Full 2007 Toyota Prius Review
What's New for 2007
The 2007 Toyota Prius lineup gets a little racier, as Toyota adds the Prius Touring model, which has a sport-tuned suspension, 16-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, xenon headlights and a larger rear lip spoiler. The other notable change for 2007 is that the original Toyota hybrid car now comes standard with front-seat side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags.
Few cars of the last decade have had the impact of the Toyota Prius hybrid. It wasn't the first hybrid vehicle to enter the U.S. market, and the first-generation Prius had a quiet reception here, as it was too small, too slow and too conservatively styled to get much attention outside the hard-core environmentalist community. In contrast, the current-generation Prius, introduced in 2004, has attained celebrity status. It's not just that it's roomier, more fuel-efficient and cleaner-burning than the original, although these are all good reasons to consider buying one. It's that this midsize hybrid hatchback looks like no other car on the market and thus allows its driver to make a personal and political statement. Add in the ability to drive a Prius solo in the carpool lane in California, its biggest market, and it's clear the 2007 Toyota Prius will continue to sell in brisk numbers.
The heart of the original Toyota hybrid car is a gas-electric drivetrain the company calls Hybrid Synergy Drive. In the Toyota Prius, the setup consists of a 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine paired with an electric-drive motor that draws power from a nickel-metal hydride battery pack (mounted under the car's rear hatch area) -- together they make 110 hp. A second electric motor functions solely as a generator, recharging the batteries. The primary electric-drive motor can also rejuice the batteries, using energy recaptured during braking. It sounds complicated, but a simplified continuously variable transmission (CVT) deftly shuffles power between the sources, providing smooth, seamless operation from the Prius driver's point of view. The Prius' claim to fame is its ability to operate under electric power alone at low speeds, which contributes to its low fuel consumption. With a combined EPA rating of 55 mpg, this is the most fuel-efficient car on sale in the U.S. for 2007.
As technologically sophisticated as the Toyota Prius is, it's a remarkably practical car to drive on a day-to-day basis. Its interior is spacious enough to accommodate a family of four in comfort, and a tight turning radius combined with light, electric-assist steering makes it extremely easy to maneuver in crowded urban areas. The one thing the Prius doesn't offer is excitement, as its frugal drivetrain and modest handling capability make it one of the most tepid midsize cars on the road. This likely explains the introduction of the '07 Prius Touring model, which should provide slightly crisper handling along with a sportier look. If you're shopping for a Prius, you should also consider the similarly priced Honda Civic Hybrid. Its acceleration is equally pokey but it has better road manners and more mainstream styling. For those who can spend a bit more, Toyota's own Camry Hybrid offers a larger interior and all the comforts of a regular Camry. If you want to wear your green commitment on your sleeve, though, there's no better choice for a hybrid car than the 2007 Toyota Prius.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
A midsize four-door hatchback, the 2007 Toyota Prius hybrid is available in two trim levels: base and Touring. The base car comes with 15-inch aluminum wheels, automatic climate control, a six-speaker CD stereo, cruise control, a trip computer and steering-wheel-mounted audio and climate controls. The Prius Touring model adds 16-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, xenon HID headlights and foglamps.
Options are grouped in packages and include leather seating, an MP3 player input jack and a nine-speaker JBL audio system with an in-dash CD changer, a DVD-based navigation system, a rear backup camera and Bluetooth wireless technology. 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. Any Prius equipped with the nav system has a voice-command system that covers everything from temperature adjustment to Bluetooth cell phone dialing.
Powertrains and Performance
There is only one engine and transmission combination available on the Toyota Prius. Called Hybrid Synergy Drive, the drivetrain consists of a 1.5-liter gasoline engine and two electric motors, one of which drives the front wheels and the other of which functions solely as a generator (recharging the car's battery pack). The gas engine produces 76 horsepower and 82 pound-feet of torque, while the electric-drive motor produces the equivalent of 67 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. Net peak hp 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 Prius features an elegantly simple continuously variable "transmission" of sorts. Toyota calls it 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 electric-drive motor works in concert with the gas engine and 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.
Every 2007 Toyota Prius comes standard with antilock brakes with brake assist, traction control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Stability control is a package option. In NHTSA crash tests, Toyota's hybrid car earned four stars out of five for driver and front-passenger protection in frontal impacts. In side-impact testing, it earned five stars for front-occupant protection and four stars for the rear. In IIHS testing, the Prius earned the top rating of "Good" for its protection in frontal-offset and side-impact crashes.
Interior Design and Special Features
Materials quality is solid in the Toyota Prius and the overall look is upscale, an impression aided by the car's tight fit and finish. The gauge cluster is positioned toward the center of the dashboard, but the display is clear and easy to see. The optional touchscreen navigation system features a backup camera display and can be voice-operated. Although the front seats are relatively roomy, the driving position in the Prius is somewhat awkward, as the driver seat is not height-adjustable and the steering wheel does not telescope. The backseat offers ample room for adults and rear-facing infant seats, while the 14.4-cubic-foot rear hatch can accommodate a week's worth of groceries or a double stroller.
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. Driving a Prius takes some getting used to since it doesn't have a conventional transmission that shifts gears, but most owners grow to like the car's smooth power delivery. Cabin noise is minimal, and the suspension provides an acceptably smooth ride despite the car's weight-saving chassis components. Although the 2007 Toyota Prius would make a fine highway companion, the car really shines when driven in the city, where its light steering, tight turning radius and excellent visibility make it easy to park and maneuver through traffic. Additionally, the Prius often returns its best gas mileage in freeway gridlock, as it's able to spend more time in full-electric mode.