2008 Prius New Car Test Drive
The Toyota Prius is an impressive technological feat. It offers much better fuel economy than conventional cars and radically less environmental impact. We wouldn't have expected the pairing a small gas engine with a battery-powered motor to create a social phenomenon, but that's what the Prius has done, and it continues to be in demand.
The Prius is the best-selling gas-electric hybrid in the United States and in the world. Toyota sold just 5,600 in 2001, but annual sales expanded to 54,000 in 2004 and 108,000 in 2005. Sales for the first quarter of 2008 were up from the same period in 2007.
Introduced as a 2001 model, the Prius was redesigned for 2004 and updated for 2006. The 2008 Prius gets some new options, notably leather upholstery and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
We find the Prius to be a comfortable car that's easy to like and live with. It's roomy, with adult-size back seats and lots of cargo space. It's pleasant to look at, with sleek, futuristic styling, easy to spot in a parking lot. In short, we like the Prius.
The EPA ratings for the 2008 Prius are 48 mpg City, 45 mpg Highway, and we're guessing everyday fuel economy for most owners should fall somewhere between 40 and 50 mpg. The test procedure used until recently by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency exaggerated the fuel efficiency of all hybrids, but the EPA has revised its test procedures to more closely simulate modern driving habits.
While the Prius excels at fuel economy, its performance in terms of emissions is even better. Prius is certified as an Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV); meaning that it meets the Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV) exhaust standard; plus a zero evaporative emissions standard, a 150,000-mile durability demonstration, and an extended emissions system warranty. That makes the Prius an excellent choice for buyers who want to reduce air pollution and America's dependence on oil. The Prius isn't cheap, but it costs less than a lot of other vehicles that are commonly promoted as family transportation.
It's important to understand that the Prius is not an electric car. You never plug it in. And there's no worry about driving beyond the range of the battery. A small, highly efficient four-cylinder gasoline engine charges the battery as you drive. No special knowledge is needed to drive the Prius. It works just like a regular car: You get in, you twist the key, you put the lever in Drive and you go. When it gets low on gas, you fill it up.
The Toyota Prius is available in base ($22,475) and Touring Edition ($23,370) trim. A wide range of option packages allow for additional personalization.
Standard features include fabric upholstery; electric air conditioning with a micron filter; power windows, door locks and heated outside mirrors; remote keyless entry; cruise control; a tilting steering wheel with redundant climate and audio controls; intermittent front and rear wipers; a six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo; and P185/65 all-season tires on 15-inch aluminum wheels.
The Touring Edition rides on a more tautly tuned suspension and P195/55R16 wheels and tires. Visually, it's distinguished by HID headlamps with integrated fog lamps, and a larger rear spoiler.
Options are bundled into packages, with each succeedingly numbered package building on the contents of the previous packages. Package 1 comes standard. Package 2 ($575) includes vehicle stability control (VSC), a reversing camera to help you see what's behind you, Smart Key access, and MP3 capability for the stereo. Package 3 ($2,105) adds a premium nine-speaker JBL stereo with CD changer and Bluetooth; and Homelink. Package 4 ($2,580) adds HID headlamps with foglamps and a security alarm. Package 5 ($3,280) adds navigation. Package 6 ($4,550) tops it all off with leather seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Safety equipment that comes standard includes antilock brakes (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist, and traction control. Standard passive safety features include advanced multi-stage, dual front airbags; side-curtain airbags designed to offer head protection for front and rear passengers; seat-mounted side-impact airbags for torso protection for driver and front-seat passenger; three-point seatbelts and head restraints at all five seating positions; and rear seat head restraints that are adjustable. A tire pressure monitoring system comes standard.