very strong reactions. For certain group of enthusiasts the Prius is a coming sign of the apocalypse, for another group of enthusiasts, it is as if it came down from the hand of the Almighty himself. For yet another group of people, it is a tool for them to shout out loudly that they are morally superior to everyone else in the world, because they drive a hybrid.
Believe it, or not, the Toyota Prius is a hard-core enthusiast machine. It just doesn’t happen to be the hard-core enthusiast machine one would think of if you come from a traditional gearheads mindset. And yet, it is to the hyper milers what a Ferrari 458 or Bugatti Veyron would represent. Go to a gathering of hyper-milers for any competition they put on, and you will find people who have tricked out Prius’ just like a hot roder might trick out a 5 liter Mustang. The funny thing is, the group of people who would trick out said Mustang to run 10 second-quarter miles on pump gas hold as much disdain for the Prius and its owners, as the Prius owners do for the Mustang crowd. And yet, their passion, their ingenuity, and their commitment to their cause is exactly the same, it’s just that they come from totally opposite ends of the spectrum.
The Toyota Prius has come a long way in the decade plus it is been on the market. Even in the last couple years, before this current iteration, while one could marvel at the engineering of the car, it felt as much like an appliance, as it ever did in automobile. Because the focus was always on engineering and fuel mileage, everything else took a backseat. The exterior design was often best described as awkward, and the interiors used more plastic than the Fisher-Price aisle at Toys “R” Us. The latest generation of Prius’ has sought to fix some of these issues. The exterior design of the car has certainly been crafted in a wind tunnel with little regard for aesthetics. That said, the unique shape of the Prius makes it stand out, which from Toyota’s point of view, may have been the point from the start. When you see a Prius go down the road, you won’t mistake it for any other car. To the douche bag crowd it screams, “look at me look at me I’m driving a hybrid!” These are of course the same people who drive their Prius Hybrid in the HOV lane, by themselves, at 85 to 90 miles an hour, not exactly being kinder to the environment than the four people riding in an SUV.
Compared to previous generations the interior of the current Prius is light years ahead. While it still contains quite a bit of plastic it is of much higher quality and much more tastefully done. In fact, the quality of materials inside the Prius are almost up to the level of what one would expect in this price range. It’s still a bit stark, but it no longer feels like a low-grade appliance, it feels like an automobile interior. Some of the materials feel a bit thin the layout of the center console is still a bit odd the placement of the switches for the heated seats is a head scratcher, placed as they are in an open space underneath the console between the seats.
The dashboard arrangement itself is a bit odd, rather than instrumentation being in front of you, it’s off to the center, not exactly in the direct line of sight. If you are trying to keep an eye on the power meter to maximize your battery usage, or see how high you can keep your instant fuel economy, it’s difficult to both do that, and pay attention to what you’re driving down the road. If any vehicle called for a heads-up display the Prius certainly has to be at the top of the list. The quote enthusiast unquote who try to maximize mileage i.e. the hyper milers, pay attention to this power meter more than anything else in the car. This means, that they aren’t paying attention to what’s happening on the road in front of them. It becomes a bit of the video game, and that’s not exactly what you want going on as you’re driving on the road.
The whole purpose of owning a Prius, is very high fuel economy. In the time that we spent with the Prius, the mileage that we got, was ordinary at best. Ordinary, from what the EPA sticker says it should get, what the hyper miler enthusiasts get, and what a comparable modern clean diesel can get. We put over 700 miles on the Prius during our time with it, and what we saw on our highway runs was a high of 44 miles to the gallon. In the city where the Prius should get better mileage we saw about the same number. While 44 miles to the gallon is nothing to sneeze at, we can think of other cars that can get the same or better mileage, that we would prefer to drive. Our 44 mpg on the highway was with the cruise control set at 75 mph. Some will claim that if you wanted to maximize fuel mileage that speed is too high, and that you should not use the cruise control. Perhaps they have a point, but in us reviewing the Prius, our goal was not to drive it for maximum mileage, rather, it was to drive it like any other ordinary car, and see what the results were.
Because every effort was made to maximize mileage in this car, it’s not the most comfortable highway cruiser. The car is sprung rather stiffly, and the low rolling resistance tires mounted on the car don’t exactly provide a supple ride. In fact, you pretty much feel every expansion joint, pothole, and road imperfection, transferred right into the seat. Also, in an effort to save weight, there is not an abundance of sound deadener in the car. While level of road noise transferred into the car is not objectionable, it was more noticeable than other cars in its peer group.
One very positive note we have for the Prius is that it can haul quite a bit of stuff. We had our Prius over the Christmas holidays, and it handled not only all of our luggage, but quite a few packages and other related things that we needed to take along with us. With the back seat folded down, which do fold flat, there is a very useful amount of cargo room in the Prius, even with the hatchback cutting into some of the room.
No one can deny that the Prius is a very successful car. In the US market, hybrids account for 2.5% of all vehicles sold. Of that 2.5%, the Toyota Prius accounts for 50% of those sales, 50 percent! In fact, the Toyota Prius sells about 125,000 units a year, that is nearly half of the total volume of sales for the Camry, which is the best-selling car in the United States. The Prius also has a very loyal ownership group. Most of the people who have owned Prius’ have bought or will by another one. So in this matter Toyota knows exactly what they’re doing and is executing well on it. The question then becomes, can they expand sales of the Prius and the Prius brand to more than this segment of the market? Toyota is certainly going to try as the Prius V will be coming out in the summer and Toyota also looks to expand the Prius brand with other models in the very near future.
The Toyota Prius is certainly a remarkable feat of engineering and a brilliant bit of marketing. As we have said earlier, to a certain group of its ownership it is the ultimate hard-core performance automobile, just not the hard-core performance automobile that would typically come to mind. The problem for us is that we are the traditional gearhead, so this car is a bit lost on us. While we certainly can acknowledge the feat of engineering, for us, and this is the most important point, we can find no passion in with this car.
While it certainly has come many steps forward from literally being an automotive appliance, we just cannot find any enthusiasm for the car. That does not mean that the Toyota Prius is a bad car, because it’s not, it does exactly what it’s supposed to do, for the group that it’s intended to. And, based on the passion and loyalty of its owners it’s right on target. For us, we are not in that target market and no matter how objective you try to be, you are who you are. For us we would bypass the Toyota Prius for several other options, but for the group of people, and they are a large group of people, who view automobiles as nothing more than a tool, the Toyota Prius is an excellent vehicle which has great versatility for hauling the family around, commuting to and from work, and being a fine all-around car, and it also get very good, though not spectacular fuel mileage. You certainly could do much worse than the Toyota Prius.
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