When Toyota introduced the gasoline/electric hybrid Prius for 2001, the manufacturer became the second automaker to offer a hybrid-powered passenger car, following on the heels of the two-passenger Honda Insight.
For 2004, Toyota rolled out a second-generation Prius. Unlike the first version, which was a sedan, the redesigned model was a more stylish four-door hatchback. Its wheelbase grew by 5.4 inches, and increased interior space transformed it from a compact to a midsize model.
From the start, the Prius differed from Honda hybrids in that electric power was dominant in its hybrid system. An electric motor could power the Prius until it reached about 12 mph. At that point, the gasoline engine took over in a virtually seamless transition. The electric motor would kick in when needed to furnish additional power. When the car stopped or while coasting, the gasoline engine could turn itself off. During that slowdown period, the battery pack was recharged.
Hybrid Synergy Drive in the current Prius can operate in either gas or electric mode, or both. Keyless entry and ignition are optional. Other than making the intermittent rear wiper standard, little has changed for 2005.
More aerodynamically styled than its predecessor, the second-generation Prius has a coefficient of drag of only 0.26, which makes it one of the most aerodynamic production vehicles available. The Prius has a 106-inch wheelbase, and overall length is 175 inches.
Up to five occupants fit inside the Prius, and they're likely to enjoy more elbowroom than in the original model. Standard equipment includes electric-inverter automatic air conditioning, a CD player, and power windows, locks and mirrors. Cargo volume totals 16.1 cubic feet.
Under the Hood
The 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine develops 76 horsepower, and a 500-volt 50-kilowatt electric motor is installed. The hybrid powertrain teams with a continuously variable transmission.
Antilock brakes are standard. Side-impact and side curtain-type airbags are optional.
In performance, the latest Prius takes the lead over the Honda Civic Hybrid. Acceleration from a standstill and for passing and merging is enthusiastic, but it's weaker at higher speeds. Ride comfort is another bonus. Though occupants can feel rough spots and hear them beneath the hatch lid when sitting in the backseat, they're largely subdued.
A solid bar across the back glass impairs rearward visibility. While the interior doesn't appear to be quite midsize in dimensions, and rear headroom is sparse, rear legroom is abundant. The seats are adequately comfortable, but they're positioned oddly. The cockpit comes across as modern but unfamiliar. Some controls � including the electronic gear selector, parking brake and start button � may confuse drivers at first.
Toyota claims that much of the Prius' braking is of the regenerative sort, without input from the friction-operated brake pads. This phenomenon is noticeable while driving, but not intrusive.