2003 Prius New Car Test Drive
Until someone invents a lighter battery or a longer power cord, electric cars don't make much sense. But gasoline-electric hybrids do. A hybrid combines battery power with a highly fuel-efficient gasoline engine to achieve remarkable fuel economy.
You never have to plug, unlike an electric car, because the gasoline engine continuously charges the batteries. The gas engine can be small, because the electric motor works with it to maximize performance. The engine shuts off at traffic lights to further save fuel and reduce emissions, earning Super Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV) certification.
It's easy to live with a hybrid because it requires no commitment from the driver. You don't have to tell the car to switch to either the gas or electric motor; it just does it, automatically. It feels, sounds, and drives like a normal car.
The Toyota Prius is one of just three hybrid gas-electric cars currently sold in the United States. The pseudo-sporty Honda Insight looks low and sleek, but seats only two people, while Honda's Civic Hybrid comfortably seats four.
Prius is tall and narrow and admits four people through four tall doors, while accommodating 12 cubic feet of their stuff in the trunk. It is designed not only for efficiency in how it goes, but in how much it can take there. And its efficiency is truly laudable, with an EPA rating of 52 mpg in city driving.
The Prius is available only in a single fully loaded model for $19,995. Standard equipment includes an automatic transmission, remote keyless entry, ABS, alloy wheels, air conditioning with automatic climate control, an AM/FM cassette, and power everything.
The option list has expanded for 2002, and now includes side-impact airbags, cruise control and daytime running lights; Prius also comes standard with a navigation system, wheel locks, a glass-breakage sensor and a CD player.