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2004 Toyota Prius Summary

MPG City: 60 ; Highway: 51

Average Consumer Rating 4.8 out of 5
After three years in its prior form, Toyota’s hybrid-powered Prius has been redesigned, enlarged and moved from compact to midsize status. Rather than a four-door sedan, as in its previous iteration, the 2004 model is a stylish five-door liftback. 

Expert Review

By Bob Golfen

AZCentral.com
Aug 7, 2004

Hybrid of economy, style, performance

There is a simple, inexpensive solution for getting great gas mileage and producing less air pollution: teeny cars with tiny engines.

Forget performance, accommodations or safety. For pure, clean economy, that's the ticket.

Well, maybe not for everyone. Especially not for those who drive in Arizona's wide-open spaces and fast urban traffic.

That's why there is such a car as the Toyota Prius. Here's a gas/electric hybrid sedan that provides the power and roominess of a conventional midsize car while getting a remarkable number of miles out of each gallon of gas, especially in city driving.

This is the second generation Prius, bigger and more stylish than the original, and able to achieve even better miles per gallon. With its sleek new look and spacious interior, Prius becomes more of a mainstream vehicle for the hip, clean and thrifty.

Prius may look different, with a shape that's strikingly aerodynamic and an interior with a futuristic, concept-car aura. But what makes Prius such a success - there is a lengthy waiting list to get one - is how much it drives, handles and performs like a regular car.

There has been recent controversy about Prius' gas mileage, as reported by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. EPA tests showed Prius getting 60 miles per gallon in city driving, and 51 in highway driving, for a combined estimate of 55 mpg.

But in real-world driving, Prius gets about 45 combined miles per gallon. That's according to my experience and the experience of Consumer Reports magazine. The issue is not with the Prius but with EPA's admittedly faulty test methods.

Still, Prius' actual gas mileage is hard to fault. Forty-five miles per gallon in a moderately priced, well-equipped and stylish midsize car? Not bad.

What it is
A hybrid vehicle with an electronically controlled system of small gasoline engine, electric motor and batteries to boost performance and lower emissions. Prius is never plugged in, just filled with gasoline.

Performance
Although the big draw is mileage, Prius is a decent performer, with good acceleration and cruising ability.

The engine is a low-torque 1.5-liter four cylinder that produces 76 horsepower, which ordinarily wouldn't be enough to peel the skin off an apple. But the engine is supplemented by a 50-kilowatt electric motor that produces a steady 295 pound-feet of torque, providing plenty of muscle.

The engine and motor are balanced electronically to optimize power and recharging, trading off between the two as needed for city driving, when the electric motor does most of the work; acceleration, when the two work in consort; or highway cruising, when the gas engine takes the lead.

Prius never feels sluggish, but the droning sound of the gas engine sound can get annoying.

When you start Pri us, you insert a blunt plastic "key," then press a start button. Nothing happens, except that Prius is turned on and ready to go.

The engine shuts off when the car is stopped, so that it sits quietly with no idling noise or vibration. Prius moves off quietly, with just the electric motor doing the pulling until about 20 mph.

A continuously variable transmission helps improve mileage and performance. No stickshift is available.

Drivability
Handling is unremarkable, the Prius riding soft for comfort. There is some wallow and sway in turns, though the sedan feels balanced overall.

Styling
Form follows function, with the hybrid designed for the least wind resistance to enhance mileage. The sleek aerodynamics are a love it or hate it issue. Some saw Prius as striking and futuristic, while others thought it was just weird.

Interior
Roomy and stylish, with loads of airy space ahead of the front seats and decent accommo ations for four, five in a pinch. Luggage space is expansive and easily accessible through a wide rear hatch. The battery system is unobtrusively nestled under the floor.

The windshield is flat and steeply canted, with thick pillars that are heavy-looking and distracting. At night, there's an annoying glare that cuts right through the center or the windshield.

The digital dashboard is weird and unattractive; the speedometer and other functions set far ahead of the driver. In the front-center is a video display showing the interplay between the engine, motor and charging system, as well as audio and climate controls and GPS navigation system.

That's lots of useful information, but such functions as switching radio stations or adjusting the cabin temperature require too many steps.

Pricing
Prius starts out under $20,000, which provides a nicely equipped hybrid with plenty of features. The test car came with a $5,245 package that included side curtain air bags, automatic load leveling, vehicle stability control, a nine-speaker audio system with CD changer; $184 for floor mats and cargo net, and $515 shipping, for a total of $25,944.

Bottom line
Hybrid technology is expanding in the auto industry, so watch for more offerings. Honda adds an Accord hybrid this year to its Civic and Insight. Ford recently unleashed an Escape SUV hybrid, and General Motors is gradually producing "mild hybrid" pickup trucks. Toyota also soon will offer a hybrid version of its Highlander SUV.

Toyota Prius
Vehicle type:
Five-passenger, four-door sedan, front-wheel drive.

Base price:
$19,995.

Price as tested: $25,944.

Engine:
Gas/electric hybrid drive with 1.5-liter inline four, 76 horsepower; 82 pound-feet of torque at 4,200 rpm; 50-kilowatt electric motor, 295 pound-feet of torque from 0 to 1,200 rpm.

Transmission:
Continuously variable automatic.

Wheelbase:
106.3 inches.

Curb weight:
2,890 pounds.

EPA mileage:
60 city, 51 highway.

Highs:
Great gas mileage.
Power, acceleration.
Roomy interior.

Lows:
Ugly dashboard.
Windshield glare.
Engine drone.

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