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Currently, the 2002 Toyota Prius is the best hybrid on the market, but watch for the upcoming hybrid Civic.
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.
Available Prius Models
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Initially offered as a single specification with no factory options, Toyota's advanced gasoline/electric hybrid now offers a choice of several new options for 2002. These include a navigation system, cruise control, side airbags and daytime running lights. There are also two new colors: Brilliant Blue and Blue Moon Pearl.
With fuel prices hovering around $2 a gallon, hybrid vehicles have been getting increased attention from the American public. Hybrid cars combine a gasoline engine with an electric motor. Since hybrids are still fueled by gasoline, they don't have to be plugged in or recharged. The result of hybrid technology is reduced emissions and improved fuel efficiency when compared to a normal gasoline-powered car.
There are currently two available for mass consumption: the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius. While the Insight gets amazing fuel mileage thanks to its lightweight aluminum body and aerodynamic shape, the Prius trades ultimate fuel economy for increased utility. It holds five passengers and a good bit of cargo, meaning it functions as a useable family car.
Toyota is keen on pointing out that Prius (on sale in Japan since 1997), 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. 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. The electric drive motor is worth another 44 peak horsepower, bringing the maximum potential horsepower output to 114.
The Prius operates on either electricity or gasoline alone, or a combination of both. Depending on speed and load, the ratio of power provided by each system is constantly adjusted by electronics to keep the vehicle in its most efficient operating mode. Even then, acceleration is slow; 0-to-60 mph takes 12.8 seconds. We're thinking Prius is for use primarily in the city and not for blitzkrieg runs to Vegas.
Driven with care, Prius will achieve 52 mpg in the city and 45 on the highway while meeting squeaky-clean SULEV emissions standards, according to the EPA. With its 11.9-gallon gas tank, the car has 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 and mirrors; height-adjustable front seats; and 14-inch alloy wheels. Gauges and controls are located in the center of the dashboard, including an LCD screen that can be used to monitor fuel mileage in real time. New options are available this year, including a GPS navigation system, cruise control, side airbags and daytime running lights.
Thanks to a tall stance, seating is upright with plenty of head- and foot room. Toyota likes to refer to the Prius as a "real car," implying 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 the Insight, the Prius offers a viable alternative to gasoline powerplants 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.