Toyota’s 2014 Prius continues ‘best-selling hybrid’ tradition

Posted Friday, May. 23, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Toyota introduced the first mass-produced gasoline-electric hybrid, the Prius, in Japan in 1997 and brought it to the U.S. market in 2000.

The Prius has been the best-selling hybrid worldwide since its introduction. The 2004 second-generation Prius was the first Toyota to use the re-branded, refined Hybrid Synergy Drive system.

Introduced for 2010, the third generation a more powerful gasoline engine and improved fuel economy. The Prius family expanded for the 2011 model year with the Prius V, a longer hatchback/wagon model; and the Prius C, a subcompact hatchback. And a Prius plug-in hybrid was added for 2012.

The regular Prius Liftback for 2012 brought a few style and equipment changes, including discontinuing the “Super White” exterior in the U.S., updating the headlights and taillights, and introducing a distinctive front fascia and bumper. Other updates included a 6.1-inch touch-screen radio, with USB port and auxiliary input jack, and Bluetooth capability.

As an added safety feature, for 2012 Toyota also included the Vehicle Proximity Notification System to alert pedestrians, especially the blind, to the Prius’ presence, which had been a problem due to the almost complete absence of sound from the hybrid vehicle when it travels in all-electric mode.

For 2014, the Prius is unchanged from the redesigned 2012 model; Toyota expects to introduce the fourth generation model for 2015.

Prices for 2014 range from $24,200 for the basic Prius Two with 15-inch alloy wheels with plastic covers, keyless entry and pushbutton start, touch-screen audio system, cruise control, and iPod/USB and Bluetooth; to $34,905 for the Prius Plug-in Advanced model with all the bells and whistles. Each trim level builds on the previous, adding more technology and amenities.

For this report, I drove a Classic Silver Metallic Prius Four, with SofTex stain-resistant faux-leather seating in Dark Gray. It had 15-inch alloy wheels with five-spoke covers.

Under the hood is a 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that is paired with an electric motor, giving the Prius EPA ratings of 51 mpg in the city and 48 on the highway, with an average 50.

During my test drive, without actually trying, I averaged 47.6 mpg with mixed city and highway driving.

The Prius has several gauges, charts and graphs to help the driver understand power usage in order to increase fuel efficiency. Lots of tutorials are available online. There are Eco and Power modes, which can be selected while the vehicle is in motion to conserve fuel or increase power as needed.

Eco mode works best for city driving with frequent stops and starts, where power isn’t needed. Power mode, of course, provides more zip for highway merging, overtaking, or driving in mountainous terrain. It is very easy to press the Power button for a little extra boost (I could feel it) and return to Eco for fuel efficiency.

The Prius’ interior is simple, with two-tone gray door panels and seats, grass-textured hard surfaces and muted-silver accents on the door handles and control panels. The SofTex material is lighter than leather and is manufactured producing less pollution than conventional synthetic leather, Toyota says. The remaining materials are made of plant-derived ecological bio-plastics, from cellulose derived from grass or wood.

Prius is designed to carry five adults and their luggage, with 21.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat, thanks to efficient placement of the battery pack under the cargo floor behind the right rear wheel.

Rear seatbacks can be folded 60/40 to increase cargo space to 39.6 cubic feet -- enough room for DIY supplies, sports equipment or college dorm furniture, but a little too small for the sheet of plywood I needed to haul. Of course, with the bench seatback folded completely flat, there is no room for rear passengers.

There were four tie-down hooks in the cargo area, a tonneau cover, one large and one small hidden storage compartment under the cargo floor, and a temporary spare under the storage compartment.

Heated front bucket-style seats had plenty of legroom at 42.5 inches, and headroom at 38.6 inches. The center stack/center console angled back from the mid-dash to the armrest, bringing the shifter knob and all the controls to easy arm’s reach. However, my co-driver said it felt intrusive and confining.

There was an open shelf under the console with a felted liner, one power outlet and the buttons for the seat heaters. I found it awkward to see and reach the outlet/buttons, but I really liked the shelf.

The shifter stalk was small, with four positions -- “park” was a separate button slightly to the left above the shifter. The “B” position, used while the car is in motion, applies moderate engine braking on hills or steep slopes. It took a while to accustom myself to the differences.

There were two cupholders on the console/armrest, small bottle holder/pockets on each front door, a small cubby under the armrest with another 12-volt outlet and a USB port, and a bi-level glove box.

Rear outboard passengers had small seatback pockets and two cupholders when the center seatback was pulled down to form an armrest. However, there were no bottle holder/pockets on the doors.

The rear passengers had 36.0 inches of legroom and 37.6 inches of headroom. The bench seat was firm but not uncomfortable, although headroom and hip room in the middle were better suited to a very small adult or a child. There were child-seat tether hooks in all three rear seating positions, with lower anchor hooks only on the outboard seats.

My Prius Four had the Toyota Star Safety System with traction control and antilock brakes; front, seat mounted side air bags, and driver’s knee air bag in the front, and side-curtain air bags for both rows. Prius received an overall safety rating of five out of five stars.

The rear hatch had an integrated spoiler, an intermittent wiper, hydraulic power-assisted opening and two large handholds for easy closing.

Prius is easy recognizable for the angled split-glass hatch and the large angular taillight housing. I find visibility through the rear limited, especially with the spoiler across my line of vision.

My tester came with a Deluxe Solar Roof Package for $3,820. The package upgraded the navigation and audio systems with the Toyota Entune App Suite and JBL seven-inch monitor with backup camera, eight JBL GreenEdge speakers, and advanced voice-recognition programming.

The non-subscription Entune service brings Bing, iHeartRadio, Movie Tickets.com, Open Table and Pandora. XM Data Services include NavTraffic, NavWeather, and fuel/sports/stocks in a complimentary three-year subscription.

Last, but not least, the package included a tilt-and-slide moon roof with solar-powered ventilation system and remote air conditioning system with a sliding sunshade.

The solar panel powers a ventilation fan to cool the interior while the vehicle is parked, which is especially nice where the sun is relentless (read: South Texas). With this system, the vehicle’s interior is closer to the outside temperature when the driver/passengers return. Parking in the sun could be an advantage in that case.

My Prius had a Preferred Accessory Package ($343), which included carpeted floor mats and cargo mat, a cargo net, and a rear bumper appliqué.

With $760 freight and $4,163 in options added to the $28,435 base price of my Prius Four, total delivered price was $33,358.

The automotive columns of Emma Jayne Williams appear weekly in the Star-Telegram. Contact her at emmajayne1948@gmail.com .

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