OK, it’s official. This is getting eerie. I grew up in the 60’s in the big, fat middle of the muscle car, pony car, import sports car era. Many of my friends opted for muscle and I was a slave to the unreliable, barely functional products hewed out of rust-prone chunks of iron in the blast furnaces of Great Britain. But what all of these cars of that era had in common is that they were crude, loud and entirely traditional. The byword of the times was, “Internal combustion! Accept no substitutes!”
But gas/electric hybrid vehicles are here and their numbers are growing. Our Prius this week was the granddaddy, but now everyone including the Big 3 are in on the act. In fact, the Chevy Volt is the technology leader of the pack.
But for affordable economy, you can’t beat the Toyota Prius.
The Japanese got in on the ground floor, and and have reaped the rewards. The groundbreaking Toyota Prius, an incredibly efficient, unbelievably well engineered and incomparably bland-looking vehicle was introduced in 1999 in Japan and 2000 in the land of the free. They sold around 12,000 that first year, 15,000 the next and 20,000 in 2002. The concept was proven, but the vehicle looked like a Corolla without a personality.
Well that all ended in May of 2004 and the 2005 model in production now has even more of the good stuff and looks positively exotic. A sloping, fastback roofline combined with rather slab-sided flanks and fairly small wheels make it look like a Citroen product. But the French look works here and cloaks a car that is better and more efficient in every way than not only it’s predecessor, but most of the competition as well.
Now, the Prius V is even swoopier, and has a hatchback, but still has the virtue of being slow.
The basic powerplant is a 1.8 liter, dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine generating 98 horsepower. But it is aided and abetted by a 50 kilowatt electric motor with 295 lb.ft. of torque that both adds and substitutes for the gas engine depending on the demands of the driver. 50 kilowatts, by the way, is roughly equivalent to 36 horsepower, or 134 in all.
Together they give the Prius a 0-60 time of 10.3 seconds, which is better than my old MGB, and a top speed is 103 miles per hour. But, you can measure acceleration with an hourglass.
Ah, but here’s the beauty part my profligate, SUV-driving wastrels, the new Prius offers EPA mileage of 44 miles per gallon in the city/ 42 on the highway. You don’t plug it in; you don’t change batteries regularly; in fact you don’t do anything but gas it up and drive it like any other car. You just gas it up a lot less.
And, all the machinations to get that mileage are so seamless and underwhelming, you’ll wonder why everyone makes such a big deal about it. That is until you notice that you’ve forgotten the way to the Shell station because you visit so seldom.
All of this goodness comes in a more practical package now with interior room almost equal to a Camry. The nickel-metal hydride battery pack resides under the hatch and takes up room roughly equal to half a Coleman cooler. It is warranted for 100,000 miles by the way. Used battery packs can be had for $500 and 97% of all Prius’ ever made are still on the road.
The basic car with power steering, a nice stereo, air conditioning, a continuously variable automatic transmission power windows and locks, traction control, ABS brakes and more is now priced in the mid-$20000 range.
For all the naysayers, they have now sold more than 2-million of the things since 1997, and it outsells all its hybrid competition combined. The Prius family now includes this new hatchback, a small two-door that is less than $20-grand, and a larger wagon.
Our Prius V hatchback is still under 30-large, and that’s over 10-grand less than a Volt.
The Volt may be more high-tech, but is it worth the extra scratch?
It all began with a huge, billion dollar subsidy from the Japanese government, but look what it produced. Others may be more technically advanced, but the Prius is still the gold standard in alternative transportation.