Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Prius remains gold standard for green cars
This review originally published in the September edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin' News published out of Folsom, California--mg
Sacramento, California -- Being green used to be so simple.
The Toyota Prius is a classic example. Back at the dawn of the millennium, you could pony up your 20,000 bucks and get a Prius stuffed with gas-saving technology so sophisticated that the car probably was worth around $30,000.
Things have changed. The new, third-generation Prius is much more complex than its ancestors. And the pricing structure reflects that. Four trim levels are available for 2010, with Roman numerals leading your wallet up the price path. A 2010 Prius II starts at 22,000. A Prius V tips the scales at $27,270.
Sigh! My soul craves simplification in my old age. I’m not unlike that 1957 Chevy devotee. Yes, the cars weren’t as safe or well-engineered back then, but I miss that old-school rush of a single dazzling ride.
Enough sentiment. Suffice it to say that if you’re looking for the state-of-the-art in an affordable hybrid four-door, look no further than the Prius. I was frankly stunned by all that the test Prius IV had in it, even with a starting price of $25,800 and an eye-opening bottom line of $30,709 on the sticker.
Besides that price, the most attention-grabbing numbers on the sticker are 51 miles per gallon in the city and 48 mpg on the highway. Even now, those numbers make my mouth water, one year removed from the $80 gas pump fill-up in California.
But there’s more. You can dial the Prius up for “economy” mode or “power” mode. And there’s a huge difference between the two. Eco mode feels like your pushing through chest-high snow. Power mode makes the fuelish Prius feel like it was ingested with some Mini Cooper DNA.
The look of the Prius is more geared to the power mode. The wedge shape is pronounced on the front end and up at the roof’s peak, and the aerodynamic lines flowing to the back look capable of slicing the air as precise as a butcher’s blade.
The Prius is powered by a 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle, four-cylinder engine that gives you about 100 horses, mated with a permanent magnet synchronous motor, which does the heavy lifting on start-ups. The two systems combine to give you about 134 ponies. The ride is quiet and smooth, aided by a seamless continuously variable transmission.
Just don’t try taking on the Sierra Nevada in economy mode, because you’ll be all day. For serious gas-savers, however, there’s actually something called “EV-Drive Mode” that enables you to do slow speed driving solely on electric battery power for up to a mile. Now that’s some serious gas-saving.
The Prius interior is roomy and supremely functional. Mastering the controls is a snap. There’s a nice-sized information center atop the dash, which offers up feel-good information on when you’re saving fuel. I have a gripe with the horizontal bar/spoiler at the rear, which annoyingly cuts your rearview mirror view into two halves. Still, I suppose structural integrity at the rear end is a must.
Optional extras include a sliding glass moonroof with solar panels positioned over the seating area. Yes, I’m serious, and you can’t tell they’re solar panels until you get your face right down there on the roofline. The panels soak up the rays and power an electric circulation system that cools the Prius interior so you don’t feel like you stepped into a stove on a hot Northern California day. Having sampled the system during a string of 100-plus degree days in Sacramento, I can tell you that it’s somewhat effective. Getting into the car was still a hot proposition.
I’m waiting to see what customizers will do with the Prius and its ilk when these hybrids someday make their way to garages, barns and salvage yards. I’d be tempted to drop an old Ford 427 in the front end and paint the car bright green, but I’ve always had a twisted sense of humor. Customizers of the future, surprise me.