2009 Toyota Prius Road Test
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2009 Toyota Prius Road Test

2009 Toyota Prius Hatchback

(1.5L 4-cyl. Hybrid CVT Automatic)
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Pros

Most fuel-efficient car on the market for 2009, versatile hatchback design, roomy rear seat, compliant ride.

Cons

Forgettable acceleration, steering wheel doesn't telescope, roly-poly handling.

Good on More Than Just Gas


Thanks to the no-frills econoboxes of the 1980s and '90s, it's commonly assumed that maximum fuel-efficiency entails minimal comfort and versatility. If you want a genuinely accommodating cabin and ample cargo capacity, the reasoning goes, you'll have to pay for it at the pump. Well, don't tell that to the 2009 Toyota Prius. It's a roomy midsize hatchback that can transport four full-size adults or a hefty haul from Ikea with equal ease — and it also happens to be the most fuel-efficient car you can buy for the 2009 model year.

Of course, the Prius has its limitations. Does it go around corners? Yes. Does it accelerate from zero to 60 mph? Yes. Does it do either of the above with the slightest bit of enthusiasm? If you have to ask, then don't buy one. The only fun you'll have in a Prius is when you're playing the "maximize my MPG" game with the dash-mounted energy monitor. But if you're like the hundreds of thousands of Prius buyers who have made it Toyota's third most popular model behind Camry and Corolla, that probably suits you just fine.

In most other respects, the 2009 Toyota Prius is pleasant. It's stable and quiet on the highway, it floats serenely over rough pavement and its hatchback body style makes it one of the most practical midsize cars on the road. Indeed, we'd recommend the Prius not only to fuel-economy junkies, but also to midsize-sedan shoppers who like the idea of being able to carry considerably more stuff without sacrificing refinement or passenger space. Unless you're put off by the Prius' greener-than-thou image or duller-than-everything driving experience, it's a uniquely appealing package.

Performance

The 2009 Toyota Prius is motivated by a hybrid power plant consisting of a 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and two electric motors — one to drive the front wheels, the other to recharge the nickel-metal hydride battery pack. Depending on the situation, the engine and motors work separately or in tandem. The gas engine remains off by default, and if you accelerate gingerly from a stop, the Prius can run solely on electric power up to about 30 mph. If you need to keep up with traffic, a little more throttle will rouse the gas engine with a perceptible shudder; once you lift off the throttle, the gas engine seamlessly goes back to sleep.

The conductor of this propulsive symphony is Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive, and specifically its complex variant of a continuously variable transmission. It commands up to 76 horsepower and 82 pound-feet of torque from the gas engine, while the electric motor kicks in 67 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. Due to varying peak outputs, maximum combined hp is 110. During performance testing, our 2009 Prius test car cantered from zero to 60 mph in 10.3 seconds. That's about a second slower than the typical four-cylinder family sedan's performance, but it's downright quick compared with the Honda Civic Hybrid's 13.5-second stroll.

From behind the wheel, the 2009 Toyota Prius feels like a really well-insulated golf cart. Actually, a golf cart probably handles better, or at least more entertainingly. Otherwise, though, the Prius excels at whisking you from Point A to Point B. There's no steering feel to speak of, as the electric power steering system is number than practically anything on the market, but the car goes where you point it. There's no passing power to speak of, but keeping up with traffic usually isn't an issue. Impressively, high-speed cruising is a strong suit — the Prius remains quiet and composed at extralegal velocities. Braking, however, is adequate at best, as our test car recorded an indifferent 131-foot stop from 60 to zero mph.

Fuel economy is likely foremost in the mind of the typical Prius buyer, and rightfully so. Cars simply do not get more fuel-efficient than the Prius for model-year 2009. With EPA ratings of 48 mpg city/45 highway and 46 combined, the Prius trounces the runner-up in the fuel-economy race, Honda's Civic Hybrid, which registers a mere 40 mpg city/45 highway and 42 combined. We recorded a slightly disappointing 39.5 mpg in this particular Prius, but we got 43.8 mpg earlier this year in a 2008 model, so our feet must have been particularly leaden this time around. Furthermore, in our fuel-sipper smackdown comparison, an identically equipped Prius achieved 52.4 mpg in a dedicated city driving loop.

Comfort

Passenger space is one of the Prius' strong points. There's plenty of headroom for everyone, and rear-seat riders enjoy as much legroom as they'd have in a typical family sedan. The seats themselves are forgettable, however, with flat cushions and (in our optioned-out tester) slippery leather upholstery. The driver seat is particularly objectionable, as it lacks both height and lumbar adjustments, two features we've come to expect at this price point. Furthermore, thanks to the conspicuous absence of a telescoping steering column, our longer-legged editors were unable to reach the steering wheel without virtually locking their elbows. Once under way, though, the Prius rides tranquilly, with a pillow-soft suspension and good sound insulation.

Function

The 2009 Toyota Prius is motivated by a hybrid power plant consisting of a 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and two electric motors — one to drive the front wheels, the other to recharge the nickel-metal hydride battery pack. Depending on the situation, the engine and motors work separately or in tandem. The gas engine remains off by default, and if you accelerate gingerly from a stop, the Prius can run solely on electric power up to about 30 mph. If you need to keep up with traffic, a little more throttle will rouse the gas engine with a perceptible shudder; once you lift off the throttle, the gas engine seamlessly goes back to sleep.

The conductor of this propulsive symphony is Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive, and specifically its complex variant of a continuously variable transmission. It commands up to 76 horsepower and 82 pound-feet of torque from the gas engine, while the electric motor kicks in 67 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. Due to varying peak outputs, maximum combined hp is 110. During performance testing, our 2009 Prius test car cantered from zero to 60 mph in 10.3 seconds. That's about a second slower than the typical four-cylinder family sedan's performance, but it's downright quick compared with the Honda Civic Hybrid's 13.5-second stroll.

From behind the wheel, the 2009 Toyota Prius feels like a really well-insulated golf cart. Actually, a golf cart probably handles better, or at least more entertainingly. Otherwise, though, the Prius excels at whisking you from Point A to Point B. There's no steering feel to speak of, as the electric power steering system is number than practically anything on the market, but the car goes where you point it. There's no passing power to speak of, but keeping up with traffic usually isn't an issue. Impressively, high-speed cruising is a strong suit — the Prius remains quiet and composed at extralegal velocities. Braking, however, is adequate at best, as our test car recorded an indifferent 131-foot stop from 60 to zero mph.

Fuel economy is likely foremost in the mind of the typical Prius buyer, and rightfully so. Cars simply do not get more fuel-efficient than the Prius for model-year 2009. With EPA ratings of 48 mpg city/45 highway and 46 combined, the Prius trounces the runner-up in the fuel-economy race, Honda's Civic Hybrid, which registers a mere 40 mpg city/45 highway and 42 combined. We recorded a slightly disappointing 39.5 mpg in this particular Prius, but we got 43.8 mpg earlier this year in a 2008 model, so our feet must have been particularly leaden this time around. Furthermore, in our fuel-sipper smackdown comparison, an identically equipped Prius achieved 52.4 mpg in a dedicated city driving loop.

Design/Fit and Finish

Outside, the Prius' teardrop shape is a triumph of aerodynamics over aesthetics. It's not ugly, but it's not exactly the stuff automotive dreams are made of, either. Inside, the expansive dashboard, joysticklike shift lever and radically angled windshield imbue the 2009 Toyota Prius with a futuristic feel. Materials are generally high quality, especially the distinctively grained pliable material covering the dash. Fit and finish was uniformly good on our tester.

Who should consider this vehicle

Consumers drawn to the Prius' killer combination of fuel-efficiency and versatility, as well as those who just won't be satisfied with anything less than the most fuel-efficient car on the road. Note, however, that the 2010 Honda Insight Hybrid may give the Prius a run for its money when it's released in spring 2009.

Others To Consider
Honda Civic Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI.

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

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Comments

  • tbonepro tbonepro Posts:

    I purchased a 2009 Prius one year ago and have been very pleased with the decision! Having driven a Celica, several Camrys and Corollas, I am sold on the company and their products. It was time for the Prius, even though my Corolla was getting 40 mpg. I am very pleased with the look, handling roominess and economy of gas consumption. There have been no maintenance costs besides oil changes. I am over 6'2" and feel very comfortable in the driver's seat as well as the back seat. There have been long trips where I have been able to average 48+ mpg. I will not hesitate to purchase another Prius a few years from now when this one reaches 250k. I drove my Celica up to 325k before selling it.

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