While Honda was seeking conservation with its purpose-built, two-place Insight hybrid, Toyota was taking a more mainstream approach with a small sedan. Decidedly Japanese in its styling quirks, the original Prius was an excellent proof of concept: Hybrids were here to stay. Last year, with the second-generation Prius, Toyota raised the bar, creating a midsize car with fuel efficiency greater than that of most compacts. In addition to enabling the Prius' extreme performance and cargo-toting ability, the distinctive styling made an instant political statement.
In its first year, the Prius garnered industry accolades --- Motor Trend's Car of the Year, IntelliChoice Best Overall Value, and International Engine of the Year. Likewise, the public embraced the Prius with such fervor as to make it hard to find one to buy in 2004, especially in California, prompting Toyota to increase production by 50 percent. By this year, the fanfare has settled down, allowing us to take a more measured look beyond the hype at the car line that has demonstrated how high technology can bring fuel efficiency to market in an affordable, appealing package.
The funky five-door Prius is one of the most distinctive shapes on the road--a truly futuristic piece of car design.... Read full article