Full 2004 Toyota Prius Review
What's New for 2004
The 2004 Toyota Prius is completely redesigned with a larger overall size, more power, better mileage and even more available features.
The Prius wasn't the first hybrid car on the market, but with four doors, a sizable trunk and room for four, it was the first such vehicle to offer the practicality of a typical economy car along with the outstanding fuel mileage of a hybrid. The second-generation model delivers all that and more, with an even larger interior, hatchback utility, new interior features and a hybrid drivetrain that's more powerful and cleaner than the previous version. For the uninitiated, a hybrid drivetrain uses a small gasoline engine in conjunction with an electric motor to provide power while keeping emissions and fuel usage to a minimum. Under full acceleration, both motors work together to provide maximum power, but under lighter load conditions, such as stop-and-go traffic, the Prius alternates between the two, oftentimes running purely on battery power alone. A regenerative braking system converts energy normally lost as heat into electricity to charge the car's batteries, so the Prius never has to be plugged in. A dashboard monitor allows you to see which engine is doing the work, and how much energy is being used at any given time, among other things. Toyota calls the Prius' latest drivetrain a Hybrid Synergy Drive. Although it works in much the same way as the first-generation model, it delivers considerably more power with fewer emissions. Toyota claims that its exhaust emissions have been reduced by 30 percent over the previous model, allowing it to earn both SULEV (Super Ultra Low-Emission Vehicle) and PZEV (Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle) ratings. With a combined city/highway rating of 55 miles to the gallon, the 2004 Toyota Prius is the most economical midsize sedan on the road. Despite its miserly fuel ratings, the Prius can still accelerate to 60 mph in a respectable 10 seconds. Apart from its high-tech drivetrain, the Prius offers comfortable accommodations for four adults. It's a little smaller than most midsize sedans, but even taller passengers have enough room in the rear seats. Improved interior materials and a unique design give the cabin an alternative look and feel, but all the features you would expect are there. Newly available options include a keyless ignition system, a DVD-based navigation system and xenon headlights. Its hatchback design makes loading larger items into the cargo a snap, and with 16.1 cubic feet of space, there's nearly as much room in the trunk as in a Camry. Unlike the original version that was more science experiment than economy car, the all-new Prius is a legitimate family sedan that offers everything you would expect -- like solid build quality and refinement -- and a few things you don't -- like a base price of just $20,000. Add in the eye-popping mileage and long list of standard features, and it's easy to see why the 2004 Toyota Prius will be one of the most talked about cars of the year.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2004 Toyota Prius is available as a four-door hatchback only. There is only one well-appointed trim level, but several new options are available. The standard features list includes power windows, locks and mirrors; air conditioning; a tilt steering wheel with satellite audio and climate controls; a six-speaker CD stereo; cruise control; trip computer; and 15-inch aluminum wheels. Options like a DVD-based navigation system, Bluetooth hands-free phone technology, keyless entry and ignition and a JBL premium audio system with a six-disc CD changer are also available, along with an auto-dimming mirror, rear wiper and xenon headlights.
Powertrains and Performance
There is only one engine and transmission combination available. The Hybrid Synergy Drive power plant consists of a 1.5-liter gasoline engine and a single electric drive motor. The gas engine produces 76 horsepower and 82 pound-feet of torque while the electric motor generates the equivalent of 67 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. An electronically controlled continuously variable transmission is standard on all models. Toyota claims a 0-to-60 time of 10 seconds and mileage ratings of 60 city/50 highway due to the car's improved efficiency during low-speed operation.
All models come standard with four-wheel antilock brakes, multistage driver and front passenger airbags and traction control. Electronic stability control and side-impact/side-curtain airbags are optional.
Interior Design and Special Features
Many of the design cues found in the original Prius have been carried over, but the overall look is more upscale than before. Materials quality has been improved and the addition of metallic accents on the vents, center console and doors brightens things up a little. The gauge cluster is still positioned toward the center of the dashboard, but the display is now larger for easier viewing. The optional DVD navigation system is not only Toyota's most comprehensive system ever, it can be voice operated as well. Another option, the Smart Entry and Start system, unlocks the car when it senses the transmitter in your pocket. Once inside, you merely press the start button and you're off.
As you might expect, the 2004 Toyota Prius is no speed demon, but when it comes to the kind of daily driving that most drivers encounter, there's more than enough power to get around. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) takes some getting used to since it doesn't use traditional gears, but it does make the best use of the hybrid drivetrain's power. Cabin noise is minimal and the suspension is comfortably soft without feeling too floaty. The lightweight body doesn't feel as rock solid as a Camry, and the driving position can be a bit awkward for some, but the overall comfort level is comparable to most other sedans in its class.
Read our Toyota Prius Long-Term 85,000-Mile Test