Still one of the most popular hybrid vehicles on the market, the Toyota Prius comes in Prius Liftback hybrid and Prius Plug-in Hybrid versions.
Both the Liftback and the Plug-in use Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain, which pairs a 1.8-liter gasoline engine along with an electric motor. The regular Prius Liftback uses nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries and operates like a traditional hybrid.
The Prius Plug-in Hybrid employs newly developed lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries and can be plugged in like an electric car to extend its range. The Prius Plug-in Hybrid will allow true electric-vehicle operation for up to 15 miles at speeds up to 62 mph, according to Toyota, along with quick home charging using a standard AC outlet and 15-amp dedicated circuit. The Plug-in Hybrid comes with an easy-to-use external charging cable, but you'll want an electrician to set up a dedicated fast-charger for the quickest charge times.
Fuel economy is the number one reason to buy a Prius. The Prius Liftback gets an EPA-rated 51/48 mpg City/Highway, and a combined rating of 50 mpg. It runs on Regular gasoline.
The Prius Plug-in Hybrid is rated 51/49 mpg City/Highway, or 50 mpg Combined. Because it also runs on electricity, the Environmental Protection Agency gives it a special rating of 95 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe). Fuel cost estimates for the plug-in hybrid are about $1,000 a year for the Prius Plug-In, compared to $1,150 for the traditional Prius hybrid.
Now in its third generation, more than 1 million units of the Prius hybrid have been sold in the United States since the first debuted in 2000 as a 2001 model. The Prius was redesigned for 2010, and the plug-in hybrid debuted for the 2012 model year.
New for 2013 is the Prius Persona Series Special Edition. It is available with the traditional Prius Liftback hybrid powertrain and comes with unique charcoal and black SofTex synthetic leather upholstery with red stitching, dark chrome interior accents and 17-inch alloy wheels.
While fuel economy is remarkable, acceleration performance from the Prius is far from it: 0 to 60 mph in an excruciating 9.8 seconds. On the bright side, the continuously variable transmission (CVT), is smooth, a quality not always found in this type of transmission.
Prius comes loaded with technology. The Touch Tracer Display projects information before your eyes, so you can keep them on the road. A solar-powered ventilation system is available, with remote pre-cooling to cool the car down to ambient temperature before you climb in on a hot day. Other features include lane departure warning, radar cruise control and Intelligent Parking Assist, which will automatically parallel park the vehicle.
The Prius is capable of seating five, but the ride will be most comfortable with only four. Front seats are roomy, though some may find the upright seating position a bit uncomfortable. In the back, there's am adequate 36 inches of legroom. The EPA classifies these cars as midsize, but we see them as large compacts.
Cargo space is generous with nearly 40 cubic feet of capacity when the back seats are dropped flat, and the big liftgate makes loading easy.
While the Prius used to dominate the hybrid market, other alternative fuel vehicles have sprung up in recent years to give Toyota's darling a run for its money. The new Ford C-Max, available as both a hybrid and a plug-in, boasts a fresher design and sharper driving dynamics. The Chevrolet Volt plug-in feels more sophisticated and more upscale than the Prius does. Shoppers might also consider the sleek Ford Fusion hybrid and plug-in sedans, as well as the Toyota Camry hybrid. Note: Prius c and Prius v are reviewed separately.
The 2013 Toyota Prius and Prius Plug-in Hybrid come in a range of trim levels.
Prius Two ($24,200) comes standard with automatic climate control with air filter, dust and pollen filtration mode (and electric compressor, humidity sensor and push-button contols), fabric-trimmed front seats with seatback pockets, six-way driver's seat, four-way front-passenger seat, 60/40-split fold-down rear seats with adjustable headrests, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel with controls for audio, climate and phone, multi-information displaywith trip computer and Hybrid System Indicator, plus the Touch Tracer display, remote keyless system plus Smart Key System on driver's door with push-button start and remote illuminated entry, Display Audio, six-speaker AM/FM/CD with MP3/WMA, USB port with iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth wireless technology, dual sun visors, two 12-volt power outlets, cargo tonneau cover, power windows with auto up/down and jam protection in all positions, retained-power features, Hill Start Assistance Control.
Prius Three ($25,765) upgrades with Navigation and Entune, a 6.1-inch touchscreen with integrated rearview camera, enhanced Smart Key for three doors, voice-command controls on steering wheel. The optional Solar Roof Package features a solar powered ventilation system.
Prius Persona Series Special Edition ($27,130) is equipped similarly to the Prius Three plus unique charcoal and black SofTex synthetic leather upholstery with red stitching, dark chrome interior accents and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Prius Four ($28,435) upgrades further with SofTex-trimmed seats and steering wheel, eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat with power lumbar support, JBL GreenEdge speakers with amplifier, HomeLink, auto-dimming rearview mirror, projector beam headlights with auto on/off feature. Options include Deluxe Solar Roof Package with HDD Premium Navigation with Entune and Head Up Display.
Prius Five ($30,005) upgrades to 17-inch alloy wheels with P214/45R17 tires, LED headlights with headlight cleaners, and integrated fog lights. An Advanced Technology Package includes HDD Premium Navigation with Entune and Head Up Display.
Prius Plug-in Hybrid ($39,525) is equipped like Prius Two with its fabric-trimmed front seats, but comes standard with Navigation and Entune. The Prius Plug-in Hybrid uses 15-inch tires and alloy wheels.
Prius Plug-in Hybrid Advanced ($39,525) upgrades with the SofTex upholstery, Premium HDD Navigation, HomeLink, Head Up Display, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, LED headlights, integrated fog lights.
Safety equipment standard on all models includes dual-stage front airbags, side airbags in front, airbag curtains for front and rear seats, and driver's knee airbag; active headrests; LATCH anchors for child-safety seats, child-protector rear door locks, front seatbelts with pretensioners and force limiters (the most important piece of equipment so be sure to wear them), ALR/ELR; federally mandated tire pressure monitor with warning light; anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake-force Distribution; Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control, traction control, Smart Stop Technology. Optional safety equipment includes Pre-Collision System that uses the same radar antenna as the radar cruise control. It applies the brakes harder than the driver does if a collision is imminent and applies them even if the driver doesn't, to reduce collision impact. Optional Safety Connect inclues Automatic Collision Notification (calls the medics if you crash), Emergency Assistance, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Roadside Assistance. Lane Keep Assist is available for Prius Five.