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New Car/Review


Toyota Prius (2001)

SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide

by Brendan Hagin and Mikele Schappell-Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 19,995
     Price As Tested                                    $ 20,855
     Engine Type DOHC 16-valve 1.5 Liter L4 w/SMFI*/Perm. Magnet
     Engine Size                                  92 cid/1497 cc
     Horsepower       114 @ 4500 RPM (gas and electric combined)
     Torque (lb-ft)   340 @ 4200 RPM (gas and electric combined)
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  100.4"/66.7"/169.6"
     Transmission                    Continuously Variable (CVT)
     Curb Weight                                     2765 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  11.9 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                           175/65R14 all-season
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                        N/A
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            52/45/48         

     0-60 MPH                                       12.5 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                          19.5 seconds @ 89.5 mph
     Top-speed                                            95 mph
                 * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

BRENDAN - Hybrid cars are definitely a hot item, with more and more manufacturers producing their own versions of the modern gas-saver. Taking a design cue from its old sub-compact Tercel, Toyota has really hit the jackpot with the 2001 Prius. This high-mileage vehicle is a money-saving commuter as well as a practical road trip traveler. Utilizing a gas-and-electric drivetrain, the Prius can take a 30-something workaholic to and from the daily grind with reliability and speed, or transport the family to dinner and a movie, as long as the kids are small and relatively lightweight.

MIKELE - For a small car, the Prius rides pretty well and it has good control over the bone-jarring pot-holes that are common on America's bumpy roads. It's a little bouncy when there's four adults onboard, but that's the nature of modern econoboxes. Up front, the roomy cabin and upright seats accommodate drivers and passengers of all sizes, although it's something of a strain for "shorties" to see out the side windows. But my 85-year-old grandmother is on the tall side and she had plenty of legroom, and so did my dad. Actually, he was a little cramped but that's to be expected when you're six-foot-five. The family dogs loved the big back seat but being young and exuberant, they quickly developed the habit of jumping up front between the two front seats over the low console. A slightly higher armrest would be nice because it would give a more comfortable place for the driver to rest a tired arm. I kept a few dog biscuits in the cupholders to keep the canines at bay while I was on the road, and the retractable head restraints made good pillows for the tired pups.

BRENDAN - I liked the hidden CD player because it was neatly tucked away out of sight, but a six-disc changer would have been lots better. The audio system is displayed on a small dash-mounted screen that also serves as a reminder of gas consumption and average mileage. It is also used as a display for an optional navigation system but our loaner didn't have one. The screen shows an informative schematic of power distribution, whether it's on full gas or electric or both. This is all located below an instrument cluster that is directly in the center of the dash, displaying a digital speedometer and the gear selection quadrant. I didn't like the column-mounted select-lever because it blocks some of the screen and audio controls while in the Drive mode. A floor shifter would be a better choice. Once it's underway, the Prius gets up and goes lots better than I expected and it has remarkably good passing power. The gasoline engine is a 1.5-liter all-aluminum four-cylinder that uses variable valve timing to increase its efficiency across the full rpm range while keeping the emissions low.

MIKEKE - I drove the Prius to work several times. It's a long and stressful journey but the Prius performed as well as any of the all-gas econoboxes we've tried. When you're taking off from a standstill, it gets underway using the electric motor but then the gasoline motor blends in seamlessly. Once I got going to normal speed, the Prius handled great. The suspension uses MacPherson struts and L-beam lower control arms like most cars today and when you're driving it, you're not aware that it's something "special." But once I got into San Francisco traffic, I found myself the object of attention. When I parked, people crowded around it asking every question you can imagine. The Sierra Club isn't known to be Big-Business friendly, but it gave the Prius the "Sierra Club Award for Excellence in Environmental Engineering," a first-time award.

BRENDAN - The 14-inch alloy wheels gave it a cool, Euro-appearance, and I saw a lot of young hot rodders taking a second look. It was the hit of the dealership where I work and most of the salesman asked for a spin in it. It's the first time I'd seen Honda salesmen get excited over a Toyota.

MIKELE - I guess they're learning to broaden their perspectives.