Visit any major North American metropolis, and you’ll be surprised to see taxi companies that still use Ford Crown Victorias or Chevrolet Impalas. Taxi and commercial fleets have quickly transitioned over to the hybrid car, simply because they’re beginning to demonstrate long-term viability and reliability. The Toyota Prius is one of the pioneers of this setup, and it’s pretty evident why. It’s to the hybrid what the Volkswagen Beetle is to the car – immediately recognizable and proudly displaying its “green” nature. I borrowed a 2015 Toyota Prius to experience for myself what’s quickly becoming a lifestyle choice for millions of North Americans.
Each year we take a week to go down to California and experience the LA Auto Show while evaluating a few special vehicles down south. Every single trip there, we comment on the plethora of hybrids there, dominated by the Toyota Prius. This was my first time driving this model, and as a gearhead passionate about the muscle car segment, I’d be lying not to admit that this is about the furthest from my comfort zone I’ve ever ventured. Toyota has recently expanded the Prius family to include the compact Prius C (which I’ve actually driven before), as well as the family-friendly Prius V. This is the standard Prius, the one that started it all, and the one that continues to be the biggest seller in the small family from Toyota.
The powerplant in the Prius has been largely unchanged for the last few years, but is expected to be drastically improved for the full redesign expected soon. It’s a 1.8L inline 4-cylinder, coupled to Toyota’s signature Hybrid Synergy Drive electric setup. Total output is 134 horsepower and 105 lb-ft of torque. The Prius is front-wheel-drive only and the transmission is a continuously variable unit designed for optimal fuel economy. Though CVTs are typically the bane of my existence, they actually make a ton of sense in hybrids, as their smoothness is unmatched by anything else out there.
The word “fast” isn’t in the Prius’ vocabulary, but that’s not at all what it’s meant for. I quickly learned that the best way to enjoy this car is to try and achieve great fuel mileage without annoying my fellow motorists. It became a game for me; accelerating moderately while maximizing full EV mode, and braking early enough to regenerate power. If pushed anywhere close to its limits, the CVT transmission moans and groans prominently, reminding you that you’re not driving a Scion FR-S, but a Prius. This car has one mode; “green”, and when driven in a manner that depicts that mode, it’s actually pretty wonderful.
It’s pretty easy to see why the Toyota Prius has become one of the most common taxis too; it’s immensely easy to drive in the city. The small steering wheel may be bizarre to look at, but the Prius is very nimble and tossable despite its significant weight (thanks to the hybrid batteries). Steering is actually quick and reasonably precise, but don’t expect to be carving corners at very high speeds. Zipping around the downtown core here in Toronto, this little engine that could came to life, reminding me that this is its element. The electric motor delivered torque almost instantaneously, meaning the Prius is actually quick off the line and can dart around streetcars like it’s nobody’s business.
My commute involves a significant amount of highway driving, and unfortunately that’s not where the Prius excels. As such, I knew that my fuel economy would suffer. By the end of my test week though, the average fuel economy meter was displaying 4.5L/100km. This is without any spirited driving, and it astounded me that despite being pushed hard on a few occasions, the Prius delivered everything it promised and then some. All models within the Prius family are designed to run on 87-octane fuel, and the hybrid system functions beautifully without requiring anything more.
Many critics discuss warranty and battery life as downfalls of the hybrid car, and in the long run, this may very well be a problem. However, Toyota is trying to remedy this or at least stand behind their product. Adding to the standard 5-year/100,000km powertrain warranty, the Prius comes with an 8-year/160,000 guarantee on all hybrid components. This means if your battery starts to lose charge or malfunction, it’ll be covered. At this point though, we’ve seen plenty of examples of Prius drivers logging over 500,000km on their cars with no major complaints. Even the transmissions are holding up just fine.
Adding onto the $26,305 base price of the Prius, my test vehicle was equipped with a $4,985 Touring Package. This adds 17” alloy wheels, satellite radio, heated synthetic leather seats, fog lights, LED headlights, a navigation system, and a few other gizmos that essentially bring the Prius up to speed as a legitimate premium choice. Things like an intelligent key system, automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and a rather futuristic interior design are all standard on the Prius. This loaded tester came to $31,290 before taxes or fees, perfectly reasonable for a car that will save thousands in fuel costs over long-term ownership.
In order to fulfill the full ‘green’ image, the Prius’ interior is futuristic but functional. The gear selector is a joystick-like contraption that’s a bit confusing at first, but then makes you wonder as to why more cars don’t work this way. It’s a bit like a video game to operate; direct and computerized. The fuel economy and power delivery meters are all very specific and work through the center-mounted instrument cluster, and the speedometer is completely digital. Piloting the Prius from the synthetic leather seat is reminiscent of playing a game of Gran Turismo, but instead of the supercar noises, there’s the sound of Hybrid Synergy Drive working behind the scenes.
The Toyota Prius may be hugely beneficial with regards to fuel savings and long-term costs, but it’s not without its flaws. Admittedly, some of these flaws are subjective and carry less weight than others. I’m personally not a fan of the looks at all; they’re too “look at me” and lack the subtlety I look for. I’d even forego some of the efficiency and opt for a Camry Hybrid for this very reason. Secondly, the 215/45R17 tires are designed to be eco-friendly and save fuel, but they’re far too skinny and make the Prius look a bit awkward from some angles. Lastly, the interior is interesting on its own, but I can’t get past the center-mounted gauges. They didn’t work on the Echo or Yaris, and I could do without them here.
Toyota has come a long way – they now offer something for literally everybody. From the tuner-friendly Scion FR-S up to the executive’s Lexus LS, Toyota has one of the most versatile lineups around. The Prius family has spawned the Lexus CT200h as well as an entire lineage of hybrids across the automotive industry. This isn’t a car for everybody, but it fits many lifestyles surprisingly well. I personally know previous owners of premium European vehicles that have downsized to the Prius simply because of the benefits it offers. The 2015 Toyota Prius won me over with its mischievous attitude, honest looks and fantastic value. For less than $30,000, this is a car that legitimately sips fuel at a rate once deemed unimaginable, and is extremely practical to boot.