Let me start with a disclaimer about car reviews, as I've conducted and read many in my lifetime. Car reviews can be unreliable. Reviewers are biased due to their background, upbringing or some childhood memory. Every person has different motivations and priorities. According to one "expert", a certain vehicle may be the "best of the year" and another "expert" doesn't recommend it at all.
I will make sure the vehicle fulfills the segment of the market it is geared toward. If it's a budget conscious vehicle, I will make sure it's actually affordable. Likewise, I am not going to be too hard on a 4x4 truck for being less fuel-efficient than a subcompact vehicle. Each review should be looked at according to which priorities are most important to you, the buyer. Is it safety, performance, comfort, reliability, fuel mileage, affordability? Read into what is important to you.
Now, let's reverse in time to give you a little history of the 2012 Toyota Prius. It's 1997, the height of sales of gas guzzling SUV's. Not much talk yet of "global warming" or gas prices. At that time, gas was less than $1 a gallon. Japan unveils the Toyota Prius, a hybrid vehicle, running off a gasoline and electric engine, after 20 years of dabbling in the technology. In 2000, the Toyota Prius made its debut in the U.S. It was funny looking and far from a pleasure to drive. It required 13 seconds to get from 0-60 and jerked when the engine would switch over from gas to electric and back again. However, it was a surprise hit and had a cult following.
When gas prices began creeping up in the early 2000's, Hybrids became a real option for many consumers. More companies began jumping on the Hybrid bandwagon, including but not limited to GM, Ford, Nissan and Honda.
Now we fast forward to present. The Prius is the best selling Hybrid on the road today and accounts for about 75 percent of all Hybrids sold. Over 2 million Prius have been sold worldwide to date.
The Hybrid Technology
The 2004 model Prius debuted with a system called the Toyota "Hybrid Synergy Drive"(HSD). I'm not going to bore you with the ins and outs of this system, but basically the HSD produces a "full" hybrid vehicle, which allows the car to run on the electric motor only, as opposed to most other brand hybrids which cannot and are considered "mild" hybrids. When the electric motor battery gets low, the gasoline engine kicks in and the battery is charged. The current 2012 Prius still uses the HSD and it has been tweaked to perfection in order to achieve the highest level of fuel economy possible with the best performance. Toyota now licenses its HSD to other manufacturers, such as Nissan and Ford, for use in some of their hybrid models.
Ride and Drive
Smooth and quiet
Back seats fold flat for versatility
Considerably roomy interior
Very loud beeping reverse indicator
Rear visibility interrupted by hatch
Heads up display is busy
The Prius is a whole other animal if you've never sat in or driven a Hybrid before. It seems to be geared toward the tech savvy, from the sweeping cockpit-like controls, to the digital heads up display, and the electronic gear shifter.
When you turn the car on, you would not know it's running. It's very quiet. Even driving, it is very quiet and smooth. From the outside, the Prius looks very small and uncomfortable. But, it is surprisingly spacious on the inside. I had no issue adjusting the steering wheel and seat for comfort and I could have driven a long trip with no issues. This car has many optional cool new tech features, such as the available advanced parking guidance system, smart key, back up camera, voice-activated navigation system, and radar laser cruise control. The Prius is definitely a draw for the tech savvy. It takes some dedication to learn how to operate the controls and flip through all of the available eco screens.
When you take off for the first time, the transmission may feel awkward because you can never feel "shift" due to the electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECCVT). Acceleration is peppy for the most part, but I felt it was slightly lagging in quick take off situations. The gasoline engine is a 1.8 L 16 valve VVT-I (variable valve timing with intelligence -- a fancy way of saying it's a smart engine that adjusts itself for performance and fuel economy) four-cylinder.
Considering the fuel economy, I wasn't exactly expecting a racecar, nor would I buy a Prius if I were only concerned about horsepower and swift acceleration. The Prius loves to whip tightly into parking spots and zip around town with ease, and I would classify it as fun to drive. The Prius is also very versatile. The rear seat folds flat for cargo and the four doors make it easy to get in and out for passengers and families with children.
The Prius achieves amazing fuel economy, at 51 MPG in the city and 48 MPG on the highway. During my test drive (including 50/50 city streets and highway), I achieved 50 MPG on the money. Which I was pretty surprised about because I have what some would consider a lead foot at times. In addition to the fuel economy, the Prius is considered a partial zero emissions vehicle (PZEV), which means it emits zero evaporative emissions from the fuel system. This car is great for the environmentally and economically conscious alike.
Price and Packages
The third generation 2012 Prius has a starting price of $24,500 for a Prius "2" and goes up to $35,000 for a Prius "5." The price raises depending on equipment, such as leather interior, heated seats, Bluetooth technology, JBL upgraded sound system, navigation, etc. Does it save enough money in gas to pay for itself? Well, probably not. But that's not really the point. If it were all about the gas mileage, Toyota wouldn't have added the cool tech features or made it environmentally friendly. If you just want a budget friendly gas saver, it would be better to go with a sub-compact car, with many on the market starting around $15,000.
Prius V and Plug-in Prius
The Prius V and the plug-in Prius are both brand new to the Prius line for 2012. The plug-in Prius will be available in Spring 2012 and allows you to charge its lithium-ion battery using a common household outlet. A 120V outlet will completely charge the battery in about three hours. It can drive up to 15 miles on electric power alone, and it's capable of traveling up to 62 mph in EV mode.
The Prius V is available now at local Toyota dealers. The "V" stands for "versatile", not the Roman numeral "5". The V is based on the Prius hatchback with 60 percent more cargo capacity. Fuel mileage is 44/40 MPG (city/hwy respectively) and has more cargo capacity than 80 percent of small SUV's. The V starts at $26,400 and goes up to $35,000. So, for those maybe looking at a small SUV or more versatile option for the mid-sized four-door, this one may be for you.
On the Road
Who is this car for? Well, that's not so simple to answer. Now with the Prius family growing, there are more choices for those wanting a Hybrid vehicle. In my opinion, Toyota did an excellent job of making the Prius eco-sensitive without giving up performance all together. This is all-around an excellent pick for those looking for a fuel saver, environmentally friendly, technologically advanced, versatile vehicle.
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