Back in 1998 I drove a
Prius; a right hand drive Prius brought over to tour the US as a preview. Toyota was
cautiously optimistic about the Prius then, unsure how it would sell. They did not need to
worry demand far outstrips availability.
Much has been written about whether the Prius loses or makes money.
Critics say that Toyota uses the Prius as a sort of loss leader. Toyota says they make
money on every Prius that is sold. They admit that they do not make as much per vehicle as
on other Toyota vehicles. I tend to believe Toyota but really, the financial side is of
little interest to me. The Prius is a landmark vehicle that has changed the way we think
For those who dont know, the Prius is a hybrid vehicle - a
gas-electric hybrid. The whole idea of the Prius is low emissions and high fuel economy.
The low emissions are proven in California and other states adopting
Californias rules the 2004 Prius is certified as an Advanced Technology Partial Zero
Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV). Cutting to the chase, this means the Prius is one of the
cleanest vehicles available.
The fuel economy is subject to debate. The Prius is rated at 60-mpg
city and 51-mpg highway. There has been grumbling from some early 2004 Prius owners that
they cannot get anywhere close to those figures. All I can say is that I drove the Prius
in my normal style, cruising at 80 mph on the highway and I averaged 40 mpg. I see no
reason why someone could not reach 51 on the highway driving at the posted limits. The
city rating can be reached if you change your style of driving. There is a computer screen
that should help you do that it "banks" saved energy to show you when you
are driving conservatively.
The 2004 Prius is a much different looking vehicle than the previous
car. It is also very slippery, cutting through the air with a 0.26 coefficient of drag
(Cd). Besides aiding highway fuel economy, a low Cd helps to minimize wind noise, which
makes for lower a quieter cabin.
The 04 Prius is also larger than the first generation. The
wheelbase is almost six inches longer, there is 7 cubic feet more interior space, more
rear leg room, and a huge 16.1 cubic foot cargo space behind the seats.
One of the biggest changes I noticed about the 2004 Prius was that
it now seems so luxurious. The previous Prius was not a stripper but neither was it a
Lexus. The new Prius could very well be sold as a Lexus, it is that well appointed.
Standard features include regenerative anti-lock brakes (charges the
battery while braking), traction control, front airbags, remote keyless entry, heated side
mirrors, audio and HVAC controls on the steering wheel, air conditioning (electric so that
it is not affected by the on/off cycling of the powertrain), multi information display,
power windows/locks, AM/FM radio with CD player, and cruise control. There are also nine
option packages from rear intermittent wipers to side airbags, garage door opener, auto
dimming rear view mirror, alarm package, Smart Entry and Start, navigational system, super
sound system with 6-CD changer, Vehicle Stability Control, and fog lamps.
The Prius I drove had the full-tilt boogie-package including the
Smart Entry and Start thing. It was neat. Just put the key in your pocket, grab the
outside door handle, the computer unlocks the door, climb in, push the START button on the
dash, (yeah just like the old days) and youre off. You never have to take the key
out of your pocket or purse.
Is there a downside to the Prius, or to any hybrid for that matter?
The concern I hear from some is the cost of replacing the battery pack. There is no doubt
that a battery pack will be expensive, yes very expensive. According to Toyota the number
of battery failures has been extremely low, and dont forget that the Prius has been
on the market since about 1996 in Japan so there is some history to back up their claim. I
guess the 3,778 people who bought a Prius this past March feel the way I do.
One thing I have trouble getting used to, and this is not specific
to the Prius but all vehicles with a CVT (continuously variable transmission), is a
transmission that does not shift. A CVT keeps the engine in its most efficient power range
but in operation it sounds like a slipping clutch. I would imagine that non-technical
types would not even notice. I know the darn thing works, and I understand the technology,
but it confuses me.