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The 2001 Toyota Prius is currently the best hybrid on the market.
Environmentally sound sedan, competitive price, full load of equipment, excellent warranty coverage.
Funky styling, weak performance compared to gas-engine cars, technology doesn't come cheap.
The 2001 Toyota Prius, a gas/electric hybrid that follows in the more expensive Honda Insight's footsteps, offers space for five adults coupled with class-leading fuel economy.
Commend Toyota for taking the gasoline/electric hybrid one step further than Honda did when it released the two-seat Insight last year. The new Prius, though it gives up ultimate fuel economy for increased utility, holds five passengers and a good bit of cargo, meaning it functions as a useable family car.
On sale in Japan since 1997, Toyota is keen on pointing out that Prius, and not Insight, was the first mass-produced gas/electric hybrid vehicle in the world. The company held off on introducing the model to U.S. customers until it could gauge consumer interest and boost power levels.
An all-aluminum 1.5-liter gasoline engine makes 70 horsepower at 4,500 rpm, 12 more than Japan-market models. Torque is less than robust, measuring a meager 82 foot-pounds at a rather high 4,200 rpm. Variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i) helps maximize engine efficiency while minimizing emissions, and power is put to the ground via a continuously variable transmission driving the front wheels. With a curb weight of 2,765 pounds, we're thinking Prius is for use primarily in the city and not for blitzkrieg runs to Vegas.
Like the engine, the sealed nickel-metal hydride battery pack powering the supplementary electric motor has been boosted 20 percent to 25 kilowatts (kW), resulting in 34 supplementary horsepower. Lighter than Japan-market batteries, U.S. spec power packs are also smaller, providing increased cargo area in the trunk, amounting to 11.8 cubic feet of space. Regenerative antilock brakes recharge the battery pack with each use, and if the electrical power completely depletes, the gas engine will help energize them.
Driven with care, Prius will achieve 52 mpg in the city and 45 on the highway while meeting SULEV emissions standards, according to the EPA. With its 11.9-gallon gas tank, that gives the car a maximum city range of just over 600 miles.
A single model is available, loaded with amenities like air conditioning, remote keyless entry, cassette stereo, power windows/locks/mirrors, height-adjustable front seats, and 14-inch alloy wheels.
Gauges and controls are located in the center of the dashboard, like in Toyota's goofy Echo subcompact, to make Prius easy to configure for multiple world markets. Thanks to a tall stance, seating is upright with plenty of head- and foot room. Toyota likes to refer to Prius as a "real car," intimating that Honda's hybrid Insight is not a real car. If the definition of "real" is capacity for more than two people and 10 cubic feet of stuff, then they're not fibbing.
Whatever the case may be, it is obvious that hybrids are meeting with acceptance in the court of public opinion. Like Insight, Prius offers a viable alternative to gasoline power plants without the limitations posed by electric-only cars like the GM EV1. If your blood runs green and not red, drop by your local Toyota dealer for a test drive.
Laura's old car was costing her a small fortune every month for gas and repairs. She didn't even want to drive her kids to the park any more. But buying a new Kia Soul changed all that.