Toyota Prius: A Plucky Hybrid Powerhouse

In the array of seriously fuel-efficient cars in showrooms today, the Toyota Prius is most recognizable for its image on the street.
Other hybrids, with the exception of the tiny Honda Insight, are conventional vehicles equipped with a hybrid power train under their familiar metal skin.
Prius body design is sufficiently unique to give it an easily identifiable silhouette among traditional cars. Its mono-form shape improves aerodynamic characteristics significantly and often identifies an environmentally aware driver.
With fuel efficiency rated at 48 miles per gallon city and 45 mpg highway, the Prius would not be expected to have quick acceleration and high-speed handling characteristics comparable to a sports sedan, but to a satisfying degree, that is how our test Prius performed.
Unlike other mileage misers we tested, Prius is a potent powerhouse when a driving situation calls for a surge of passing speed on the highway or a quick avoidance maneuver. On the test track, it easily exceeded 100 mph with some alacrity.
Driving the Prius is a distinct pleasure, once you are familiar with the miniscule shift lever and push-button PARK on the instrument panel.
When accelerating to highway speeds or climbing steep hills, as in San Francisco, the gasoline engine augments the electric motor, then stops or feeds the generator when the electric motor can supply the power needs of moderate city driving.
We obtained an even 48 mpg on one 50-mile drive that included turnpike cruising at 75 miles per hour and limited city driving. A respectable showing, but hard driving averaged 24.6 to 32.4 mpg. A heavy right foot seriously sacrifices mileage.
With a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder, 16-valve engine and a continuously variable transmission, our test Prius had an MSRP of $22,875, a bargain in the current crop of hybrid cars.
While Prius is an extraordinary automobile, it is not perfect. Legibility of instrument panel read-out needs improvement in size and brightness, especially for driving into the sun in early morning or late afternoon. The radio and other console controls need simplification. Operating these controls is a serious distraction to the driver, and they should be set before taking to the road. However, driving this car is so rewarding that such flaws can be tolerated.
Rarely do we test a car that leaves us with the desire to own it, but the Prius did exactly that. With hybrids so logical for today’s transport needs, Prius is a tough act to follow, drivewise.



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