• Jan 1st 2008 at 12:01PM
  • 99
Click image for high-res gallery of the 2007 Toyota Prius Touring

Regarding Toyota's poster child for "green" motoring, I had never really been a fan and I'm as guilty as anyone of taking the occasional swipe at the petro-lectro hatch. Hey, it's an easy target. With some followers who see it as a kind of four-wheeled Messiah capable of preventing the sky from falling, it's easy to look at the Prius, roll your eyes, and scoff at the hyperbolic ridiculousness that is "Prius Culture." I had done all these things. Call me a hater. I don't mind. To top things off, I had never even driven a Prius. So I asked Toyota for one, figuring that if I was going to continue being a smartass, I might as well be an informed one.

All photos Copyright ©2007 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.

In case you hadn't guessed already, I'm not someone who loses sleep over global warming (man-made, natural, imaginary or whatever). I haven't seen An Inconvenient Truth, nor do I care who killed the electric car. While there's no shortage of folks who look at the Prius as a quasi-religious socio-political icon, there are plenty more who are happy to cut through all that BS and just appreciate the car for its practical nature and "gee-whiz" appeal. Clean (it's a PZEV), economical motoring in a usable, innovative package is the Prius' basic mission -- a fact that's lost in the din of the hype machine. Its hybrid system is designed for effortless, everyday use by anyone, even if you're more interested in saving a few bucks at the pump than saving the planet. I can relate to the former group, no problem.

As potential Prius drivers go, I'm probably a good candidate. I have a 60-mile round-trip commute (i.e. 30 each way) that's mostly highway, yet still plays to the Prius' strengths. How so? Well, I don't live in Utopia. I live in Fairfield County, CT, which is home to a lot of fellow commuters. During rush hour, we all get together on I-95 or the Merritt and stare at one another in seemingly endless stop-and-go traffic. The entrance ramps ought to have signs saying, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." As miserable as the conditions can be, however, the Prius welcomes them with open arms.

In fact, it welcomes you with open arms, too. That aerodynamically optimized Easter egg shape won't win many beauty contests (though I did like the Seaside pearl finish), but it hides within it a roomy midsizer that's well-equipped to carry four or five people in comfort. Headroom in both seating rows is ample, and passengers have a good amount of space in which to stretch their legs. In fact, the Prius' 38.6 inches of rear seat legroom is more than you get in the Toyota Camry, Saturn Aura, and Ford Fusion. Staying in the family, the Prius' front seat passengers have a little more legroom than Camry riders, as well. There's also ample room for your stuff in back, with a hidden storage area under the main cargo space beneath the rear hatch. If you need additional room, you can always flip down the rear seats.

All Prius have push-button start, and my loaded Touring model upped the ante with a fully keyless entry/go system via a smart fob. There's a dock for it in the dash, but you needn't use it. Slide into the driver's seat with the fob in your pocket, put your foot on the brake, and hit the start button. Bang, the car's on. The Prius sparks up in EV mode, and the ICE doesn't necessarily fire up at the same time (though in most cases, I found it did so almost immediately thereafter). The shifter sticks out of the instrument panel and isn't mechanically connected to anything. It's a by-wire setup, so after you've selected your gear with a light tap (reverse is over and up, drive is over and down), the shifter itself (it's more like a joystick, actually) pops back into its "ready" position. When you're done driving, just hit the big "P" button above it to put the car in park.

In the past, I had peered into many a Prius window wondering how well the visually odd arrangement of instrumentation and controls worked in practice. It's quite straightforward, actually. Instead of a traditional gauge cluster, you're faced with an expanse of plastic that ends in a darkened horizontal strip placed near the base of the windshield. When the car's on, that element lights up and presents you with a digital speedo, transmission indicator, fuel gauge, odometer, and the usual assortment of warning/information lights. The center stack is capped with a color touchscreen LCD display that's the primary interface for a number of controls (phone, climate, nav, etc.), and most importantly, the informational "video game" showing the car's powertrain status. The Bluetooth system had no problem making nice with my Blackberry, and big buttons on the touchscreen make dialing a snap if you need to make a call. The center console is home to the usual accoutrements: a bin and a couple of cupholders. There's additional storage on the passenger side, where you'll find over/under gloveboxes on the dash.

Overall material quality inside is good. Toyota mixes up the plastic textures and colors well, and the cloth seat upholstery looks fine. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the steering wheel, which really puts the "multi" in multifunction. Stereo controls are a given, and phone controls are becoming more commonplace, but Toyota goes a step further, adding navigation and climate controls, the latter of which allow you to change the fan speed and activate the defroster and rear defogger without taking your hands off the wheel. it's a nice touch that spares you the act of going into the touchscreen system.

As for the experience behind the wheel, it's pretty vanilla. It's good vanilla, to be sure, but vanilla nonetheless. The car is extremely quiet -- virtually silent in EV mode and still admirably muted when the 1.5L adds itself to the mix. You need to really romp on the gas to make the combustion engine intrusive-sounding. The "sport tuned suspension" that's part of the car's Touring package soaks up bumps fine, and the Prius is nimble as it trundles around town. Expansion joints and other pronounced road imperfections didn't result in any squirrelly behavior -- something I've experienced in other cars fitted with low-rolling-resistance tires. Acceleration is good when you consider that the engine and Hybrid Synergy Drive's electric motor combine for the equivalent of a modest 110 hp according to Toyota. When the two work in concert, there's ample torque to be had. The 50 Kw electric motor delivers 295 lb-ft from zero to 1200 RPM, supplementing the 1.5L's peak output of 82 lb-ft at 4200 RPM.. Highway merging isn't a problem at all, and in most cases, you'll find yourself resisting the urge to bomb about, anyway. The reason for this -- and to me, it's the most impressive thing about the Prius -- is the car's innate ability to encourage economical driving.

This is largely due to the aforementioned "video game" screen (formally called the Energy Monitor) that gives occupants a graphical representation of which elements of the drivetrain are doing what, as well as showing the battery's state of charge. After spending a short time driving, you can pretty much figure out what's happening under the car's skin by how it feels (it's pretty obvious when the engine is off, and you get a sense for the regenerative braking, too), but the Energy Monitor confirms your thoughts with a quick glance. I soon found myself using the Consumption screen instead. It displays your current fuel economy, overall average fuel economy and a bar graph representation of fuel economy and recharging activity in 5-minute increments. This made it easy to see how consistently good (or bad) I was doing with regard to my fuel consumption, and was far more useful than the Energy Monitor, which is cool for a few minutes and impresses newbie passengers but quickly gets old.

Around-town driving is great and all, and open highway driving is very predictable (i.e. you're pretty much using the ICE once you're at speed), but what ultimately converted me to the "pro-Prius" camp for good was how excellent it is in stop-and-go traffic. As long as the battery has juice, the car stubbornly refuses to fire its gasoline engine while it crawls along. Eventually, the Prius will have to fire up the ICE if/when the battery's charge drops too low. When this happens, you almost sigh in disappointment, because it's going to cut into the "high score" you've been working on the last few days in the "game." Then you sit there, realizing you're kinda bummed out because of what will, in the long run, be an inconsequential dip in your average fuel economy. This is the epiphany. This is when you know you truly enjoy driving the Prius, a car you may have reflexively disliked before. After a week with it, I averaged a solid 44 miles per gallon over 285 miles. I could have done better, too, but I admit that despite my heightened sense of awareness regarding gas mileage, I would still stomp on the accelerator now and then.

I took no long road trips, so I can't tell you how it does in that respect. As a daily driver, it's very good, and as a commuter, particularly in congested areas, it's flat-out excellent. At a tick over $28,393, my tester was not particularly cheap for an economy car. But don't think of it in those terms. The Prius Touring is a roomy, feature-laden midsize car that happens to also get excellent fuel economy. Feel free to rant about the supposed cost disadvantages of the Prius; how the so-called hybrid penalty isn't worth it, and so forth. You're missing the point. The Prius is like any other car in that if you like it enough and feel you'll be happy with it, you're going to be OK with spending the money required to put it in your garage. As for all the "Prius Culture" baggage that follows the car everywhere, that you can keep.

It's neither the prettiest ride nor is it the fastest or most dynamic, but it's got geek appeal, is comfortable and is engaging to drive in its unique way. Hate on it all you want, but know this: Prius does its thing exceedingly well. Every night, I tell my daughter to try something new at dinnertime. The common reply is almost always, "No, Daddy. I don't like it." This generates an automatic "But you never even tried it before!" from me. When it came to the Prius, I was as stubbornly opposed to the idea of it being worthwhile as my daughter is to new foods. So I walked the walk that goes with the talk I constantly give her. I tried the Prius, and I'll be damned. I really liked it. So says a hater, through a mouthful of crow.

All photos Copyright ©2007 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      I do not understand why so many enthusiasts are so negative about this car.

      It is as remarkable at its mission as a Porsche is at its. I've got a driveway full of cars: 993 C4, Miata, S4 V8, MDX (wife), Sonata V6 (kids), E-150 van (tow and vacation), and in day-to-day driving around town, they ALL get lousy mileage- in the teens, except the Miata, which is maybe mid 20's.

      So here's a roomy, quiet commuting vehicle that goes 2.5 times as far on a gallon of gas- what's not great about that?

      As for the styling, yeah, they tried to make it distinctive, and succeeded. While lots of other companies keep making their cars uglier (e.g., the new WRX!), the Prius looks better to me every day.

      If you can have more than one or two cars, why not have some for fun, and some for practicality. I expect a Prius (or maybe the next-generation Civic Hybrid) will take the place of my S4 soon.
        • 7 Years Ago

        $8,000 difference? Only if you check the prices before replying....
        • 7 Years Ago
        Me neither. People seem to get all excited when SUVs are mentioned, saying "I should be able to choose whatever vehicle I want" but then when hybrids are mentioned, they seem to act as if it is an act of foolishness or treason to buy one. They say you're "smug", implying that people who are buying hybrids aren't being true to themselves or are doing it just to piss the rest of us off.

        It's incredibly reactionary, and I just don't understand it.

        Saving gas is not a crime.
        • 7 Years Ago
        "So here's a roomy, quiet commuting vehicle that goes 2.5 times as far on a gallon of gas- what's not great about that? "

        What's not great about that is for $8,000 less you can buy a new Malibu, a G6, a Camry, a Sonata... the list goes on, and over the coarse of the lifetime of the vehicle you will most likely NOT make that $8,000 difference up with the Prius.

        While driving a different vehicle, you'll also have better driving dynamics, a more attractive vehicle, etc.

        We can push that one step further and say you get a Ford Focus, Hyundai Accent or Toyota Corolla... all three get ten MPG less than the Prius, and all three ALSO cost $10-12,000 less.

        They're also better for the environment, after you take into account battery disposal, etc.

        Hell, even if they weren't, you're paying much less up-front, and still probably saving money in the long run, and if you drove them long enough to make the Prius economically sufficient when comparing gas savings to up-front cost, your Prius will have hundreds of thousands of miles on it, and the battery will have long been shot.

        So basically, you pay more to... pay more.
        • 7 Years Ago
        People are hostile to the Prius because so many of its touters are so enamored they want the government to mandate I drive one too.

        It's a nearly ideal car for what it is - the congested urban commuter. Nobody denies that. If that's your drive, great, buy one and love it all you want.

        But that isn't MY drive. Telling me you care about the planet more than I do, your car is better than mine, and the government should take my choice away is going to earn resentment, and some of it is going to rub off on your car whether it deserves it or not.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Hey, I never said the Prius was the cheapest thing to drive. If you want cheap, buy a 15 year old Civic, or for a new car, the tiniest Kia or Hyundai.

        But it is a very remarkable car, and as a broad-interest car enthusiast, I think it's as cool as my old 911, just in a different way.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I think the Prius' Hybrid Synergy Drive is an inelegant solution to a pretty easy to describe problem. Two motors working in tandem with a very large NiMH battery to get "just" 45 MPG highway???

      Soon VW will be selling a 2.0L diesel Jetta wagon which will likely cost less than the Prius, get better gas mileage and be in a more practical wagon style than the Prius pseudo-hatchback. Too bad VW has shot their reliability reputation to hell so a lot of people may not even consider the Jetta diesel because of that.

      Hybrids are way overblown. Diesel is where real economy will be found. I would also guess with the low end grunt of the torquey diesel, it will be more fun to drive than a Prius.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I used to drive San Diego to Los Angeles (about 120 miles) and averaged 52 or 53 mpg for each trip. Maybe your '45 mpg on the highway' is for short trips (the engine has to warm up for about 15 minutes to reach optimum efficiency), or maybe you have 5 overweight adults in your Prius and drive 90 mph (wind resistance goes up as the cube of speed)

        By the way, the battery/motor system is not 'dead weight' at highways speeds. The ICE can rev at optimum power rpm and trickle charge the batteries, and the batteries/motor can be used at passing speeds, and the battery can charge on slight downhills and slowdowns. It all adds up for a very efficient 52 mpg at 70 mph average speeds. The old 'electric motor used at 0 - 30 mph, then useless weight' myth is what the uninformed were saying 7 years ago.

        I agree diesel engines get good mileage, but you understand, diesel fuel has inherently more energy than gasoline (longer hydrocarbon chains). That plus the high compression ratios give higher mpg. But when stuck in traffic, the diesel engine wastes energy. And diesel costs more than gasoline (AAA website shows avg gasoline is $3.10 today, diesel is $3.45 today)

        As for 'fun torque': do you know the Prius has 377 lb-ft of torque ? I sometimes amuse myself by leaving sportscars in the dust when a light turns green. Many people assume the Prius is slow, because many owners drive that way to conserve fuel.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Problem is the North American public is terrified of diesel. The smog, noise, smell; just like GM can't build a reliable car. Both of which are untrue of course, but its the stigma that still exists. Combine that with the fact that it (Prius, VW Wagon) is a hunchback, er, hatchback - and you have even more people putting their noses up in the air in disgust.

        Diesel with range-extending hybrid would be my pie in the sky dream.
        • 7 Years Ago

        I don't even own a Prius. So no, there aren't 5 overweight adults in any of my cars. I am basing my numbers on the EPA numbers Toyota publishes on their web site. I am sure the electric motor has more torque than either a diesel or a gas engine, it is also severely limited by battery capacity. And to get over that limitation you need a bigger heavier battery. I really challenge you on the "fun to drive" factor of the Prius. You are probably aware of the very un-fun tires that the Prius rides on to conserve fuel. Since the electric motor helps up to 30mph, I bet you're all smiles up to about 31 mph and then any Mustang would blow past your Prius.

        Yep, I already knew diesel has more energy per gallon than gas which means you have more energy per tank full or you can get away with a smaller tank. That is part of my argument actually. Therefore it should be no surprise that diesel costs about 9% more.

        In order to achieve similar fuel efficiency to a diesel motor, a Prius needs to carry around a battery that weighs something on the order of 220 lbs which, in sedans, limits the trunk size (compare the Camry non-hybrid cargo volume with the hybrid Camry cargo volume). You paragraph explaining how the hybrid system is a simplification and is still more complex than what a diesel does. Hell, the diesel doesn't even have spark plugs!

        Basically, there are just too many compromises that the hybrid system asks the owner to make, whereas a diesel owner gets great fuel economy with few compromises and no need to replace what I imagine will be a very expensive battery after 10 years.
      • 7 Years Ago
      This is a true story. A couple of months ago, I was driving in Manhattan and the car was running only on electric due to the speed. There were 3 young girls (17-22) on the street screaming Prius! Prius! Prius! I heard them because the gas engine was off and I can hear every little sound from outside. My fiancee was in the car and my face turned tomato red. LOL

      Just yesterday, my passenger told me that someone on the street gave a thumb up while looking at my Prius.
      • 7 Years Ago
      $28k? I'd get a Honda Fit for $18k or less. The $10k saved would more than make up for the extra fuel over the life of the car.

      But then the Pious isn't about saving money -- it's a religious thing.
        • 7 Years Ago
        It costs more than a Fit not just because it gets better mpg but because it is a lot more car. It has a lot better interior, more gizmos (which add cost to any car, even gas guzzlers) and a lot more space.

        The Fit is a good car, but if you are going to commute a long way (and many Prius owners do, one of my friends commutes 50 miles each way each day), the Prius will be a LOT more livable on those long commutes. Plenty of people buy a BMW over a Buick stating how they're going to be in their car a lot and they'd like to improve their enjoyment of the vehicle during those times. These people aren't about saving money, they're doing it for their own reasons. Is there any reason Priuses and Prius owners deserve different treatment?
        • 7 Years Ago
        I seriously considered a Fit before buying the Prius. Biggest negative is that the redesign is due in the fall of '08 and it is much improved, acrylic roof and all. Second negative is that the car looks too nerdy, or dowdy, like a little scion. $9k cheaper than my Prius but I'm happy to have all the electronics
        • 7 Years Ago
        The "Touring" version is the most expensive Prius you can get.
      • 7 Years Ago
      30 comments in, and 2 of the most common FUD items are found.

      1. No, the article talking about environmental cost of Prius vs. Hummer was a load of crap. There's little impact from mining and disposal.

      2. No, you don't have to get a new battery after 5-6 years. Give me a break. Why does AutoBlog allow this crap to continue?
      • 7 Years Ago
      I'd wait for the next wave of fuel efficient autos. Not this 5 year old tech.
        • 7 Years Ago
        It's 10 year old tech, actually.

        Still good stuff, if that's what you want.
        • 7 Years Ago
        So you'd rather continue to drive some car that's using, what?, 85 year old technology instead? Plus, everyday hybrid tech now being tried and used for more than ten years is actually a good thing.

        And Diesel engines are and will remain being noisy stinkers. Good for lorries maybe, but what with all the fine dust particles sedimenting in your lungs and all that NOx, Volkswagen and all the others are just trying to delude you into thinking Diesel is green technology. Far from it.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I'm of the same opinion. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with the current batch of uber-efficient vehicles out today but with the improvements in tech over the past few years, the next batch of cars should be that much better.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Well, yes. It does not make sense for everyone to cut over at the earliest opportunity. I'd imagine if you're of a certain age you've seen plenty of early adopters get screwed from time to time. Are you thinking this tech won't get significantly better?
        • 7 Years Ago
        The cleanest Diesel emits 6x as much NOx as this car. Diesels are not though of as green because they're not green.

        Factor in that Diesel has 15-20% more energy (i.e. oil) in it and Diesels don't look so awesome in terms of saving oil either.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I was wondering how many enviro-driven articles we were gonna see in a row to start out 2008. Green is now a god and many are bowing and worshipping. I will not bow as I'd rather respond cautiously than join the reactionaries led by the likes of Gore(propogator) and Turner(treasurer) and UN(governor). Now that I think of it, I'd rather fight.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Wow ... this sounds like a pretty uneducated response to environmental issues. You seem to be having the classic knee-jerk reaction that a 2 year old has when they are told to do something.

        Good luck with that in the rest of your life.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Oh boo-hoo. I'm sure you'll get plenty of V8 articles in two weeks when Ford introduces a half-dozen limited-edition Mustangs.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I spent 4000 miles driving a prius across the US and canada earlier this year, and had a similar epiphany as Alex. I really wasn't a hater per say, but more in the camp of the economists who say it isn't financially practical -- since being "practical" is really the name of the game for Prius.

      My opinion changed almost immediately as I realized it was really a very roomy, very comfortable, extremely economical (while driving) CAR. It's a CAR! This shocked me honestly... it's a CAR! It is not some god to be worshipped or hated, but a CAR!

      Great article. I'll be in the CAR market again in 1-2 years. If the Prius is still the best alternative for a mid $20k enviro focused automobiling, it probably will be my choice.
      • 7 Years Ago
      all dodge ram cummins diesels come from the factory with B20 in the tank. blends upto and including properly refined B20 are ok. i don't know about the next gen TDI or the M-B bluetec.
      i also take exception to the fact that not only does a 50 state legal turbodiesel have to pass "the strictest emissions in the world" as someone stated, but now it has to excel at passing them? HUH? how high should we set the bar?
      maybe some of you would have preferred 25mph energy absorbing bumpers on your '77 olds cutlass? that would exceed the gov't standard by 20 mph never mind it would look like a carnival bumper car.
      give the R&D some time...they pass now and in time before the new round of standards come into effect they will be exceeding the current standards.
      sheesh. how many cars exceeded the emission standards in the 70's? look where gasoline power is now. without cars on the road the technology can't develop. same with hybrids.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Should add that (as mentioned) toyota prices the base model at $30,000 in Canada, which explains why the local dealer only has one on the lot amongst a sea of Yaris's. Can't remember the last time I saw one on the street.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Prius is mid-size car, so compare to Accord, Camry.

      Prius rarely gets credit for its good packaging, it is hatchback, very useful. I don't wanna buy a 30,000 dollar, 17mpg Pilot to haul bulky items, and the Civic, Corolla etc all got rid of hatch, wagon options in US - these cars have poor cargo volume.

      So compare Prius to Camry you see better mileage, and better cargo hauling, and similar interior room.

      I understand the argument about buying cheap 4cyl car, I have a 1999 Ford Contour that gets ~30 mpg overall. But next time will consider a Prius.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Dan : You're spreading misinformation. Even in Alex's review, he mentioned that the Prius has more legroom in the passenger seats in the back, and the front seat for driver and passenger seat than a Camry.

        The Prius is not an econobox. You seem to want to compare it to an econobox and declare it a failure as one. You are totally missing the point of Alex's article. The Prius is not an economy car. It's a high tech midsize car.
      • 7 Years Ago
      It's nice to see a review with no visible bias. Nicely written and a joy to read.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Agreed. Nice piece
        • 7 Years Ago
        I thought the same after reading it. Most of the Autobloggers, especially Sam Abuelsamid and Alex Núñez, are very good writers and should be doing it professionally if they aren't already. No offense to Weblogs, Inc. but they're probably underpaid for the quality of output.

        Now we just need to get the editors to fix all there (sic) typos and misspellings. :-]
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