With the Prius, Toyota is the second company to offer a gasoline/electric-hybrid passenger car in the United States. Prius is a four-door, five-passenger sedan that went on sale in late summer, nearly a year after Honda introduced the Insight a two-seat, two-door hatchback with a similar powertrain. In fact, the Prius was originally projected to be a 2000 model year introduction.
While Toyota follows Honda in introducing the Prius, Toyota says it expects to lead in sales because it has the capacity to produce thousands instead of hundreds.
Base price is $19,995, which includes an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on the hybrid powertrain and three years of free maintenance. Toyota currently offers a handful of factory options, including a CD player and CD changer, carpet floormats, a cargo net and wheel locks. Side-impact airbags, a navigation system and cruise control are planned for the future, but Toyota says it doesnt know when these options will be available.
The Prius is a four-door sedan with a sloping hood that gives it visual kinship to the Toyota ECHO at the front. At 170 inches overall, the Prius is 7 inches longer than the ECHO. With a height of 58 inches, the Prius is more than an inch shorter than the ECHO but is still taller than other subcompacts.
Though categorized a subcompact according to its exterior dimensions, the upright styling of the Prius provides ample headroom for taller passengers at the front and rear. However, the rear seat isnt wide enough to easily fit three adults. Cargo volume is 12 cubic feet competitive with other small sedans but the rear seatback does not fold for extra space.
Antilock brakes, air conditioning, a cassette player and power locks, windows and mirrors are standard. Options include a CD player, CD changer, carpted floor mats, cargo net and wheel locks.
Under the Hood
A 44-horsepower electric motor powers the car up to about 12 mph; at that point, the 70-hp 1.5-liter gas engine becomes the main power source in what Toyota says is a seamless transition. The electric motor kicks in to furnish additional power for passing, but the gas engine is the primary power source. The gas engine turns off when the car stops and during deceleration and braking.
Deviating from the norm, Prius earns a higher city mileage rating (52 mpg) than a highway rating (45 mpg) from the EPA.
Because the gas engine recharges the batteries, which are mounted behind the rear seat, the car doesnt require overnight recharging.
A continuously variable automatic transmission sends power to the front wheels. Unlike a conventional automatic, which has three or four forward gears, a continuously variable transmission has an infinite number of gear ratios and works like a dimmer switch instead of a three-way light switch.