During a back-road trip to Cabela's, an outdoor equipment superstore located 20 miles from Automobile's home base, a friend and I experienced a touch of environmental bliss. As we glided to a stop, the gasoline engine automatically shut down to conserve fuel, so we motored gently forward, running only on clean, smooth, and nearly silent electric propulsion. This is one of many efficiency measures that helped us achieve 40 MPG over our 200-mile test drive. Another is called regenerative braking; step on the left pedal and energy that's usually wasted is captured for storage in the trunk-mounted battery pack. Then, when it's time to go again, the electric motors draw that energy out of the bank to minimize the power needed from the gasoline engine.
I like to think of the Toyota Prius as a successful laboratory experiment. What it lacks in sex appeal and driving fun, it more than makes up in the clever way it uses electricity and electronics to move us farther down the road while consuming less petroleum. Best of all, the Prius is now well known and respected by consumers who never placed much emphasis on fuel efficiency.
The Prius name has Latin roots and means 'to go before.' Considering the role hybrids will surely have in saving energy in the near term, the name Toyota picked for this car is a perfect fit.
Toyota Prius Touring Edition
Base Price: $ 21,500
As-Tested: $ 24,438
Engine: 4-cylinder aluminum DOHC 16-valve VVT-i
Horsepower: 76 hp @ 5000 rpm
Torque: 82 lb-ft @ 4200 rpm
Electric Motor: Permanent Magnet Synchronous AC
Power Output: 50 kW (67 hp) @ 1200-1540 rpm
Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 0-1200 rpm
Battery Type: Nickel-Metal Hydride
Transmission: Electronically Controlled Planetary Type Continuously Variable
L x W x H: 175.0 x 67.9 x 58.7 in
Legroom F/R: 41.9 / 38.6 in
Headroom F/R: 39.1 / 37.3 in
Cargo capacity: 14.4 cu ft
Curb Weight: 2932 lb
EPA Rating (city/highway/combined): 48/45/46 mpg