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BWC High-Mileage Review: The Toyota Prius

We like the Prius. We like it a lot. It’s the Granddaddy of this generation of high-mileage vehicles, and its popularity with consumers helped force automakers to produce more hybrid vehicles.

However, unlike the intelligent and hygienic members of Better World Club, the Prius isn’t perfect. Like any car, the Prius has bugs that need to be worked out. Design flaws, questions about the “true” miles per gallon, and a hefty up-front sticker price all weigh in on the “liability” side of the Prius’ ledger.

This review is lengthy, so if you want to cut directly to the sections that interest you most, we won’t make you feel guilty (Unlike your mother, who keeps wondering why you don’t call more often. What, you don’t know how to use the phone anymore?).

Section shortcuts without the guilt:

Begin At The Beginning. Hybrid Electric Vehicles Defined
Where The Prius Fits In As An HEV
Things People Like About The Prius
Things People Don't Like About The Prius
What's The Deal With The Batteries? The Shocking Truth: Battery Lifespan And Disposal
Quick Stats
Some of The Features (2007 Model Specific)
BWC Member Comments
Various Awards
Recall Info
Not-So-Quick Stats (2007 Model Specific)

Begin At The Beginning. Hybrid Electric Vehicles Defined:

A hybrid is any vehicle that uses two or more sources of power - in today's HEV's, the two sources are electricity (from batteries) and mechanical power (from a small internal combustion engine). HEVs can offer the very low emissions of electric vehicles with the power and range of gasoline vehicles. They also offer up to 30 more miles per gallon, perform as well as or better than, and are just as safe as any comparable gasoline-powered car - and they never have to be plugged in for recharging. Widespread use of HEVs would help reduce our nation's growing dependence on foreign oil and cut greenhouse gas emissions by one-third to one-half.

Not all hybrids are alike. There are many ways to combine the engine, motor/generator, and battery. Three basic hybrid configurations are the series, parallel, and split (or through-the-road) designs.

With the series configuration, the engine never directly powers the car. Instead, the engine drives the generator, and the generator can either charge the batteries or power an electric motor that drives the wheels.

In the case of the parallel configuration, the engine connects to the transmission, as do the batteries and the electric motor. So both the engine and the generator/motor can supply power to the wheels, switching back and forth as driving conditions vary.

The engine drives one axle and the electric motor drives the other in the split configuration. There is no connection between the engine and the electric components except "through the road."

Where The Prius Fits In As An HEV:

Toyota's Prius combines features of both a "series" and "parallel" hybrid electric vehicle, and it is the world's first mass-produced HEV. The Prius is a breakthrough in many ways, combining an efficient gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine with a clean, quiet electric motor powered by a battery. Like other HEVs, the Prius has many innovative features:

- Regenerative braking: The motor recovers energy from the brakes when they slow down or stop the vehicle and uses it to recharge the battery.

- Lighter, smaller engine: To improve efficiency, the Prius engine is sized to accommodate its average power load, not its peak load. Most gasoline engines are sized for peak power requirements, yet most drivers need peak power only 1% of the time.

- Better fuel efficiency: The Prius consumes less fuel than vehicles powered by gasoline alone - partly because the engine is turned off when it's not needed. Conventional gasoline engines run constantly, regardless of power requirements.

- Lower emissions: The Prius reduces regulated tailpipe emissions by up to 90% and greenhouse gas emissions by about 50% compared with Tier 2 standards.

- More aerodynamic: The streamlined Prius exterior (0.29 coefficient of drag) reduces drag by about 14% compared with the typical family sedan.

Things People Like About The Prius (May not apply to all model years):

- Money saved at the pumps!

- Lots of high-tech gadgets that any greenerd would love

- Moral superiority (Yes, you are better than most people when you drive a high-mileage vehicle. Please note, however, that cyclists "out-superior" everyone.)

Things People Don't Like About The Prius (May not apply to all model years):


- Blind spot in the rear window caused by the bar that houses the rear wiper

- A multi-purpose screen that manages temperature settings, fan controls, and radio settings instead of traditional instrument panel knobs. The lack of knobs makes it harder to adjust settings "by touch", forcing drivers to take their eyes off the road if they want change the radio station, for example.

- Some claim that the extra weight from the batteries causes the Prius to wear out tires more quickly than the average "non-hybrid" vehicle

- Discrepancies between the official mpg stats and actual mpg stats

What's The Deal With The Batteries? The Shocking Truth: Battery Lifespan And Disposal:

The hybrid battery packs are designed to last for the lifetime of the vehicle, somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 miles, probably a whole lot longer. The warranty covers the batteries for between eight and ten years, depending on the manufacturer.

Hybrids use NiMH batteries, not the environmentally problematic rechargeable nickel cadmium. "Nickel metal hydride batteries are benign. They can be fully recycled," says Ron Cogan, editor of the Green Car Journal. Toyota and Honda say that they will recycle dead batteries and that disposal will pose no toxic hazards. Toyota puts a phone number on each battery, and they pay a $200 "bounty" for each battery to help ensure that it will be properly recycled.

Quick Stats:

On-Road Fuel Economy (mpg): 46.0
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway) (mpg): 52/45
Acceleration 0-60 mph (sec.): 12.69
Slalom (sec.): 11.45
Skid Pad (G): 0.654
Braking (ft from 60-0 mph): 135.1

Some of The Features (2007 Model Specific):

[S=Standard, P=Available only as part of a package]

15-in. alloy wheels with P185/65R15 tires [S]
Dual heated color-keyed power outside mirrors [S]
Aerodynamic multi-reflector halogen headlamps [S]
High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps and integrated fog lamps [P]
Push Button Start [S]
Liquid crystal multi-information display panel with energy monitoring, fuel consumption, climate control, outside temperature and audio status modes [S]
Central instrument display with digital speedometer, fuel gauge, shift-lever indicator and odometer with twin tripmeters and warning lights [S]
Cruise control [S]
Remote keyless entry system with 2-stage unlocking, panic function and remote illuminated entry [S]
Smart Key System [P]
Electronic shift lever [S]
Driver and front passenger Advanced Airbag System [S]
Driver and front passenger front seat-mounted side airbags and front and rear side curtain airbags [S]
Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist [S]
Traction Control (TRAC) [S]
Child-protector rear door locks [S]
Front and rear crumple zones and side-impact door beams [S]
Engine immobilizer [S]
Center high-mount stop lamp (CHMSL) [S]

Starting Price: $22,175

Click Here to see the rest of the features.

Various Awards:

- United Nations Environmental Protection Award

- EPA's First Annual Global Climate Protection Award

- Sierra Club's "Excellence in Environmental Engineering Award"

- "Clean Car Salute" from the Clean Car Coalition, a group composed of state, regional, and national environmental organizations in the U.S.

- Exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, "Different Roads: Automobiles for the Next Century"

- Better World Club's "This Car is So Cool, We're Going to Give a 15% Discount on Memberships to Prius Owners Award"

Recall Info:

We found ten separate Prius recalls since the model was introduced in 2001. Of the ten, four related to steering, three to air bags, two to engine and engine cooling, and one to brake lights. The specific recall details are noted below:

Make / Models /Build Years:

Toyota / Prius / 2001

Recall Date: JULY 18, 2006

Component: ENGINE AND ENGINE COOLING

Consequence: ENGINE OIL INSIDE THE SENSOR WIRING CONNECTOR COULD CAUSE EXPANSION DUE TO THE HEAT OF THE ENGINE AND COULD DEFORM THE SENSOR WIRING CONNECTOR. THE CONNECTOR MAY BECOME DISCONNECTED, WHICH COULD CAUSE THE ENGINE TO STALL WHILE DRIVING AND NOT BE ABLE TO BE RESTARTED INCREASING THE RISK OF A CRASH.

Remedy: DEALERS WILL REPLACE THE CRANKSHAFT POSITION SENSOR FREE OF CHARGE. THE RECALL IS EXPECTED TO BEGIN EARLY AUGUST 2006. OWNERS MAY CONTACT TOYOTA AT 1-800-331-4331.

Make / Models /Build Years:

Toyota / Prius / 2001

Recall Date: SEPTEMBER 21, 2000

Component: STEERING: GEAR BOX (OTHER THAN RACK AND PINION)

Consequence: IF THIS OCCURS, THE POWER STEERING WARNING ICON WILL BE DISPLAYED ON THE CENTER PANEL, AND THE DRIVER COULD EXPERIENCE HIGHER THAN NORMAL STEERING EFFORT DEPENDING UPON VEHICLE SPEED.

Remedy: DEALERS WILL REPAIR THE ELECTRIC STEERING GEAR BOX.

Make / Models /Build Years:

Toyota / Prius / 2002

Recall Date: JULY 18, 2006

Component: ENGINE AND ENGINE COOLING

Consequence: ENGINE OIL INSIDE THE SENSOR WIRING CONNECTOR COULD CAUSE EXPANSION DUE TO THE HEAT OF THE ENGINE AND COULD DEFORM THE SENSOR WIRING CONNECTOR. THE CONNECTOR MAY BECOME DISCONNECTED, WHICH COULD CAUSE THE ENGINE TO STALL WHILE DRIVING AND NOT BE ABLE TO BE RESTARTED INCREASING THE RISK OF A CRASH.

Remedy: DEALERS WILL REPLACE THE CRANKSHAFT POSITION SENSOR FREE OF CHARGE. THE RECALL IS EXPECTED TO BEGIN EARLY AUGUST 2006. OWNERS MAY CONTACT TOYOTA AT 1-800-331-4331.

Make / Models /Build Years:

Toyota / Prius / 2004

Recall Date: MARCH 28, 2006

Component: AIR BAGS

Consequence: THIS MAY INCREASE THE RISK OF INJURY TO THE OCCUPANT IN THE INVOLVED SEATING POSITION IN THE EVENT OF A CRASH.

Remedy: DEALERS WILL REPLACE THE SPECIFIC SRS AIR BAG. THE RECALL BEGAN ON APRIL 6, 2006. OWNERS MAY CONTACT TOYOTA AT 1-888-270-9371, SCION AT 1-866-548-1851, OR LEXUS AT 1-800-255-3987.

Make / Models /Build Years:

Toyota / Prius / 2004

Recall Date: NOVEMBER 18, 2004

Component: EXTERIOR LIGHTING: BRAKE LIGHTS: SWITCH

Consequence: IF THE SWITCH IS INOPERABLE, THE BRAKE LIGHTS WILL NOT ILLUMINATE AND CAN INCREASE THE RISK OF A CRASH.

Remedy: DEALERS WILL REPLACE THE BRAKE LIGHT SWITCH. THE RECALL BEGAN DURING DECEMBER 2004. OWNERS SHOULD CONTACT TOYOTA AT 1-800-331-4331.

Make / Models /Build Years:

Toyota / Prius / 2004

Recall Date: MAY 30, 2006

Component: STEERING: ELECTRIC POWER ASSIST SYSTEM

Consequence: THIS COULD RESULT IN A LOSS OF STEERING CONTROL OF THE VEHICLE.

Remedy: TOYOTA WILL REPLACE THE STEERING INTERMEDIATE SHAFT AND INSPECT THE SLIDING YOKE AND REPLACE IT IF NECESSARY. THE RECALL IS EXPECTED TO BEGIN DURING JUNE 2006. OWNERS MAY CONTACT TOYOTA AT 1-800-331-4331.

Make / Models /Build Years:

Toyota / Prius / 2005

Recall Date: MARCH 28, 2006

Component: AIR BAGS

Consequence: THIS MAY INCREASE THE RISK OF INJURY TO THE OCCUPANT IN THE INVOLVED SEATING POSITION IN THE EVENT OF A CRASH.

Remedy: DEALERS WILL REPLACE THE SPECIFIC SRS AIR BAG. THE RECALL BEGAN ON APRIL 6, 2006. OWNERS MAY CONTACT TOYOTA AT 1-888-270-9371, SCION AT 1-866-548-1851, OR LEXUS AT 1-800-255-3987.

Make / Models /Build Years:

Toyota / Prius / 2005

Recall Date: MAY 30, 2006

Component: STEERING: ELECTRIC POWER ASSIST SYSTEM

Consequence: THIS COULD RESULT IN A LOSS OF STEERING CONTROL OF THE VEHICLE.

Remedy: TOYOTA WILL REPLACE THE STEERING INTERMEDIATE SHAFT AND INSPECT THE SLIDING YOKE AND REPLACE IT IF NECESSARY. THE RECALL IS EXPECTED TO BEGIN DURING JUNE 2006. OWNERS MAY CONTACT TOYOTA AT 1-800-331-4331.

Make / Models /Build Years:

Toyota / Prius / 2006

Recall Date: MARCH 28, 2006

Component: AIR BAGS

Consequence: THIS MAY INCREASE THE RISK OF INJURY TO THE OCCUPANT IN THE INVOLVED SEATING POSITION IN THE EVENT OF A CRASH.

Remedy: DEALERS WILL REPLACE THE SPECIFIC SRS AIR BAG. THE RECALL BEGAN ON APRIL 6, 2006. OWNERS MAY CONTACT TOYOTA AT 1-888-270-9371, SCION AT 1-866-548-1851, OR LEXUS AT 1-800-255-3987.

Make / Models /Build Years:

Toyota / Prius / 2006

Recall Date: MAY 30, 2006

Component: STEERING: ELECTRIC POWER ASSIST SYSTEM

Consequence: THIS COULD RESULT IN A LOSS OF STEERING CONTROL OF THE VEHICLE.

Remedy: TOYOTA WILL REPLACE THE STEERING INTERMEDIATE SHAFT AND INSPECT THE SLIDING YOKE AND REPLACE IT IF NECESSARY. THE RECALL IS EXPECTED TO BEGIN DURING JUNE 2006. OWNERS MAY CONTACT TOYOTA AT 1-800-331-4331.

BWC Member Comments:

- My actual MPG as compared to the EPA MPG is my only disappointment with the car (along with the fact that a leather interior wasn't an option). To be fair, I live in the hills at about 1,000 feet elevation. I get much better mileage if I don't climb the hill. On a 53 mile trip to my in-laws, I got 53 mpg. Not bad! Most the time I get an average of around 39 mpg.

- The only little, nagging design flaw I've noticed is the low front end clearance. Also, it would be great if there was an "on" and "off" button. Numerous times I have thought I was turning off the car but was actually turning it back on.

- The main psychological benefit I've enjoyed is a sense of smugness: I'm doing my part for global warming, how about you?

- I've maybe taken my Prius up to 80 mph. Speed has never been an issue. You definitely get better mileage at around 50 mph.

- I would add more luxury items as options, although I don't have any specifics in mind.

- GREAT storage space, leg room, head room, etc. Very comfortable.

- The things I like best are watching the mpg screen and trying to get the best possible mileage, the sense of doing the right thing, and the satisfaction that it only takes $25 to fill the tank at the height of gas prices. The thing I like least is rubbing the front end on low parking curbs or other obstacles. I also had to replace the tires at about 24,000 miles. The tire guy said Prius' haven't been getting good tire life because the cars are heavy.

- Why the hell are auto companies not making more Prius type cars? I look at GM's ads and say what are they thinking? One suggestion to the auto industry - put the Prius type current and cumulative mileage information on all cars. If drivers realize how much difference driving "intelligently" makes, they will alter their driving habits. It actually becomes a game to get the highest possible mileage.

Not-So-Quick Stats (2007 Model Specific):


Standard Engine: 1.5L I4
Standard Transmission: VAR Speed Automatic
Cylinders: 4
Horsepower @ RPM: 110@5000
Fuel Economy Cty/Hwy: 60 / 51
Combined Fuel Economy: 55
EPA Class: Mid-Size
Number of Valves: 16
Torque @ RPM: 82@4200 (foot/lbs)
Fuel Type/System: Hybrid Gas/Electric / Multi-Port Fuel Injected
Turbo (yes/no): No
Overdrive Transmission: Yes
Battery Output: 28
Compression: 13.0
Displacement: 1497 / 91
Bore X Stroke: 2.95x3.33
Cruising Range: 654.5
Final Drive Gear Ratio Opt: N/A
Power To Weight Ratio: 26.3
Final Drive Ratio: Not Listed
Valves Configuration: Dual Overhead Cam/Twin Overhead Cam
Supercharged: No
Electric HorsePower RPM: 1200
Electric Torque Feet Per Pound: 295 (foot/lbs)
Electric Torque RPM: 1200 (foot/lbs)
Electric HorsePower BHP: 67
Cargo Volume (EPA): 16
Cargo Volume (MFR): 14.4
Fuel Capacity: 11.9
Passenger Volume (EPA): 96
Passenger Volume (MFR): 96.2
Box/Cargo Height: N/A
Box/Cargo Length: N/A
Box/Cargo Width (Wheel): N/A
Box/Cargo Width (Wall): N/A
GVWR Standard: N/A
GVWR Maximum: N/A
Payload Standard: N/A
Payload Maximum: N/A
Brakes (Front): Disc
Brakes (Rear): Drum
Driveline: Front Wheel Drive
Driveline (Opt): N/A
Steering: Rack & Pinion
Steering Diameter Left: 34.1
Steering Diameter Right: 34.1
Suspension (Front): Independent
Suspension (Rear): Semi-Independent
Tire Type: Passenger
Tire Width: 185
Tire Aspect Ratio: 65
Tire Construction: Radial
Tire Wheel Diameter: 15
Seating (Standard): 5
Seating (Optional): N/A
Tow Capacity (Standard): Towing Not Recommended
Tow Capacity (Maximum): Towing Not Recommended
Headroom (Front): 39.1
Headroom (Row 2): 37.1
Hiproom (Front): 51.0
Hiproom (Row 2): 51.6
Legroom (Front): 41.9
Legroom (Row 2): 38.6
Shoulder Room (Front): 55.3
Shoulder Room (Row 2): 53.0
Seating (Maximum): 5
Headroom (Row 3): N/A
Hiproom (Row 3): N/A
Legroom (Row 3): N/A
Shoulder Room (Row 3): N/A
Curb Weight MT: N/A
Curb Weight AT: 2890
Ground Clearance: 4.9
Height: 58.1
Length: 175.0
Top Type (Standard): Hard Fixed
Top Type (Optional): Not Applicable
Track (Front): 59.3
Track (Rear): 58.3
Weight Distribution AT (Front): Not Listed
Weight Distribution AT (Rear): Not Listed
Weight Distribution MT (Front): N/A
Weight Distribution MT (Rear): N/A
Wheelbase: 106.3
Width: 67.9
Doors (Standard): 4
Doors (Maximum): 4
Crash Test Rating: Not Listed

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