Full 2006 Toyota Prius Review
What's New for 2006
The 2006 Toyota Prius gets a tire-pressure monitor this year, along with an optional backup camera. Exterior styling is refreshed with new headlights and taillight clusters, while the interior receives darker seat fabric and a textured instrument panel center. Leather seating with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and an audio mini-jack port are newly optional.
The Toyota Prius wasn't the first hybrid car on the market in the U.S., 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, introduced in 2004, delivers all that and more, with an even larger interior, hatchback utility and a hybrid drivetrain that's more powerful and cleaner than the previous version.
For the uninitiated, a hybrid drivetrain typically 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 power sources work together to provide maximum oomph, but under lighter load conditions, such as stop-and-go traffic, the Toyota 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. Although the current powertrain 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. Although the Toyota car is rated to get combined city/highway mileage of 55 miles to the gallon by the EPA, our experience has shown that its real-world mileage is about 45 mpg.
Apart from its high-tech drivetrain, the 2006 Toyota Prius offers comfortable accommodations for four adults. It's a little smaller than most midsize sedans, but even tall passengers have enough room in the rear seats. Top-notch interior materials and a unique design give the cabin an alternative look and feel, but all the amenities you would expect are there. The Prius features an innovative automatic climate control system that runs entirely on electricity. This means the A/C will continue to cool even when the gas engine is not running, such as at a stoplight. It also features a humidity sensor and smart programming so the A/C compressor runs only when it is necessary. The benefit is that you can leave it in auto-mode year round without worry of wasting any energy. The Prius' hatchback design makes loading larger items into the cargo area a snap, and with 16.1 cubic feet of space, there's nearly as much room in the trunk as in a Camry.
The Prius hybrid is a legitimate family sedan that offers everything you would expect from a Toyota car -- like solid build quality and refinement -- and a few things you don't -- like a low base price. Add in the eye-popping mileage and long list of standard features, and it's easy to see why the 2006 Toyota Prius remains one of the most talked about cars available today.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2006 Toyota Prius hybrid is available as a four-door hatchback only, in one well-appointed trim level. The standard features list includes power windows, locks and mirrors; automatic climate control; a tilt steering wheel with 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 and a nine-speaker JBL premium audio system with a six-disc CD changer are also available, along with leather seating and xenon headlights. The available Smart Key system allows you to lock/unlock the doors and start the car with the key safely in your pocket or purse. The optional voice command system permits voice control of features ranging from temperature adjustment to Bluetooth cell phone dialing.
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 two electric drive motor/generators. The gas engine produces 76 horsepower and 82 pound-feet of torque, while the electric motors generate the equivalent of 67 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. Net horsepower is 110, mainly because the two power sources hit their peak at different times. Regardless, power delivery is smooth and consistent from rest all the way to top speed. The Toyota Prius features an elegantly simple continuously variable "transmission" of sorts, called a power split device. It provides the ease of a conventional automatic transmission, but there are no gears to shift, drive belts, torque converter or clutch. The motors work in concert with the gas engine, through a planetary gearset, to provide seamless power and maximum efficiency at all times. Fuel mileage is rated at 60 city and 51 highway, though real-world mileage is typically in the mid 40s.
All 2006 Toyota Prius models come standard with four-wheel antilock brakes with BrakeAssist and traction control. Electronic stability control and side-impact/side curtain airbags are optional. Government crash tests on the Toyota car resulted in a four-star (out of five) rating for everything but the driver in the frontal-impact test, which earned five stars. In IIHS testing, the Prius earned a top score of "Good" for its protection of occupants in frontal and side-impact crashes.
Interior Design and Special Features
Materials quality is impressive, and the overall look is upscale. The gauge cluster is positioned toward the center of the dashboard, but the display is clear and easy to see. The optional touchscreen DVD-based navigation system features a backup camera display and can be voice-operated.
As you'd expect, the Toyota Prius is no speed demon (zero to 60 mph in about 10.4 seconds), 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 shift 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.